I'm a tech editor, and the Fire TV Stick 4K Max — down to $35 — is my favorite streaming device
I'm a fan of everything "smart home." That's obvious to anyone who has ever set foot inside my apartment — the entire place is wired up through Alexa, from the table lamps to the TV. With that in mind, I dislike any unnecessary devices in my bedroom, but I'm not fond of shouting loud enough for the Echo Show in my kitchen to hear me when I want to turn the lights off from the other end of the house. Enter the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. With this handy little device, I can ask Alexa to do my bidding through the remote, rather than raising my voice. It also has the added perk of having no built-in speaker, so the remote won't wake me up with announcements or package deliveries, as an Echo Dot might.
I picked up this handy little streaming stick as an afterthought. I wanted to test out video game streaming through Amazon Luna, and the easiest way was through a Fire TV Stick. Since I already had a Roku, I didn't expect to have much use for a Fire TV Stick. Turns out, I was wrong. It's become one of my favorite purchases. The best news? Right now, it's only $35 on Amazon.
Fire TV Stick 4K: Features and performance
Right off the bat, the main feature of the Fire TV Stick 4K is the inclusion of Alexa. There's a blue button right at the top of the remote that, once pressed, activates a listening functionality within the remote itself. Outside of that, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max makes it superbly easy to access all of my favorite streaming services. Of course, Prime Video is the most featured service on the device (I mean, who would have thought?). Good thing one of my favorite shows — Psych — is on Prime TV. Of course, Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and every major streaming service are also available. In fact, the only app I can't seem to find on Fire TV is Peacock.
It doesn't just stream content, though. Any ol' streaming device can do that. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max features support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision and HDR10+, which practically guarantees a viewing experience nearly on par with a trip to the local IMAX (as long as you have a TV that can display those specs).
The inclusion of Alexa gives it a host of other benefits, too. I can search for a show just by asking Alexa to play it, and I can also throw my security camera feed onscreen, check the weather and a lot more. Ever hear the doorbell ring while you're still in bed? Just ask Alexa to show you who's at the door! Trust me, it's great. It outperforms Roku in that respect, and installation is just as easy.
My favorite type of device is one that doesn't make me think about it, and I have never had to tend to the Fire TV Stick 4K Max beyond a few basic updates. Most of those are done automatically, anyway — I'm just a stickler for making sure things are done the way I expect. In other words, this streaming device is plug-and-play, install-it-and-forget-it.
Fire TV Stick 4K: Difficulties
OK, I might have stretched the truth a little. There is a downside: The remote doesn't have any backlighting. The design is simple enough to use (and you can even use an Echo Dot or similar device to control your Fire TV if you can't find the remote), but I would prefer even a dim amount of lighting for use at night. There are four buttons at the bottom of the remote that will quickly load Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Plus and Hulu without the need to navigate menus, but I find that I sometimes hit those accidentally.
Another concern isn't really with the device but with the app. (Looking at you, HBO Max!) I, like thousands of others, keep the TV on for background noise, and more often than not it's just playing Friends over and over. For whatever reason, HBO Max sometimes loses video while continuing to play audio. The screen will go dark or the Fire TV will throw an error message, but I can still hear the episode in the background.
Thus far, I haven't really found a fix for that. A quick Google search shows that I'm far from the only user to run into this bug, but the suggested fixes (updating the system OS, removing and reinstalling the app, etc.) seem to have no result. Thankfully, I can get around the problem just by going to the home screen and resuming playback. No big deal. If it really does freeze, my surefire fix is to unplug the Stick and pop it back into the HDMI slot.
One last note: I mentioned I picked this up to test out game streaming. While it's a certified device that's compatible with Amazon Luna, I found the experience to be less than satisfying. I suspect most of that lies with Luna itself, rather than the Fire TV Stick. It doesn't drop Wi-Fi or struggle to maintain a connection — the majority of the lag comes from the games themselves. Just keep in mind that Amazon Luna is not a replacement for a game console.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K: Should you buy it?
I absolutely love the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, but that's because I am a near-perfect target for this device. My smart home is controlled entirely through Alexa, I do most of my shopping through Amazon, and I'm a Prime subscriber. If I didn't fit so neatly into that box, though, there isn't a ton of benefit to using this over Roku or Apple TV. In fact, I think the Apple TV actually has a better interface.
But like I said, if you're an Amazon user, the Fire TV Stick is a great addition. The ease of controlling the smart home, the simple yet refined remote, and just the quality of streaming and display options make it a great pick.
If you have Amazon Prime, you’ll get free shipping, of course. Not yet a member? No problem. You can sign up for your free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on orders of $25 or more.)
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