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Amazon Fire TV Stick review: A cheap, quick, and dirty path to Prime Instant Video

Jared Newman | Dec. 4, 2014
No disrespect to the full-sized Fire TV that Amazon launched last April, but the Fire TV Stick is the media-streamer that the online giant should have released in the first place.

Prime ad infinitum

You'll need an Amazon Prime subscription to get the most value out of the Fire TV Stick, a fact that becomes abundantly clear the instant you land on the Home screen. Sign up for this $99-per-year service, or activate the included one-month trial, and the Home screen lays out a smorgasbord of free videos to choose from. There's plenty of good stuff, including a trove of HBO hits and Comedy Central originals.

The Fire TV Stick is relentless about throwing Prime content in your face. The Home section alone has options for recommended Prime videos, featured Prime videos, recently added Prime videos, HBO Prime videos, and top Prime videos. Those choices are then repeated below the Home section in another area called "Prime Video." Scroll down to "Movies" and "TV," and you'll find many of those categories repeated again. It might seem as though you're scrolling through a vast menu, but you're actually looking at the same options over and over.

All this redundancy buries the non-Prime content. The Fire TV Stick has plenty more to offer, and it's not just the usual suspects, like Netflix and Hulu Plus. You'll find a number of lesser-known gems, including Pluto.TV and CBSN. These get so lost in the labyrinthine menus that you practically need to use the search command to find them. Just getting from the Home section to your master apps list requires eight taps on the remote to scroll past the "Video Library" and "Watchlist" sections. Navigating the sprawl can be exhausting.

Casting aside

The Fire TV Stick nods in the direction of the Chromecast with some ability to fling videos from a phone or tablet, but its scope is more limited. The Fire TV Stick works a lot like a Chromecast with Netflix and YouTube, for example. Open the app on your iPhone or Android phone, pick the video you want, and hit the "Cast" button to play it on your television. Amazon says this works with Spotify, too, but I wasn't able to test it out as it requires a Spotify Premium subscription.

That's where the similarities end. The Chromecast supports casting from a wider range of apps, and if it's plugged into a wall outlet, it can even turn on your TV and switch to the appropriate input. I also had trouble getting screen mirroring to work on the Fire TV Stick, and the process — which involves opening a prompt in the settings menu and entering a PIN on your phone or tablet — is much clunkier than Chromecast's mirroring setup.

Unlike Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick does let you cast Amazon videos to the television while you look up supplemental information (such as actor and director filmographies on IMDB) on that second device. But you need a Fire phone or Kindle Fire tablet to do that. I wasn't able to evaluate this feature for lack of the necessary hardware.

 

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