EW tested Amazon’s ‘most powerful’ Fire TV Stick — here’s what you need to
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It’s a world of endless streaming, and we’re just living in it. From Roku to Apple TV and Chromecast to Fire TV, there are as many streaming devices to choose from as platforms to subscribe to.
If you’re a Prime Video watcher, there’s only one streamer you should instinctively think of: the Fire TV Stick. There are several options in the Fire TV Stick family, including The Lite and 4K Stick, but if you’re planning on getting the best picture quality possible and fastest streaming speed available, it’s the new 4K Max option you’ll want.
Having launched this October, the new streaming device is Amazon’s fastest and most powerful streamer yet. It has garnered More than 7,200 five-star ratings so far with a 4.7 overall score on Amazon — so EW bought it and put it to the test.
Below, read our full review of the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, and shop it for $35 while it’s on sale.
Buy it! Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max, $34.99 (orig. $54.99) at amazon.com
Design and user experience
The first impression you’d get with the 4K Max TV stick is how lightweight the remote is, similar to the 4K or past versions of the Fire TV Stick (it actually slipped out of my hand easily a few times). The streaming stick itself has to be plugged in — prepare to get an extension cord near your TV — something that might be slightly inconvenient for those who already have a smart TV and are used to their TV’s built-in streaming capabilities. Then again, rarely will those with a smart TV need an additional streaming device.
CREDIT: NINA HUANG
Set-up is a breeze. All I did was link the streaming device to my internet, and then sign in to my Amazon account. If you have Prime Video, the Fire TV stick will automatically pull in your watchlist and channel subscriptions, but you don’t need one to use the Fire TV stick — you can still buy movies or TV shows and download all the movie or music streaming apps from the Amazon app store. Downloading apps for other streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and YouTube are actually required in order to start watching their content, but it only took me a few minutes in total to download the dozens of apps I use.
Once my streaming stick was set up, it automatically brought me to its homepage, which focuses on — you guessed it — Prime Video. The homepage is where I found the Fire TV stick wanting. The way the device displays the user’s apps (Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+, etc.) is in a lineup to the left of the screen, so accessing the entire roster of channels requires you to click on the “Apps” button. It’s not very user-friendly, especially when compared to Roku’s straightforward homepage, which displays all your downloaded apps on one screen. Choosing between shows or movies also required endless carousel scrolling, another thing that those who are used to the block-style organization of, say, Netflix or Disney+ might find slightly annoying.
Speed and picture quality
One of the most noticeable differences between the 4K Max and the 4K stick is speed: Amazon claims that the former is “40 times more powerful” than the latter “with faster app starts and more fluid navigation.” The 4K Max stick is adept at switching between apps, such as Netflix to Hulu, Apple TV+ to Disney+; it was practically seamless when I used voice control with Alexa. The Amazon voice assistant also worked fast when I asked it to play a show on Netflix or a movie on Prime Video.
The 4K Max stick’s streaming quality provides crisp, stellar definition within seconds of loading a new show. With episodes or movies that start with production credits, I barely noticed any blurry pixels or dull colors while it was rendering. The streamer automatically adjusts to support Dolby Vision and Atmos content where available, so you’re getting the best picture and sound quality possible, too. I streamed Chef’s Table and Hawkeye, and both were crystal clear. It was especially enjoyable to watch a show like Chef’s Table, which features both shots lit by natural, soft lighting and close-ups that show the rich, vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients in the kitchen.
Another enticing feature to the Fire TV stick family is its ability to connect to Alexa and use voice control, and by most measures, that performance carries over to the 4K Max. It’s fast and quickly caught on to my demands without a long loading period. I asked Alexa to play Ted Lasso, and it automatically pulled up the Apple TV+ app right to the show’s page. Yet if you want Alexa to play something that isn’t available on streaming services and requires you to rent or buy it, it’ll automatically take you to Prime Video’s shopping page instead of a platform where you potentially have rented or purchased a movie or TV show. (For example, I had already rented Spider-Man: Far From Home from the Apple iTunes store separately and, therefore, the movie was available on Apple TV+ for me.)
Alexa also fell short in answering my questions when playing movies and shows. Although the Amazon Prime Video X-Ray feature that shows you cast and crew information, trivia, and scene secrets is a fun bonus for viewers, it’s less accurate when you ask Alexa about them. When I first set up my Fire TV stick, the device prompted me to ask, “Who’s that actor” while I was watching Spider-Man: Far From Home. Instead of telling me Tom Holland, Alexa pulled up a nonsensical answer I’d expect to get if I searched “Who’s that actor?” on Google with no context. Even when I tested it further and asked, “Alexa, who’s the director of this movie?” while streaming When Harry Met Sally on Prime Video, Alexa told me instead that “according to Wikipedia, Us is directed by Jordan Peele” — completely misinterpreting the question.
Should I buy it?
If you’re an Amazon Prime shopper and Prime Video subscriber, then the Fire TV 4K Max stick should be your first choice when it comes to a streaming device. It’s intuitive for Prime members, highlights Prime Video content, and even combines shopping features on Amazon’s massive platform by streaming Amazon Live’s shopping livestreams. It’s also a fast streamer, with little to no lag or waiting time to load new movies or TV shows. Having Dolby Atmos and Vision capabilities is certainly a plus.
Still, there are some minor inconveniences with the streaming stick that could be improved, from its not-so-user-friendly interface to Alexa’s limited understanding of voice commands. Frankly, any streaming stick is unnecessary if you already have a smart TV with built-in streaming functionalities.
The bottom line? If you’re looking for a fast streaming stick for less than $60, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a worthy buy, with a few tolerable kinks. At only $55 regularly (and only $35) right now, it’s a surprisingly affordable streamer in terms of the features and capabilities it offers.