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Amazon Fire TV review: Great for Amazon Prime subscribers, but Roku remains the best value box

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The Good This is an easy to use streamer with great voice-controlled search. The hardware has plenty of features and it's fast. A reasonable number of UK services are supported, including iPlayer. If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, it's the best way to watch movies and TV on that service right now.

The Bad A cheaper model currently on sale in the US will probably arrive in the UK soon. There's no ITV, Channel 4 or Now TV support, and the voice search only works with Amazon material. It's expensive too.

The Bottom Line A great media streamer that will suit you perfectly if you buy everything from Amazon. If not, Roku makes better value boxes.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Ecosystem 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Value 5.3

Review Sections

It drives me nuts that no streaming TV box you can buy in Britain supports all the major streaming services. There are plenty of options: Apple TV , Roku and Chromecast are the major ones, but you need to buy two or more of them to be able to access all the different video options we have. Now Amazon has its own model, which is rather wonderful for some things, but like all its rivals it has some irritating flaws.

The Fire TV is probably best thought of as an Apple TV on steroids, and it shares many of that product's strengths and weaknesses. Just as Apple TV is intended as a way to lock you into Apple's ecosystem, the Fire TV is primarily about getting you to buy more more things from Amazon, especially its £79 annual Prime subscription, which includes Instant Video (the video streaming service formally known as Lovefilm), one-day delivery on most things Amazon sells and unlimited photo storage on its cloud service.

If you just want Amazon's video streaming service, that's available for £5.99 per month, although over the course of 12 months you'll end up just over £7 better off than if you'd opted for the full Prime subscription.

Amazon movies and TV are front and centre of the easy-to-use interface. Jason Jenkins/CNET

If you're happy living in Amazon's world, this box is great. The interface looks fantastic, it's easy to understand and it responds faster than Apple TV. Unlike the Chromecast, you get a proper remote control that uses Bluetooth rather than infrared. That means that, unlike the Apple TV remote, it doesn't need line of sight to control the box, so you can hide it behind the TV or in a cupboard. The downside is that a universal remote control probably won't work with the Fire TV, as most of them tend to use infrared.

Fire TV has the best voice-controlled search I've ever used. Jason Jenkins/CNET

Amazing voice search

There's a microphone in the remote control which, combined with Bluetooth, means you can talk into it to search for stuff. If you've ever ground your teeth while trying to search with an on-screen keyboard and a basic remote control, you'll appreciate how amazing this could be, if it works.

The good news is that it's incredibly accurate -- every other voice search I've used has been very hit and miss (mostly miss). But the Fire TV understood what I was saying every time. There's just one problem: it only searches Amazon's content. It doesn't search across iPlayer or Netflix. To find things on those services, you need to open those apps and use an on-screen keyboard. Back to grinding teeth.

Supported and missing services

Speaking of other services, iPlayer support is one of the Fire TV's big selling points over the Apple TV. It looks and works like all the other iPlayer TV apps out there, although it's quicker to respond than most. There's support for Demand 5, Curzon Home Cinema, Sky News, Spotify, Vimeo and STV alongside the obligatory Netflix.

Despite supporting a decent number of services, there's no way to customise the menus to make the ones you like more prominent. At the top of the screen is a strip of boxes showing the most recent apps you've used, but if the one you want falls out of that list you can have to wade through a lot of Amazon TV and movies to find it again.

BBC iPlayer is present and correct on Fire TV. Jason Jenkins/CNET

Right now, there's no 4oD, Now TV or ITV Player: all of which Roku streamers support. However, you can watch what's on these channels live with Viewster, a cool, free app that also provides access to lots of horrible US news channels if that's your thing. YouTube isn't there as an app as such, but as a shortcut to the TV version of the website. Testing it out, it works just the same as other YouTube TV apps, so it's unlikely you'd notice the difference, with one exception. When I tried to send the video I was watching on a YouTube iPhone app to the Fire TV box by pressing the "cast" button, it didn't work.

The box has an Ethernet port alongside Wi-Fi, which makes it a better bet for anyone who suffers from wireless drop-outs: you could run an Ethernet cable to your router or use powerline adapters. There's also an optical port, handy for those who need to get a Dolby Digital signal to a sound bar if your TV can't do that for you.

Ethernet and optical-out both feature on the back of the Fire TV. The USB port doesn't do anything unless you're very technical. Sarah Tew/CNET

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