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People love using Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa, to play music, get the weather and control stuff like lights and thermostats. And many want to use her to easily control the TV, too.
If easy voice control of a TV is what you're looking for, the Element EL4KAMZ17 series delivers. The first so-called Amazon Fire TV Edition television, its Alexa feature can accept your voice commands for any standard Alexa task. It controls TV-specific stuff too, like finding shows to watch, switching inputs and changing channels on antenna broadcasts. Alexa's soothing voice pipes right back through the TV's speakers, and she lets you do most major tasks with just a few words. It's really pretty amazing.
This TV doesn't achieve its true potential unless you use it with an always-on, always listening speaker from Amazon, such as the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. That's because the far-field microphones that listen for commands, like "Alexa, turn on the TV" or "Alexa, watch 'The Salesman,'" aren't built into the TV itself. Unless you pair this TV with one of Amazon's Echo speakers, you'll have to speak into the remote while holding a button, walkie-talkie style, to control it with your voice. How like, totally, mid-90's!
In my tests the Echo integration with this TV works great, and if you don't own one already you should seriously consider buying one for use with this TV.
This TV works just like the Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, which costs $40. You could add that device to any TV and get basically the same functionality, minus 4K streaming and the TV's excellent antenna features, designed for cord cutters who watch over-the-air TV.
Meanwhile, if you want built-in 4K streaming and don't place a premium on TV voice control, I think TCL's Roku's TVs are a better bet.
The EL4KAMZ17 series makes sense for people who prefer Amazon's Fire TV system and its Alexa voice control to Roku TV, or who really want to get the Element's superior antenna functionality. Otherwise, get a Roku TV or, if you prize image quality in an inexpensive TV, a Vizio E series.
Editor's note Aug. 21, 2017: This review has been updated since its initial publication to account for the addition of the ability to control it with an Echo speaker. The overall rating has been increased from 6.9 to 7.5, and other updates made throughout.
People who decide to forego pairing this TV with an Echo will get a better sense of privacy -- the only time the TV is "listening" is when you press the remote's voice button -- but sacrifice the futuristic convenience of commanding their TV by speaking into thin air.
Remotes with microphones are nothing new. Just ask Apple TV with its Siri remote, your late-model Roku, Samsung or LG TV, or an Amazon Fire TV box or stick. Like the latter, the Element TVs let you control lights, thermostats and other smart home gadgets, answer questions about the weather and local restaurants, call an Uber or play music. You can also use voice to search for TV shows and movies, launch apps, fast-forward and pause in compatible apps and even switch inputs.
I tried all of that using the remote and it worked fine, but for many tasks like pause and input switching, it's often easier to just mash the button. The clicker was in my hand anyway.
But when I paired an Echo Dot with the TV, the skies opened up and I got a glimpse of TV-control heaven. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration, but that combination easily delivered the most satisfying voice-controlled living room experience I've ever tested.
Every command I tested that worked with the remote in-hand worked hands-free too when I said "Alexa, ..." into thin air. I especially loved the ability to turn on the TV via voice, launch apps, switch inputs and perform searches without touching the remote. As usual, far-field voice recognition was great with my Echo Dot, but of course your mileage may vary. For best results, your Echo speaker should be as close as possible to where you sit, and ideally far from the TV itself. Check out my full tests here.
It's also worth mentioning that some third-party Alexa skills, like the one from Harmony, let you control any TV or other compatible AV device, including Roku, using an Echo or Dot and a Harmony Hub, for example.
In my reviews of streaming devices I've always favored Roku over Amazon, and I like Roku's approach to TVs better than Amazon's too. The basic reasons are the same:
Yes, the Fire TV interface is getting more agnostic, surfacing rows from providers like Netflix and HBO and allowing third parties into the top home page promotion area, but overall it's still very Amazon-heavy.
Amazon's first Fire-powered TV apes Roku TV in other important ways, however, and that's a good thing. First and foremost is the Fire TV system's access to thousands of apps and near-constant updates, a big improvement over traditional smart TV systems from LG and Samsung.
Like Roku TVs, the Element's inputs for connected devices are put on the same easy-to-use menu as apps, the remote is super simple with just a few buttons and no number keys (although it did feel cheaper than the standard Fire TV Stick clicker) and the menus are cake to navigate. There's also ample help, especially for Alexa, and response times were quick with no delays on my fast Wi-Fi network.
Unlike Roku, Amazon does offer parental controls, but in my book they're too restrictive. You'll have to input a code to adjust even the most basic functions, like the Display and Sounds menu. I ended up turning it off, which is a shame since I'd prefer to leave on the code requirement for purchases.
Unlike Roku, antenna TV shows are integrated right onto the home page in a row of thumbnail images, complete with full show information. There's an actual grid-style program guide and it's superb, with 14 days of info and and a little window that shows the live channel. The grid also has the inevitable ad for Amazon content.
Voice commands like "go to PBS" and "pause" worked well, and antenna shows are included in search. And just like with Roku, you can pause live TV, rewind and skip forward (including past commercials) up to "live" time. Onboard storage allows up to 5 minutes of recording time, or you can add a USB or SD card to boost that up to an hour.
Unfortunately none of those features work with cable, just antenna, and there's no cable box control like the kind found on LG and Samsung TVs, for example.
The Element is a bit less-generic looking than some most Roku, Vizio and other budget sets, mainly because it's gray and not glossy black. The squared-off legs lend some sleekness.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|Smart TV||Amazon Fire TV|
The Element is a basic 4K TV, and unlike some competitors it doesn't offer local dimming or support high dynamic range (HDR). Like many budget TVs, the Element claims a 120Hz "effective" refresh rate but it's bunk; this TV has a native 60Hz panel.
Connections are ample. The SD card slot is an unusual addition and serves the same purpose (antenna live TV storage, extra space for app or local media) as the USB ports.
The Element has 4K resolution, but as usual that didn't have any major effect on its image quality, which fell short of both the TCL P series and the Vizio E series I had on-hand to compare. Compared to an Insignia 4K Roku TV from 2016 it was very similar, which is to say "good enough" for most viewers but hardly spectacular. Weaknesses included lighter black levels and lower contrast along with so-so video processing.
Click the image at the right for suggested picture settings and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
Dim lighting: With the lights down low the Element was among the least-impressive TVs in our lineup. Watching "Logan" I noticed the dark areas, for example the shadows and letterbox bars, were brighter and less realistic than on any of the other sets aside from the Insignia, which was about the same. Details in shadows were also slightly obscured; for example, the beard on Logan's shadowed face (25:00). The TCL P series looked best in these scenes, followed by the Vizio E series sets.
Bright lighting: Like most LCDs the Element fared better with the lights up, and its overall light output wasn't bad at all, outgunning the Vizios in their brightest settings but falling short of the TCL.
The Element's screen was a bit less forgiving of bright in-room reflections than the others, which all did a better job of dimming bright lights and windows that got caught in the screen.
|TV||Mode (SDR)||10% window (SDR)||Full screen (SDR)||Mode (HDR)||10% window (HDR)|
|TCL 55P607||Vivid/dimming off||438||431||Brighter/Dark HDR||448|
|Vizio E65-E0||Vivid/dimming off||289||287||Vivid/dimming off||288|
Color accuracy: The Element was solid in this category when I selected Movie mode, showing accurate -- if slightly reddish -- skin tones and natural hues. It fell short of the TCL and the Vizio E's in my lineup, however, mainly because its color adjustment controls didn't allow the level of fine tuning available on those sets.
Video processing: The Element's default settings, even in movie mode, engage the Soap Opera Effect, so the first thing I did was turn it off by selecting "Bypass" under Motion Smoothing in the Advanced Picture menu. After doing so the TV still didn't properly reproduce 1080p/24 film cadence, however. There was no smoothing, but there was the telltale hitching motion of 3:2 pulldown, which made pans look more choppy and unrealistic than on the other TVs.
Motion handling was typical of a 60Hz TV, with 300 lines of motion resolution in every smoothing setting. Unfortunately, I was not able to test gaming input lag on the Element because my lag test device wouldn't work with the TV for some reason.
Uniformity: The Element didn't suffer any overt uniformity issues like corner flashlights, but it was still among the worst in my lineup in this category, about the same as the Insignia. Faint bands across the middle of the screen were visible in test patterns, and in tough program material like a hockey game the dirty screen effect -- where faint splotches remained in place on-screen against the moving image -- was a bit more visible than on the other sets. From off-angle the Element lost black level fidelity a bit more quickly than the others, except for the Insignia.
4K video: The Element worked fine with a Samsung UBD-K8500 4K Blu-ray player, although of course the content appeared in standard dynamic range, not HDR. The YouTube app delivered the full resolution of 4K, and the set played through a suite of 4K test patterns from Florian Friedrich with no issues.
Of course, the main avenue for 4K on the Element will be via streaming services, and the Fire TV has no issues playing back Netflix or Amazon 4K videos. Comparing its rendition with that of a Roku Ultra I saw no differences in video quality.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.031||Average|
|Peak white luminance (100%)||363||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.3||Average|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||3.524||Average|
|Dark gray error (20%)||3.52||Average|
|Bright gray error (70%)||3.841||Average|
|Avg. color error||3.667||Average|
|Avg. saturations error||3.19||Average|
|Avg. luminance error||3.11||Average|
|Avg. color checker error||3.7||Average|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Fail||Poor|
|Motion resolution (max)||300||Poor|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||300||Poor|
|Input lag (Game mode)||could not measure||N/A|