A couple of months back, Amazon expanded their Fire TV line with the Fire TV Stick, a small streaming device about the size of a Chromecast. I took a chance on one when presented with a Black Friday Deal for just $24. While it may be small in size, this device may offer the best value of any streaming device on the market. Now, I’ll tell you why.
Small in Size, Big in Features
Chromecast blew people’s minds when it was released a year ago. It didn’t have its own interface, but it allowed streaming to your TV at an amazingly low price. The Fire TV Stick takes the next step. Its size and price position it against the Chromecast and Roku Streaming Stick, but the specs and capabilities of the Fire TV Stick are actually closer to the current third generation Apple TV. While the competitors feature 512mb of memory and at most 2GB of storage, the Fire TV Stick gives you 1GB of memory and 8GB storage, much like the Apple TV. It also features a dual-core CPU based upon the ARM Cortex A9 reference design, the same shipping in Apple’s A5 SoC which powers the AppleTV. It also has the dual band 802.11N Wi-Fi with MIMO support. The big difference is that the Fire TV Stick doesn’t have room for Ethernet or Optical audio out. Just HDMI and MicroUSB power. Mounting is very straight forward, but it also includes a HDMI extender and AC adapter if you need them.
Where Fire TV Stick really shines is its full interface. The little stick may not have the same power, but it runs the same full screen interface as the $99 Fire TV. In fact, the Fire TV actually runs a forked version of Android. That allows you to run many of the same Android Apps and games as the more expensive model. That includes most streaming services and some light duty games. The only real holdout is HBO Go, but they are promising an app soon. It’s now out for the full-size Fire TV and will be coming to the stick the spring of 2015. If you already bought an Android app through Amazon’s store, you will not need to re-buy the app for the Fire TV. The performance is excellent with very few slowdowns.
The Fire TV stick comes with a Bluetooth remote as standard. It’s very similar to the remote with voice that comes with the full Fire TV, but without the microphone and button up top. That doesn’t mean it’s not voice search enabled. You can pair the Fire TV voice remote, or voice can be used with with the Fire TV Control app. It’s available for Android in both Google Play and Amazon stores free of charge. The control app has also been promised to come to iOS in the near future. It also works with the Fire Game Controller when paired with less demanding games. For most family TV functions, the Fire TV Stick will excel.
The interface itself has a side menu with tiles on the main part of the screen. The first option, even before Amazon’s own apps, is a recent apps bar that makes it easy to get to the content you use most. Amazon’s content is displayed prominently on the next three menu rows with third party apps being accessed further down the list. The interface is easy to use and navigate.
Pricing and Availability
At $39, the Fire TV Stick is an absolute steal. It’s available through Amazon and a couple retailers as well including Best Buy and Staples. That said, Amazon’s own stock is backordered until January 6th. If you want the Fire TV Stick as a late Christmas gift, or for yourself, your best bet is trying third party retailers.
For the vast majority of users, the Fire TV Stick is perfect. It has the size of a Chromecast but runs a full-featured interface with a hardware set very close to an Apple TV. It has access to most of the content you want, can do some light duty gaming, and the use of modified Android apps makes it very flexible. The small size also lends itself to mounted TVs. The affordable $39 makes Fire TV Stick ideal for multiple TV deployment. There are a couple things the full Fire TV and Nexus Player do better, but this might overall be the best value available in digital streaming devices.
- Ultra affordable at $39
- No optical audio or Ethernet