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All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote review: Testing the 2017 TV Stick

4

The Good

  • Great price
  • App selection growing
  • Built-in Alexa
  • App remote

The Bad

  • Search could be better
  • Basic performance

Our review of the All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote takes an in-depth look at Amazon’s 2017 reboot of the original streaming stick. With Alexa support built in and updated specs, here’s what we think of the new Fire TV Stick.

When it comes to streaming devices that plug into your telly, you’re spoiled for choice these days. Who needs a smart TV when you can simply slot a dinky gadget into your television’s HDMI port and gain instant access to thousands of apps, games and services, including the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime Video?

At the cheaper end of the scale you have the likes of the Roku Streaming Stick, Google’s Chromecast and of course the Amazon Fire TV Stick. These mini streamers are compact and pretty basic, but certainly do the job when it comes to living room entertainment.

For 2017, Amazon has upgraded its Fire TV Stick to include built-in support for its super-smart Alexa assistant. Check out our full what’s new guide to see how this ‘all-new’ model compares with the original Fire TV Stick and read on for our in-depth thoughts after testing Amazon’s updated device.

Read next: Stick Wars - what's the best TV streaming stick

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Design and setup

Peel open that box and whip out the contents and you’ll see not too much has changed. The All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote looks pretty much the same as before: a chunky USB key that actually slips into your telly’s HDMI port. You also get the remote control with two disposable batteries, plus a USB cable and mains adapter to keep the Fire TV Stick powered up.

If you can’t simply shove your stick into a spare HDMI port because of the way your TV’s mounted or whatever, no worries. Amazon has kindly bundled an HDMI-to-HDMI cable which can be stuck into the port first. You then stick the Fire into the other end. I found myself using this because the streamer was too fat to slot straight in (my HDMI ports are too close together).

With that done, you need to connect the new Fire TV Stick to the mains and you’re ready to switch on your TV and commence the setup. This is as straightforward as you’d hope, so basically anyone should manage it in just a few minutes at most. Connect to your WiFi network, login to your Amazon account and you’re pretty much ready to dive into the main interface.

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Alexa remote control

Amazon hasn’t changed up the standard functionality of the Fire TV Stick’s remote control for this new model. You basically get the same button layout, with the addition of the new Alexa voice search button at the very top.

However, this updated controller does look better than the old effort. While the original Fire TV Stick remote looked like a cheap slab of plastic, this new blaster sports attractive curves and a beefier finish to feel nicer in the hand. The battery cover was a real bugger to get off, though.

Sadly there’s no volume control on the Alexa remote control, nor is there any way to turn on your TV and switch inputs. That’s the kind of stuff we love having on our Sky remote, as it basically allows us to ditch the original telly remote and use just the one controller. With the Fire TV, you’ll need to keep the TV remote close by.

You can also download the Amazon Fire TV remote control app, which can be used in addition to or instead of the plastic remote. You get a touchpad-style area to swipe and poke, as well as virtual buttons for the main controls. Alexa support is built in and you even get all of the standard remote’s bonus functions, such as the ability to quickly browse all of your apps.

Best of all, you can bring up a virtual keyboard at any point, to input login information and the rest.

There’s almost no lag at all between tapping and swiping the virtual remote and your actions being replicated on screen, which is nice. In fact, many people might prefer using the app over the standard remote.

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Interface and features

This updated Fire TV Stick sports Amazon’s latest interface, which is quite logically laid out and similar to Netflix’s in many ways.

The main screen highlights Amazon’s pick of the best new movies, shows and so on, along with popular content and apps, ready to buy and download. You can browse around for something new or quickly dive into your own movies, television series, apps and games.

By flicking left and right you hit the individual sections for movies, shows and apps. These serve a similar purpose to the main screen, but concentrated. And from any menu you can quickly access a list of your available apps.

If you have kiddiewinks in your home, then the Amazon Fire TV’s parental controls are likely to come in handy. When you first set up your Fire TV, you have the option of enabling a PIN to prevent your little treasures from purchasing every episode of Dragonball Z without your consent. Every time payment is required, you’ll need to enter this PIN to authorise the transaction.

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Alexa support

One of the biggest new features of the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick is the Alexa assistant support. This means you can issue voice commands to your Fire TV, direct through the remote or app. Note that Alexa is also coming to older Fire TV devices, via firmware updates and the Fire TV app.

Read next: How to get Alexa on any Android phone

To start with, you can search for any kind of movie, TV, music or app content that you need. Search results are often on point, although occasionally can be a bit random. For instance, searching for Tom Cruise returns a bunch of movies not starring him, including Liam Neeson and Will Smite vehicles. You can search for genres and perform other vague requests and you’ll generally get what you want, but overall Sky Q’s voice search is still better.

We’re also disappointed that third party search is seriously limited. Basically, music and video searches will only dive as far as Amazon’s own store and services, with the notable exception of Netflix. If you want to find an artist on Spotify, you’ll have to manually browse as normal. That’s not really a surprise or any different to other streamers, but hey ho.

Thankfully Alexa redeems herself with general web searches and information requests. You can do standard stuff like ask about the weather of course, and Alexa tends to understand no matter how awkwardly you phrase the question. But Alexa can also tap into your calendar and other accounts, to help out with more personal requests.

Check out our Amazon Fire TV tips and tricks guide for more information.

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Performance

The all-new 2017 Fire TV sports an improved quad-core processor which is more powerful than the original Stick’s super-basic dual-core chipset. However, it’s only a simple Mediatek chip backed by the same single gigabyte of RAM, so don’t get too excited.

Skipping through menus and playing around in simple apps such as iPlayer and Netflix is a generally smooth experience. You’ll notice the occasional little stutter here and there, but nothing too alarming. Apps usually load in reasonable time, with only slight pauses as the Fire TV Stick contemplates your command.

You can also play basic games, although more fast-paced titles don’t fare as well. For instance, Disney Crossy Road was quite jumpy at times - not ideal when you’re trying to bound across busy roads.

Note that the All-new Fire TV can not play 4K video, so you can’t stream Ultra HD movies and shows from the likes of Netflix. If you want to do that, you’ll need to invest in the proper Fire TV box (or a different streaming device). Full HD at 60 frames-per-second is the Fire TV’s maximum output.

Read next: Best 4K TV streamer

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Apps and games

Amazon’s online library of apps and games has grown much stronger in the past couple of years, so now the Fire TV Stick can rival the likes of Nvidia’s Shield and comes close to the likes of Google’s Android TV.

You have a healthy supply of media streaming apps, including the likes of C iPlayer, Netflix, All 4, ITV Hub, Disney Life, UKTV Play and so on. You also get support for Spotify, Now That’s What I Call Music TV, TuneIn, Deezer and other music streamers, plus apps to play radio stations like Heart, Capital and Classic FM. And if you’d rather access your own downloaded content, that can be done via Plex, AllConnect and so on.

Of course, Amazon Prime members will be able to stream movies, shows and music via the Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Music apps. This includes a massive selection of free on-demand content. Amazon Prime Video support is still quite difficult to find on many streamers, so for Prime members this is the best way to get at your bundled content.

Read next: How can I watch Amazon Prime Video on my TV?

You get a solid selection of news and weather apps too and we’re starting to see some decent sports apps appear, although mostly for American tastes. Social networking support is still thin on the ground, sadly.

As for games, you’ll find plenty of casual efforts on there, many of which are free or very cheap. The likes of Bomb Squad, Contradiction (a nifty and fun FMV adventure game) and Machinarium are all worth a play, although the Fire TV Stick does occasionally struggle as previously mentioned.

Note that some games require the Amazon controller in order to play, which is sold separately.

All-new Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Verdict

Amazon’s All-New Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote isn’t an essential upgrade for existing Stick owners, as the performance is only marginally better and most of the new features are coming to the original Stick via updates.

However, if you’re after an affordable streaming stick to add smarts to your TV, the new Fire TV Stick is well worth considering. You get access to most major movie, TV and music streaming services, while the Alexa assistant is a nifty (if far from infallible) extra. That compact design means it can be tucked away out of sight, and all for just £40.

You can bag yourself the Amazon All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Remote right now, from Amazon, John Lewis, Maplin and other popular tech retailers.

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