Once upon a time getting streaming on demand video on your TV was quite a lot of work. You had to attach a media centre PC which could get really complicated. In the last few years solutions have gotten cheaper and easier and smaller with AppleTV, Roku’s, Chromecast and Google TV’s, Consoles, Tivos and a number of smaller options. Last year Amazon joined the market with Amazon Fire TV and then followed it up with the small and simple Fire TV stick. The stick was originally sold for £7 or £9 and is often on sale with a regular selling price of £35. Like most sticks it is designed to plug into an HDMI port and use a USB port or wall charger for its power and remain completely hidden – after installation you should never see the hardware. Internally it runs a very skinned version of Android with installable apps and services.
The Fire Stick ships with an included controller. This remote works via Bluetooth and hence does not have to be pointed in a particular direction to work. It has a single selection wheel at the top with several simple buttons under it. The remote lets you control all the menus and media but if it’s not what you want there is also Android and iOS apps that turn your smartphone screen into a touchpad to control the Fire Stick and adds the option of voice search. Amazon also sells a larger remote – the Fire TV Voice Remote that adds the voice control into a remote and if you want to try gaming there is a Fire Game Controller or compatibility with the Nyko PlayPad Pro.
A remote control would seem at first sight to be an odd feature to look at positively but apart from the time where I lost it in the sofa it works very well – simple enough for a four year old and complicated enough for me.
Wide range of apps
The most important part of a streaming device is what services it supports and the Fire Stick is able to run a number of apps. The OS is optimised to work with Amazon’s Prime Instant Video but the extra apps include Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Demand 5, Vimeo, SkyNews, Spotify, Vevo, TVPlayer, BBC News, TED, Amazon Music, PLEX, BBC Sport and YouTube.
The addition of Plex means that you can stream local content and TVPlayer gives you 60 live channels in the UK.
Miracast is not a term that many people will have heard of but it’s a standard that lets you send your laptop or computer’s screen to another device. It is not the worlds best resolution or latency but it works and means that you can treat your TV as an extra monitor or send content direct from your PC to your TV. It was a little complicated to setup in the past but Windows 10 has is built right in – right click and select send to and there should be an option for the Fire Stick.
Amazon probably needs little introduction to any internet user. The company started setting books online in the late 1990’s and expanded to fill the market and began reselling almost everything else you can possibly think of. They started their own electronics arm making the Kindle which iterated to become the dominant e-reader and Amazon expanded to a small range of other electronic devices based on Android including tablets, a phone and media streamers – the Fire TV Stick.
Included in the box/price
Fire TV Stick and remote, USB cable and wall power adaptor, HDMI extender cable, 2 AAA batteries (for the remote) and a quick start guide
Processor: Broadcom Capri 28155, dual-core 2xARM A9
Operating System: FireOS Skinned Android
Wi-Fi: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO); 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi networks
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 3.0 with HID HFP and SPP
HDMI: Type A HDMI 1.4b output, w/HDCP 1.4
Power and plug description: MicroUSB – power only
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus certified, audio pass through up to 7.1
Output Resolution: 720p and 1080p up to 60fps
Supported Video formats: H.264
Supported Audio formats: AAC-LC, AC3, eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus), FLAC, MP3, PCM/Wave, Vorbis
Supported Photo formats: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
Warranty: Worldwide limited on year warranty.
There are two coinciding groups who will find the Fire Stick useful. Firstly you need an Amazon Prime subscription. You do not necessarily need to make much use of the Instant Video part of it but the stick needs a subscription to operate. The second group is those with a TV that has not got a smart box, stick or console to give it some smarts already.
Ease of use
The Fire Stick is simple to use. Once plugged into the TV and USB power, you sign in to your wifi then into your Amazon account. At this point you can set a pin to start programs and lock down purchasing apps and then off you go.
When you want to start watching TV you just switch on the TV and press the home button to get to the main menu. From this point you can pick from recently accessed apps, search or drill down in the menu system to find what you are looking for.
The most obvious requirement is a TV but the Fire Stick also needs access to a reasonable quality wifi and internet connection. The software is designed to work with Amazon’s instant video service primarily and hence needs a Prime membership.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild-moderate visual impairment, including the blind and those who experience visual symptoms, like photophobia (light sensitivity), eye strain or colour blindness. The menu systems are generally of a dark black or browns backgrounds with white buttons and text. Individual apps have their own menu and styles.
With the smartphone app or the add on remote voice control is possible but there is no speak back.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate hearing impairment, including the deaf and those who experience auditory symptoms, like tinnitus or hyperacusis (sound sensitivity). The menu system has no audio feedback and can be operated without hearing.
Individual media may or may not have subtitles although the Fire Stick supports it when available and Amazon have said they are actively trying to add subtitles to as much content in Instant Video as they can.
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate upper body impairment and those who experience symptoms that affect their hands, wrists and shoulders, like a tremor, fatigue, reduced dexterity or precision. Once installed the Fire Stick needs only a small amount of pressure and some control to operate. The fact that there are four different control mechanisms available (remote, voice, trackpad on a smartphone and games controller) means that most will be able to find a way to make it work and that it is probably the streaming device with the most flexible controls.
Movement and mobility
It is accessible to anyone with a mild – moderate mobility impairment, including wheelchair users and those who experience physical symptoms, like severe fatigue or chronic pain. There is no mobility requirement to use.
Motion sickness and balance disorders
It is accessible to anyone who experiences a severe motion sickness or dizzy spells.
It is accessible to anyone with a moderate – severe cognitive impairment, including those with a learning disability like dyslexia and those who experience cognitive symptoms, like problems with memory, concentration, planning and organization.
Once setup the menu system is big, bold and simple to use with the recent menu in a very prominent position. Individual apps can be more complicated to use, particularly as they have different layouts but the stick could be restricted to only specific apps.
No social interaction is required to use the Fire Stick.
Trigger warnings and age ratings
As a streaming device it is possible that there will be triggers of any type in the content streamed through it. The Fire Stick does have parental controls that allow putting a pin on all content or content by type. It is switched off by default.
The market for streaming devices is crowded and there is no single device which gives everything that everyone could want. The Fire Stick stands out on several points – its good physical design and well designed remote, its ability to mirror your PC or phone, its low cost – especially if you are able to get it on a regular sale – and it’s integration with Amazon Prime Video.
Ultimately if you are a Prime video user and have a non-smart TV this is a very good choice particularly if you are able to get it in a sale. In my household it has turned into the primary way my daughter watches TV and will remain a fixture. Recommended.
The review is based on the Amazon Fire Stick released in September 2014. This post contains affiliate links. First published on the 12th August 2015.