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Amazon Fire TV Cube review: Alexa turns on your TV, and it feels like magic

With the ability to infuse your own TV, sound bar, AV receiver and cable with voice commands, Amazon's Fire TV Cube can take you one step closer to living room bliss.

David Katzmaier
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming
David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
12 min read

If you have a TV entertainment system with a bunch of devices, a universal remote like the venerable Harmony is the still best way to make it easy to use. But the new girl in town, Alexa, is now a close second, thanks to the Fire TV Cube .

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Good

The Amazon Fire TV Cube lets you control power, input switching and volume on your TV, sound bar or AV receiver hands-free from across the room, using only voice commands. You can also use your voice to change channels on a cable box. The microphones are superb at recognizing voice commands from afar, over the blare of speakers. Device control setup is as simple as possible.

The Bad

If you want to use a source device beyond Fire TV -- like your cable DVR, game console, smart TV, Roku or Apple TV -- you'll have to keep its remote on-hand. The included Fire TV remote can't control other devices and even lacks volume and mute keys. Many apps don't support voice yet.

The Bottom Line

The Amazon Fire TV Cube's well-designed voice controls make it a superb alternative to a standard universal remote, especially for simpler systems.

With the Cube installed, saying " Alexa , turn on the TV" from across the room will power up your television, and AV receiver or sound bar if you have one. Whatever you were watching last -- say, TV from your cable box -- appears on the screen, and audio comes through the speakers.

"Alexa, switch to Xbox" switches inputs so you're ready to pick up the controller and mow down some enemies. "Alexa, watch Stranger Things on Netflix" switches inputs again and starts streaming the Upside Down immediately via Fire TV (in 4K and HDR, if your gear supports it). "Alexa, tune to CBS" switches again to your cable box, changes the channel and boom -- hello, Judge Judy.

"Alexa, play Talking Heads" fires up the Spotify app and Psycho Killer plays through the speakers on your TV, receiver or sound bar -- bypassing that cruddy Alexa speaker -- and the Talking Heads playlist appears on-screen. "Alexa, next" plays the next song, This Must Be the Place. "Alexa, volume up" cranks those speakers even higher. Finished? "Alexa, turn off the TV" powers everything down.

If you're used to pressing buttons on a remote, or God forbid, more than one remote, using Alexa on the Cube can make you feel like Gandalf himself.

Amazon's tiny Cube lets Alexa control your big TV (and more)

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You can do all of that stuff by pressing buttons on a Harmony remote too, and in many cases, like browsing for shows, fast-forward and pause, buttons are easier than using voice. And for Harmony owners (like me) who use Harmony's existing Alexa voice skill with their Echo speakers, adding a Fire TV Cube to the arrangement probably isn't worth it. 

The Cube isn't a full-on Harmony replacement. Its included Fire TV remote doesn't control volume or mute, a big misstep on Amazon's part that I hope it fixes in the next generation. You'll still need to keep your cable box remote if you want to do more than just switch channels -- the Cube can't control the box's DVR (yet). It also can't command Blu-ray players, Apple TV , Roku or other non-Fire streamers, so plan on keeping those remotes handy, too. And like any Alexa veteran knows, you can't expect it to recognize and execute your commands correctly the first time, every time.

None of those issues can spoil the feeling of wonder that comes with getting your dumb, frustrating entertainment system to obey spoken commands. I got a dose of it when Amazon launched Fire TV control via Echo speakers last year, but that system couldn't tame your audio equipment or switch inputs. The Fire TV Cube is one of those special devices that breathes new life into your existing tech gear, making it more fun and easy to use than ever. 

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Cube includes an Ethernet adapter, additional IR emitter and the standard Fire TV remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Get to know the Cube

  • The $120 Fire TV Cube is designed to sit near your entertainment center because it plugs into your TV, receiver or sound bar via HDMI.
  • It has all the capabilities of the $70 Fire TV streamer, including 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos sound. It lacks HDR10+.
  • It also has all the capabilities of the $50 Echo Dot speaker, including a built-in speaker and a mic array to pick up your voice commands. It's always listening for the "Alexa" wake word.
  • Audio from music, TV shows and movies are piped through your TV, sound bar or AV receiver speakers by default, significantly improving audio quality. Often Alexa's voice is, too, but sometimes she comes through Cube's built-in speaker.
  • Includes a Fire TV remote, which also accepts voice commands when you press the mic button and speak into it (you don't have to say "Alexa").
  • Built-in infrared emitters inside the Cube blast the room with infrared signals to control your gear.
  • Includes a separate corded IR emitter with an 8-foot cord to reach gear behind cabinet doors, and an Ethernet adapter in case you don't want to use Wi-Fi.
  • The sides are glossy black plastic and a bright Alexa LED response strip is along the top front face. Top keys control volume, mute, and activate, just like a late-model Echo speaker.
  • It's small -- somewhere between a Dot and a full-size Echo -- but not a perfect cube, measuring 3.9 inches wide and deep by 3 inches tall.
  • It's only available in the US for now, but the $120 price converts to about £90 or AU$160.

Alexa heard me over the music

One of the first things I wanted to test on Fire TV Cube was its ability to "hear" me from across the room with the music blasting. Since it's designed to sit near your TV, the Cube is probably closer to your (potentially very loud) speakers than it is to your mouth. In my test setup sitting around 10 feet away, it worked beautifully.


The little Fire TV heard me very well over the blasting speakers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With a speaker less than 2 feet away from the Cube and blasting music, I kept saying "Alexa, volume up" and it kept working. I had to raise my voice slightly when it got really loud, but I found myself doing so naturally, just to compensate for the music. I only had to shout "Alexa" when it got ridiculously loud.

Once the Cube recognized "Alexa" it lit up and paused the music (or TV show or whatever) so it could better hear the rest of my command, just like an Echo. If it wasn't able to pause, for example when I was watching a show on my cable box, it instead sent a mute command to my sound bar or receiver's speakers. In both cases it was worth waiting a second or two for silence before issuing the command, something that took me awhile to get used to.

Either way, the Cube was a superb listener in my test setups. Your mileage may vary depending on how you position it relative to your speakers. If you have issues, try to put as much distance as possible between the Cube and your speakers, and avoid aiming them at the little box if you can help it.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Fire TV Cube between an original Echo (left) and an Echo Dot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I didn't test the Cube with other Alexa speakers in the house, but when I asked Amazon's representatives what multi-Alexa households could do to avoid confusion, they recommended placing non-Cube speakers in other rooms, as far as possible from the Cube. You could also change the wake word, for example calling one of the other speakers (or the Cube) "Echo" or "Computer."

Device control via voice, Cubed

Sure the Cube can do all that Fire TV and Echo speaker stuff -- stream Netflix, Hulu and YouTube, give a weather report and control your lights and thermostats, all via voice or using the Fire TV remote -- but its real differentiator compared to existing Alexa products is device control. Amazon reps told me it can command "tens of thousands" of devices, roughly 90 percent of devices in the US, but didn't cite a specific number.

For the record, it worked successfully with every device I tried, including:

  • TVs : Samsung UN55H6350, Vizio P65-E1, LG OLED65C8P
  • Receivers: Denon 3808CI, Marantz NR1508, Sony STR-DN1080
  • Sound bars: Sonos PlayBar, Yamaha YAS-107, Vizio SB3621
  • Cable box: Motorola QIP 7232 (Verizon Fios)

My test setups included a bunch of gear.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Cube's setup menus list myriad other devices and brands -- the TV brand list alone went from Accele to Zyowaiyu (nope, I've never heard of them, either) and took me 21 seconds to scroll through at breakneck speed. I have no reason to doubt Amazon's 90 percent claim. If your brand somehow isn't listed, however, the Cube won't be of much use to you until Amazon adds support -- there's no "learning" function as seen on many universal remotes.

Using infrared commands, or occasionally HDMI CEC, the Cube successfully turned my devices on and off, changed inputs, adjusted volume and, in the case of the Fios box, switched channels. More advanced commands, for example changing surround modes on a receiver, picture modes on a TV, aren't supported (yet). I was also unable to perform any DVR functions on the Fios box, including pausing live TV, browsing the program guide, or scheduling or playing back a recording.

Amazon Fire TV Cube
Sarah Tew/CNET

The Cube also can't control other source devices beyond Fire TV itself, including a game console, Roku or Apple TV streamer, or the Smart TV functions on your television. If you really like using voice commands, you can ditch those other streamers and stick with Fire TV, or you can keep their remotes around and simply have the Cube switch to them when you want. But if you really want to take advantage of the Cube's voice functions, you'll use it for streaming too.

Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue and of course Amazon itself support deeper voice commands such as search and playback control ("Alexa, pause" for example), but many do not. You can launch most apps with a voice command, but actually using them requires picking up the Fire TV remote. In practice I kept that remote close at hand whenever I was streaming anyway, because it made even voice supported apps like Netflix much easier to browse and use. But having the option to use hands-free voice was still great. Amazon says it's working with developers to add more voice support to Fire TV apps all the time.

Setup made easy with voice

I performed the Cube's device setup routine at least 20 times during the course of my testing, and as a decade-plus Harmony veteran, I can say with authority: Alexa makes it a hell of a lot easier.


The Alexa speaker aids setup greatly.

Sarah Tew/CNET

My first setup, with just a TV and a sound bar, was a revelation. Alexa's voice guided me through the process, accompanied by on-screen prompts. My Samsung TV was automatically detected in a few seconds, and then the system asked whether I wanted to connect a receiver or sound bar. I chose the latter, specified its brand (Yamaha) and bit of music began playing through the sound bar. I confirmed I could hear it on the Cube's on-screen menu, then confirmed that the Cube could control turning power on and off. Finally a screen appeared that said "Now we'll learn how Fire TV Cube is connected to your sound bar," which included an option that read "Press >> if you don't change inputs on your sound bar." Since I don't, this command applied to me and I pressed >>. Finally I saw "All done! Now you can control your TV and sound bar with Alexa."

With an AV receiver, the process had more steps was but was still dead-simple. Again, Alexa detected my TV automatically, then asked for my receiver brand. It then walked through power on/off and mute, then set up input switching for Fire TV (happily, I could specify inputs on either the receiver or the TV). That was it for the initial setup.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

On-screen prompts guide you through everything.

Sarah Tew/CNET

To add my cable box, the process was once again aided by voice. I specified my zip code and provider (Verizon Fios), then was told to use my original remotes to switch to your cable box. I did so and a cable show appeared on-screen, accompanied by audio from the receiver's speakers. At the same time Alexa's voice piped through the Cube's built-in speaker and asked me to confirm as much, by pressing fast-forward on the Fire TV remote. At first the cable show's audio prevented me from hearing Alex'a instruction, but I fixed that issue by turning down the receiver's volume and cranking the Cube's, using the top volume controls.


There's a separate IR emitter included, but I didn't really need it for open-shelf setups.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Finally, I set up input switching for my Xbox and Apple TV. Although the Cube can't control such devices directly, you can switch to them using voice commands -- for example, "Alexa, switch to Xbox" and "Alexa, switch to Apple TV."

The built-in IR emitters on the Cube were powerful enough that I never needed to use the included separate IR emitter in any setup. I assume it would be necessary only for stuff hidden behind a cabinet door.

Ice cool Cube tidbits

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Numbers are designed to ease navigation via voice; just say "Alexa, play number 1."

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Pretty much every command works whether your system is on or off. If it's off, issuing a command like "Alexa, play Ozark on Netflix" will turn on the TV and sound bar/receiver and switch inputs, as necessary, before starting to stream the show.
  • Sometimes Alexa seemed to be responding, but I couldn't hear anything because the audio system (sound bar or receiver) was turned off or otherwise disabled. I said "Alexa, I can't hear you" and she replied "OK, I'll talk to you here now" using the built-in speaker.
  • At any point I could turn on the TV, sound bar or receiver via voice, and saying "Alexa, go home" took me to the Fire TV home page.
  • The blue light bar on the Cube perfectly matches the blue light bar that appears on the TV, to denote that Alexa is listening
  • Speaking of streaming apps, if you're a subscriber to PlayStation Vue or Hulu with Live TV, the "Tune to [channel name]" command works with those services just like on a cable box. When I said "Alexa, tune to TNT" she asked which of the two I wanted to use. I said "PlayStation Vue" and the app launched on Cube and started playing the channel.
  • The Fire TV interface has been tweaked to add numbers to a list of selections, for example search results, with the aim of making voice commands easier. I could just say "Alexa, play number 3" instead of the show name.
  • YouTube works, Google-vs.-Amazon feud be damned. I could say "Alexa, show me CNET videos on YouTube and I'd see a list of relevant results, courtesy of the Silk browser. Its interface looks exactly like an actual YouTube app (and nothing like a browser), to the extent that I didn't miss having an official app.
  • An option in the setup menu for your audio device lets you change the increments of increase or decrease, to make the system get louder (or quieter) more quickly, with fewer "Volume up" or "Volume down" voice commands.

There are scads of device settings. One of my favorite is volume increment control.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Smooth but not flawless

There's a lot going on with the Cube, and in my brief three-day test period I uncovered some issues. Here's a quick list.

  • As usual with Alexa I had to speak clearly and be sure to parse commands in a way she understood, or risk being misheard. Still, I had to repeat myself to correct misinterpretations fairly frequently.
  • As with any universal remote, firing everything up, switching inputs and having something actually appear on-screen can take awhile; twenty seconds or more in some cases. I found it varies greatly according to what gear you have. You can shave it by playing with the delay controls in settings, but that's the nature of IR-based device control.
  • Channel commands were often misheard. For example "Tune to CBS" was heard occasionally as "Tune to V" and Alexa would say no such channel existed.
  • "Play CNN" or "Watch CNN" (or another channel) didn't work to change channels on the cable box; I had to use the "Tune to..." command.
  • During setup, some of Alexa's voice responses were truncated or cut off, making them difficult to understand.
  • I mistakenly listed the wrong input for my TV during AV receiver setup at one point, but there was no way to go back and fix it. So I just powered through manually, and fixed it later using the "Manage Equipment" screen.
  • On two separate receivers, the Sony and Denon, the input names weren't listed as an option, so I had to experiment to get Cube to switch to the right one. In the case of the Denon, I never found it so ended up connecting the device to the TV instead.
  • During setup with the Denon, the Cube failed to properly turn it off at one point, instead sending a command to change the zone. I had to recognize and fix the issue manually before setup could continue, but the Cube did end up controlling the receiver properly.
  • Occasionally in some setups, the TV, sound bar or AV receiver wouldn't turn on automatically when the entire system was off and I issued a command like "Watch Netflix." I had to follow with "Turn on the TV."
  • Having to say "Alexa" all the time can really become tiring, and a lot of stuff is easier to accomplish by pressing a button on a remote rather than using voice commands.

Should you Cube?

Despite the issues listed above, using the Cube was mostly a smooth experience. The main question is whether it's right for your particular system.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

A Harmony remote can replace your device remotes. With a Cube you'll have to keep many of them around. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have a lot of gear, in particular a cable DVR, a Roku or Apple TV you prefer to use instead of Fire TV, or a Blu-ray player you use a lot, the Cube is less useful. You'll need to keep that device's remote around to handle most functions.

Likewise if you already use a Harmony or other universal remote. To use the Cube and one of those clickers together in the same system is confusing. If you use the Cube to initiate an activity, for example watching cable, you have to remember to set your universal remote to the matching setting manually. A much simpler solution, if you want to use voice control with Harmony, is the Harmony Alexa skill.

But if you want to rely primarily on Fire TV for streaming, especially if you're a PlayStation Vue or Hulu subscriber, the Cube is great. It's also superb if you want an easy way to use your full-fledged audio system to enjoy music with Alexa voice control. And as Amazon adds more device control and more apps step up with deeper voice support, it's only going to get better.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Score Breakdown

Design 8Ecosystem 8Features 9Performance 8Value 7
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