Tech Review: Amazon Fire TV streaming box packs unique features

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In a world filled with Apple TVs, Rokus and Google Chromecasts, streaming set-top boxes start to all seem the same.  Amazon is trying to set itself apart with the Amazon Fire TV.   I had a chance to test out some of the unique features of the Fire TV.

Hardware

The Fire TV box is small.  The footprint is a bit larger than Apple TV but thinner.  It weights about the same.  The box itself is simple, black with an Amazon logo on top.  Inside the Fire TV are some impressive specs including a powerful Snapdragon processor.  This keeps the Fire TV zipping through menus, apps and games.

The included remote is small and simple but also includes a microphone.  Hold down the microphone button to talk to the Fire TV.  Speech recognition works to detect names, titles and even apps.  It’s a simple way to search without having to use a clunky on-screen keyboard like most other set-top boxes.

Using Fire TV

Setup was simple.  Once inside the main menu Fire TV is your typical interface with big icons and vertical navigation.  Honestly, anyone could figure this thing out.  Amazon made it as simple as possible to zip through apps, videos and games.

It includes the usual suspects, Netflix, Roku, Amazon Video and HBO among others.  The cool thing about Fire TV is that it’s an Android set-top box so the list continues beyond the video services.  There are cooking apps, education apps, music apps, etc.  The list keeps growing as Amazon approves new apps for the Fire TV.  Install apps is simple and everything is, of course, connected to your Amazon account.  Click HERE to see a full list of Fire TV apps supported by Amazon.

Amazon Fire TV Streaming Box Remote
Amazon Fire TV Streaming Box Remote

Voice Search

The unique feature that Amazon is promoting the most is the voice search.  It’s a microphone built into the remote.  Hold down the microphone button, say the name of an actor, movie title, tv show, character or app name and the Fire TV will search for it.  The biggest compliment I can give this feature is that it just works.  Speech recognition was great although not always perfect.  Search results usually popped up within a second or 2.  It’s a much better option than the typical on-screen clunky keyboard and Amazon did a fantastic job of making it work well.  For the record, yes, I searched “Gary Busey”.

Oh yeah, it does Games too

Amazon Fire TV Streaming Box Game Controller
Amazon Fire TV Streaming Box Game Controller

On top of what you would expect from most set-top streaming boxes, the Fire TV does games too.  You can use any standard Bluetooth controller but you’ll get the best experience with the $40 Amazon game controller.  With the speed processor the 3D games I tried worked really well.  Some games actually work with the included remote, others require a game controller.  Don’t expect this to replace your PS4 or Xbox One but for casual gamers, it’s perfect.  During my tests (May 2014) the game selection was limited but Amazon is adding new games all the time.  The games I tried were solid and never seemed to skip a beat.  Android gaming is here and Amazon may be one of the first to really nail it.

Overall

Amazon Fire TV is easily one of the best, if not THE best, streaming set-top box on the market right now.  The hardware is top of the line and despite the fact that I typically prefer full access to the Google Play Store, in this case, the Amazon eco-system is a good match for a set-top box.  They’re doing a great job of making sure apps and games are ready for your big screen before adding them to the Fire TV.  Fire TV is more than a one trick pony with video, apps and games but manages to do it all really well.

The Amazon Fire TV is available in major electronics stores and online at Amazon.com.

 

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