My First Weekend With Amazon's Fire TV
Perhaps the biggest challenge for streaming device makers is to build a device that doesn't force you to commit to one single ecosystem. No, Fire TV doesn't solve this problem. But it's still a solid effort. To be sure, Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV all do a lot of things well; as consumers we are spoiled. It's a great time to be alive and you're bitching about these things then stop reading now and go do something else.
I cannot speak at all to Google's Chromecast. I've never used it and at this point don't see buying one ever based on what I've heard. I can speak to Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV as we have one of each in our home today. To give you a quick idea of how we use devices and ecosystems, my wife and I both have iPhones and iPads. We also both have Kindle ereaders and probably always will. We have two daughters who both have Kindle Fire HDs and love them. They also aspire to own iPads one day. If you asked me today how their tech profile might shake out, if I'm a betting man ultimately I see it matching ours.
We are Amazon Prime members and in my book we always will be. Amazon could triple the price to $300 and I'd still happily pay it because for us the math works; we have integrated Prime shipping into our home's business model and I love it. If for nothing else, having toilet paper, paper towels and dog food appear magically on our doorstep as if from nowhere is a beautiful thing.
We also use Prime streaming as one of a few options that we have for video content. We have FiOS and I have absolutely no desire to cut the cord. I love the cord and with FiOS, Amazon, Hulu and HBO we get what we want when and how we want it. We don't have Netflix because we simply wouldn't use it; with Amazon Prime, Netflix is basically redundant. There is more awesome TV out there than we have any time for and we don't have time to binge-watch anything. We get Amazon by virtue of the Prime membership which is great (The Americans, Downton Abbey), Hulu Plus is excellent for new content (Cosmos:A Spacetime Odyssey is very cool) and HBO is pretty much awesome in every way.
With all of this in mind, here are some of the pros and cons of the Fire TV:
Voice search is really great. I've tested mine out ad nauseam and the only thing it had trouble with was the name "Zach Galifinakis." BFD, to my mind the voice search is an awesome differentiator. Sure it will be copied. But as it stands Amazon has set a nice bar here.
It's very easy to set up and use. I don't consider Roku to be a pleasant interface. Apple TV is a friendly interface but I actually think Fire TV's interface is even more pleasant.
We are casual gamers at most, but Fire TVs gaming platform is cool. I have the game controller on order and I like the fact that you can quickly and easily play one of many different kinds of games at the drop of a hat.
Amazon has made tremendous strides in separating Prime content versus content you have to purchase or rent. It's now much easier to check out the Prime catalog for TV and movies.
On this note, Amazon has also included a button that show other ways to watch things, not necessarily just on Amazon. An example: for Cosmos the first option when I searched for it was to purchase it on Amazon (it's not on Prime as it's a new show that hasn't even run its course on linear TV yet). However the other ways to watch button then shows me that it's on Hulu (I knew this because I've been watching it on Hulu). It sounds like this feature will continue to improve, but it's a great start in crossing platforms for content.
We store all of our photos and home videos on the Amazon Cloud and I absolutely love being able to see and watch them as easily as any other content on Fire TV.
It's fast. We watched a movie on Prime last night on the big screen and not one hiccup or problem.
There is a tremendous amount of video tutorial content on Fire TV to teach you everything it can do. Simple to watch, you can do it in stages and it's very helpful. Like with most devices, it does a lot more than we will probably initially use it for.
I have to believe the hardware is going to exceed most people's expectations by a mile; it's pretty impressive stuff. I think the voice search is integrated nicely into the remote and the remote is a nice size. Bigger than Appel TVs teeny little remote and far more comfortable to use than the Roku remote as well.
Fire TV integrates music into the mix as well whether you use something lime Pandora or store MP3s in the Amazon Cloud.
Parental controls are easy to use and can prevent unwanted purchases with relative ease.
No HBO GO is kind of a bummer. I love HBO and hope they get this worked out. But it's not a deal breaker by any means, at least for us. I tend to use HBO GO mostly on my iPad, so even while I'd love to see the app on Fire TV it's not killing me.
There's no question that Fire TV presents a greater value for those who already have a relationship with Amazon. Those who don't use Amazon won't see the same value. With that said, it may also encourage new relationships with Amazon.
At $99 the Fire TV is cheap. It's just not as cheap as some other devices. It's the same thing we paid for Apple TV and I completely justified the Roku purchase a couple of years ago because it was on sale at Best Buy for $49.
And the verdict is...
My bottom line here is that Fire TV is a great little setup and one that we'll continue to use. It's better than Apple TV and far better than Roku. It's obvious there was a good amount of thought that went into the device and the interface and I'm sure it will get even better. Maybe this device will encourage more relationships with Amazon, who knows? While we won't be cutting the cord anytime soon, I'd say that for those who are trying to cut the cord, Fire TV sure looks like the best way I've seen to do it to date.