In Depth

Amazon Fire TV Stick review: is it better than Chromecast?

The new Fire TV Stick dongle offers Prime Instant Video alongside Netflix, BBC iPlayer and Sky

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The Amazon Fire TV Stick, a small video-streaming device that you can plug into your TV set, has quickly become Amazon's fastest-selling gadget.

Amazon's challenge to Google's Chromecast TV dongle costs £35 and streams Amazon's Prime Instant Video as well as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Sky and Demand 5.

It also gives access to Amazon's huge library of films and TV shows including recent releases such as Interstellar, The Imitation Game and Nightcrawler as well as playing music and a respectable collection of games. So is it any good?

Amazon Fire TV Stick design

Amazon's latest bid to take control of television sets worldwide comes in a small package. The device itself is "approximately the size and shape of a pack of gum", PC Mag says, measuring just 3.3in x 1in x 0.5in. It plugs into your TV's HDMI port and is powered by a USB cable or mains adaptor.

The device is made from sleek matt plastic with soft, curved edges and feels "somewhat more sophisticated than its rivals", says PC Pro. However "as you won’t be holding it in your hands, or really ever seeing it, it doesn’t matter how it looks tucked away behind your TV".

Amazon Fire TV Stick remote and games

The Fire TV Stick comes with a compact 1.6in x 4.7in x 0.5in remote control which is light but solidly built. Unlike the control that comes with the full-sized version of Amazon Fire TV, the remote does not offer voice search, but it is possible to get voice functionality by downloading the free Fire TV remote app (available for iOS, Android and Amazon devices), which syncs with the TV Stick and offers a range of touch and swipe controls.

A separate games controller is available for £34.99, but the remote functions as a "surprisingly capable" controller in its own right, says games review site Teckish.com.

A simple game like Crossy Road, plays "effortlessly", the site says. Platformers such as Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse can also be played at a stretch, but Sonic The Hedgehog fares rather less well and will probably need Amazon's actual controller to play, Teckish notes.

Still, the selection of games on offer is decent, if not spectacular, says Tech Radar's Nick Pino. "I wish it were a little more AAA game-oriented and much more platform-agnostic (searches only return Amazon content). That said, this is still a fairly balanced ecosystem".

When put head-to-head against the Chromecast and Roku streaming media player, the "Amazon wins hands down", says Pocket-Lint. "Since the launch of the Fire TV set-top box, Amazon has been steadily getting developers on-board in terms of porting games to the platform. Many of the titles available are big name games as well." 

The Fire TV Stick's dual-core processor won't be powerful enough to handle some "graphically intensive games" that are currently available for the Amazon Fire TV proper, says Pocket-Lint, but even so, when it comes to gaming the Roku and Chromecast "just don't compete", Pocket-Lint says.

Amazon Fire TV Stick specifications

With a dual-core processor and 1GB of Ram, Amazon Fire TV Stick can stream full HD video. The device also has a feature called ASAP which will buffer shows that it thinks you may be about to watch, so that there is no stuttering once you press play. Still, according to PC Mag, the Fire TV Stick is not as quick as regular Fire TV. "For the smaller size and the lower price of the Fire Stick, you have to trade off the very snappy experience of the Fire TV for a slightly longer wait (but not nearly as long as the Google Nexus Player)", PC Mag says.

Amazon Fire Stick TV content

The Amazon Fire TV Stick gives access to the Prime Instant Video library of TV shows and films, including Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, Under The Skin with Scarlett Johansson, Inside Llewelyn Davis by the Coen Brothers, and Steve McQueen's multi-Oscar success 12 Years A Slave. TV shows on the service include the well-reviewed spy show Alias starring Jennifer Garner, superhero programme Arrow, pirate adventure Black Sails and the Halle Berry space thriller Extant.But the Amazon Fire TV Stick is not only for people who are already members of Amazon's film and TV subscription service, Amazon Prime. It also works with Netflix, the BBC iPlayer, Sky and Demand 5, as well as Spotify for music. However, for UK viewers, "the lack of Now TV, ITV Player and All 4 support is disappointing", says PC Pro.The Fire TV Stick can also be used to access and purchase films and TV shows on-demand, with a large number of new releases available at prices that range from just a few pounds for older items to £20-£30 for new box sets, including Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, House of Cards and Mad Men.For all the hits that are available through Amazon Prime Instant Video "there are some significant content misses", Alphr says. Amazon has yet to produce a show in-house that is as successful as its on-demand rival Netflix's House of Cards.

Conclusions

Amazon already has a thriving audience due to Amazon Prime having absorbed the popular DVD rental and video streaming service Lovefilm in 2014. Lovefilm had around three million subscribers across Europe, many of whom are still members of Prime.

For those who are already sold into the Amazon ecosystem of movies, games, television and music, Amazon Fire TV Stick is a compelling device to deliver the lot directly to your big screen for less than half the price of the full Amazon TV (£79). For those who are not, reviewers say that this is still a good alternative to Google's Chromecast or Chromebit for streaming subscription services such as Sky or Netflix, as well as for playing music and games.

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