Amazon Fire TV Stick review: Cheap Amazon-centric streamer a step behind competitors

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MSRP: $39.00

The Good The Amazon Fire TV Stick can access thousands of the most popular streaming apps. It's dirt cheap and unlike Chromecast, it actually includes a physical remote. Amazon content launches quickly. The voice remote option allows more convenient search and easy access to the Alexa digital assistant.

The Bad Slower than most other streaming devices. Popular apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and others take a back seat to Amazon's own TV shows and movies. There's no way to customize the interface.

The Bottom Line The inexpensive Fire TV Stick remains a great value for heavy users of Amazon TV shows and movies, but most other new devices work better for Netflix and the rest.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Ecosystem 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Value 9

Along with Roku, Apple and Google, Amazon is a major player in streaming TV devices, and the Fire TV Stick is the most popular Amazon streamer. It's small, cheap and capable, and people seem to like it. In fact it's the most-reviewed product in Amazon history, with more than 100,000 user reviews on the shopping site, averaging four out of five stars.

Count this as one review that's less enthusiastic. After a year and a half on the market, the Fire TV stick is showing its age. It's not the the Fire Stick is a bad device; it's not. It's just that its similarly-priced rivals are so good. All of the Fire TV Stick's competitors have shipped newer streamers since it debuted, and the two closest in price -- Roku Streaming Stick and Google Chromecast -- are both better right now.

Roku's new-for-2016 stick costs a bit more, but it's worth it for the extra apps, speedier response times and more open, customer-friendly interface. The slightly cheaper Chromecast is more appealing for phone-centric users who don't mind the lack of a remote (though, notably, it lacks the Amazon Prime video app).

Amazon's Stick is good enough, but struggles to stand out against the tough competition. The Alexa voice assistant is easily accessible if you buy the more expensive version ($50 versus $40) with the voice remote, but since you have to have your TV on, it's hardly a viable Echo or Dot substitute. Amazon has done a good job adding must-have apps, but they get buried by menus designed -- more than any other device I've ever used -- to make you browse, search for and buy video from just one source: Amazon itself.

And if you're a hardcore "Amazon person," the Fire TV box might be worth the extra money compared to the Stick. The box has better connectivity, 4K capability, and is smoother and faster to use every day. The Stick is still better value at less than half the price, however.

I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon replaces the current Stick with a faster version later this year. Until then there are better devices to choose as your main streamer, and better values.

Editors' note: This review was completely updated May 27, 2016, to account for changes since the last update in 2015, including the introduction of new devices. The ratings were reduced to account for the changes in the competitive landscape mentioned above.

Sticking to the Amazon basics

If you're not familiar with streamers in general and sticks in particular, here's a quick primer. Numerous devices available today let you stream TV shows, movies and other video content, as well as music, via the Internet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sticks like Amazon's are the smallest and cheapest. They plug into your TV's HDMI port and use your home Wi-Fi network. They get power either from an included wall adapter or a USB port on your TV, although I recommend using the adapter to avoid the stick needing to boot up every time you turn your TV on.

Almost all streamers can access major apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Now and Watch ESPN. The major exception is Amazon video. Apple TV, Chromecast and Google Android TV devices like the Nvidia Shield can't access any Amazon content directly. They lack an Amazon video app, so you have to use an inconvenient workaround like AirPlay or screen mirroring from a phone, tablet or computer.

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