As an avid Kindle user and very frequent Amazon Prime customer (I’m on a first-name basis with my UPS driver), I was so excited to do a full-on Amazon Fire TV review. After a couple of weeks playing with it so I could really see its capabilities, I think it’s definitely something for families to consider. If you’re wondering if it’s the right option for you, here’s where I come out on it.
I’m impressed that Fire TV comes pre-registered to your existing account, so you can seamlessly jump right into shows you’re watching and ones you have pegged to watch, without the hassle of the system having to learn your preferences. Set up is so easy, you just need an HDMI cable (which you do need to buy separately), then you can literally plug and play to see your Prime favorites, queue, and watch list in a matter of minutes. This is a huge benefit for someone like me who doesn’t have the patience for input, output, connectors, co-axials and all that other stuff that gets between me and my entertainment.
Once you’re connected to your TV and home Wi-Fi network, you can instantly access hundreds of thousands of free TV episodes and movies that your Prime membership offers, including music and games. Easy.
Fire TV Voice Controls
When it comes to searching all those entertainment options, all you need is your voice — one of Fire’s stand-out features, and something that differentiates it from other streaming services like Roku, Apple TV and Google Chromecast. Amazon nails it with their voice control technology.
While there were a few misses here and there, for the most part Fire got the titles and topics I requested, whether it was The American President, baseball, Downton Abbey, and of course (for me), Bradley Cooper. And despite my kids’ inclination to over-enunciate everything, Fire got most of their requests too which was impressive. Still, know that you hand a kid that remote, and you can guess the kinds of words they start throwing out there. They were very amused.
The voice feature eliminates the hassle of typing in every request letter by letter, and lets kids access content easily too, which is a bonus. Although common complaint I’ve read about the voice feature is that it only searches Amazon content and not other content available on Fire, like Hulu, Netflix and Crackle, which I also found to be true. I’m hoping that gets addressed with upgrades, but it’s hardly a problem considering voice commands are just a nice bonus anyway.
Fire TV Gaming
Gaming is another big bonus of the Fire TV. I saw that kids’ favorites Monsters University and Ski Safari are available, but the minute my son got wind of Minecraft, the search was over. It’s important to note that the Bluetooth-enabled gaming controller (which you have to purchase separately) is not yet compatible with all games currently available on your Kindle, but I’m sure that will soon change. And while you do also have gaming on Apple TV using AirPlay, and gaming on Roku through the remote, this is different; the expected number of games coming to Fire TV coupled with the familiar gaming controller (ahem Nintendo) are bound to make the Fire TV a much more user-friendly and accessible option.
Fire TV Parental Controls
With all this content and game-playing, good luck getting the remote away from the kids. Thankfully, FreeTime is available on Fire TV as well, giving it a competitive edge for families over other streaming devices out there. With a FreeTime Unlimited subscription ($2.99 for Prime members), your kids have access to all programming geared just towards them, while you have access to all the controls, individual profiles, turn-off features and filters.
In other words, when it’s bedtime it’s bedtime, no matter how much time is left in the Care Bears movie. I like that!
How Does it Compare with Roku and Apple TV?
The benefits of Fire TV are really made for existing Amazon Prime members. If you aren’t already one, then you’ll really have to consider whether the $99 annual fee on top of the purchase of the box is worth it. Also, there has been recent grumbling about the Prime fee jumping from $79. But in my opinion, it’s a reasonable investment when you consider the amount of free content that is available to you through Fire TV, plus the free Kindle books available to you and all the free 2-day shipping on your purchases on Amazon.com.
That said, if you’re an Apple die-hard and live and breathe by your iOS devices, you may be better off sticking with Apple TV since it gives you the ability to use AirPlay, stream your camera roll, sync iTunes selections and more. Your decision really just depends on which platform you use more regularly in your daily life (though I know it’s odd comparing all of Apple to Amazon).
Also, Fire TV doesn’t yet offer an app remote through your mobile phone, something both Apple TV and Roku do. And if it’s quantity you’re after, Roku still really blows everyone else out of the water in terms channels: more than 1200 including Amazon Instant Video, of course. (And interestingly, the Prime-only category is really easy to scroll through on Roku, less so on Fire TV but that may change.) Now compare that number with 30 channels on Apple TV and 24 on Fire TV and it’s hardly even close. Though it’s not surprising considering the Fire TV’s real goal is to keep you in Amazon land, paying for their content, and not sending you off to see what’s on Huffington Post Live. However it does offer viewers the biggest streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, Watch ESPN, Showtime Anytime and coming soon, HBO Go–and that’s all most families are looking for anyway.
One more big benefit of the Fire TV that shouldn’t be overlooked: Boy is it fast. There are often complaints about the lag with other services, particularly Apple TV, and I haven’t seen that at all with our unit. There are also features on Fire TV like photo sharing and streaming music that you can tack onto its list of ooh ahh bonuses, but those are admittedly lower on my own family’s priority list.
As an Amazon loyalist and existing Prime member, the Fire TV is a perfect fit for my family because we only added the box (we’re already paying the annual fee) plus we’re going to get a gaming experience that’s unmatched by the other services. The Fire TV really maximizes my Prime membership and it’s a hit with everyone in our home. I absolutely recommend it if you’re a big Amazon user already. Just know the kids will probably take it over. As with all fun things.
Amazon Fire TV is available for $99. Thanks to Amazon for providing Cool Mom Tech with a unit to review.