Amazon Fire TV Stick review (2020)


The 2020 Fire TV Stick might seem like an unnecessary device when Amazon released an updated version in 2019.

But while the company – as with almost every device it releases – bills this TV Stick as ‘All-new’ it is largely the same as before. It looks the same and, fundamentally, works the same.

Bits and piece are new: there’s the updated remote with useful TV that you don’t get with the Fire TV Stick Lite, plus an upgraded processor that makes it 50% more powerful than the 2019 model.

Plus, along with the Lite, it’s the first Fire TV model to receive the new interface that won’t arrive on other Fire TV devices until some time in 2021.

Features & design

Like all Fire TV Sticks, this is one is designed to hide behind your TV and plug straight into an HDMI port. If that’s impossible, there’s a short extension cable in the box.

You’ll need to use the included mains power plug unless your TV has a spare USB port that delivers enough power, and there are no other ports: if you can’t connect the Stick to Wi-Fi you’ll need to buy the optional Ethernet adapter from Amazon.

For those unfamiliar with the Fire TV range, they are streaming devices that allow you to access Amazon’s Prime Video service (an adverts on the main screen constantly remind you of this fact), as well as Netflix, YouTube, Disney+, local services including catch-up TV and – in the US at least – live TV.

The Appstore offers a very good range of apps and games and it’s hard to think of much that isn’t there that you’d want. This is why buying a Fire TV Stick is an inexpensive way to make any TV smart.

In the UK you’ll find iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4, My5, BritBox, Disney+, Netflix, YouTube and more. US users get Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Sling, Spotify, Hulu, ESPN, CBS All Access, Fubo, Philo, Starz, Peloton, Tubi, PBS and more.

NBC Peacock is currently the one service that’s not available in either region on the Fire TV Stick.

Don’t forget that Alexa is integrated so you can press the microphone button on the remote control and ask her to play specific shows, find stuff that you might want to watch, play music, give you a weather forecast, turn on the lights (if you have smart bulbs) and everything else that she can do.

In fact, if you make the effort to use voice commands instead of pressing buttons to navigate the interface, you can start watching your show a lot faster.

The remote itself uses infrared to control power and volume on your TV, and it’s a simple setup process to get it working. It also works with soundbars if you’re using one instead of your TV speakers.

The 2020 Fire TV Stick has 8GB of storage for apps and games and it supports HDR, HDR10+ and HLG. So if your TV supports HDR and the show you’re watching was recorded in HDR, the Fire TV Stick will let you see it.

Chances are, though, that if your TV isn’t 4K it won’t support HDR and you’re more likely to opt for the Fire TV Stick 4K (the 2018 model) if you do have a 4K TV.

New interface

Amazon has redesigned the main menu and put it in the middle of the screen rather than at the top. It’s simpler, too, with options for Home, Find and Library.

To the right are your six most-used apps, and a settings shortcut to the right of those. Using the remote to highlight any of those apps will cause the thumbnails below to show content from that video service without having to launch the app, which is a fast way to find things to watch.

If you move down to select any of the thumbnails, the whole menu moves to the top to make more room for content from that provider.

If you’re really stuck, you can use the Find menu option which brings up a screen full of tiles.

These include Films, TV shows, Kids & Family along with recommended categories such as Comedy, Drama, Thrillers and Documentaries. Select one of those and you’ll be shown matching content from  a variety of services, though you will of course need to be subscribed and / or signed in to those services to watch most of them.

The big Search tile seems redundant given the microphone button on the remote, which is far quicker than using the on-screen keyboard to find something specific.

The extra processing power makes the interface nice and responsive, and videos begin streaming very quickly.

If there’s a negative, it’s the same problem that has always existed on the Fire TV (and Fire tablets for that matter). There’s still too much promotion of Amazon’s own content on Prime video. It’s obvious why it’s there, but it’s annoying if you’re not a Prime member and don’t want to watch any of it.

User profiles

Although profiles have existed on the Fire TV for a few months now, they’re more prominent in the new interface, sitting to the far left of the main menu. You can click on this to change to another profile, and it’s possible to have up to six profiles which should be enough for most households.

Profiles are very useful, just as they are in Netflix, as they mean you see more relevant recommendations than if everyone in the family uses the same account. That doesn’t help in certain apps such as YouTube where your kids might not have YouTube accounts.

In fact, if you already have kids profiles set up for Fire tablets it’s quite annoying that you can’t use them with the Fire TV. Even though they appeared in the list when I went to add a new profile, an error message said, “Child profiles are not supported on Fire TV at this time”.

So the feature isn’t as useful as it could be yet. Here’s hoping Amazon addresses this quickly.

Alexa responses

Another change is that Alexa  won’t take over the whole screen with certain responses, meaning you can continue to watch a video or browse the interface even if you’ve asked her for some information, such as sports scores or a weather forecast.

The responses are shown in the bottom half of the screen, leaving the rest free.

Price & Availability

At £39.99 / US$39.99, the Fire TV Stick costs the same as ever, being £10/$10 less than the 4K version and £10/$10 more than the Lite edition.

Amazon often discounts its hardware, and at the time of writing the 4K model was £39.99 in the UK, only £5 more than the 1080p Fire TV Stick (it was out of stock in the US). The Stick Lite was reduced to only £17.99 – a true bargain.

But if you don’t have a 4K TV, there’s no need to spend extra on the 4K model.

For alternatives to the Fire TV Stick range, read our roundup of the best streaming sticks (and boxes) including Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV.

Verdict

The 2020 Fire TV Stick is a great choice if you’re looking to upgrade your TV’s streaming capabilities and also adds Alexa into the mix.

There’s little point in saving a few pounds or dollars: if you have a 4K TV, buy the Fire TV Stick 4K. But if yours is just 1080p, then there are several good reasons to spend the extra over the Fire TV Stick Lite.

Specs
Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020): Specs

Media streamer
1.7GHz quad-core processor
1GB RAM
8GB storage
802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO
Voice Remote included
HDMI extender included
Support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital+
Output: 720p or 1080p up to 60fps
86 x 30 x 13 mm
One-year warranty

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