Amazon has packed 4K into a streaming device before, but it was a box, not a stick. Now though, Amazon has got 4K, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support into a tiny little streaming stick.
The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K has a faster processor than its predecessor, and comes with the new Alexa Voice Remote, which can also be picked up separately for £29.99. The TV stick and remote combo is yours for a very reasonable £49.99.
But is it worth buying over the many other streaming sticks on the market? Let's find out.
DESIGN: THE BIG STICK
Naturally, as it’ll be shoved behind your telly, there’s nothing too exciting about the design. The previous 4K-flavoured Amazon streamer looked more like a square Chromecast with a short, flat flexible HDMI cable. A dangling dongle, if you will.
This new model takes it back to familiar Amazon Fire TV Stick aesthetic, but it’s definitely on the chunky side. If the HDMI ports are on the side of your TV, the 10cm-long gadget may well stick out from the side. But don’t panic, because there’s an HDMI extender in the box, which should help you if need a little extra wiggle room and can also be used to boost Wi-Fi and remote performance.
Meanwhile, the second-gen Alexa Voice Remote sports a similar design to its predecessor, with the addition of volume controls, a mute button and a power button so you can actually turn the stick on and off. The battery slot, the parking spot for 2xAAAs, has also been redesigned. However, the sleek form factor makes getting the battery cover off an exasperating swear-fest.
SETUP: IDIOT PROOF
After that brief and sweary bamboozling, setup is (almost) idiot proof. Just plug the stick into an HDMI port on the TV and hook up the USB power cable to the mains. Unlike some other sticks, the power-hungry 4K stick will likely be too much for the USB ports on your TV to handle.
Instructions on the TV will then guide you through pairing the remote with the stick and connecting to your Wi-Fi. After that it’ll automatically download the latest software. You might as well stick the kettle on at this point as it takes a good five minutes or so. After logging into your Amazon account and setting parental controls if you want them, you’re good to go.
If you’ve already got an Amazon streamer, you’ll be old pals with the slick interface, but if you’re used to the clunky UI offered by the Prime app on most TVs, you’ll find this much easier.
FEATURES: 4K GOOD, VOICE CONTROL OK
Amazon has previously offered 4K on the ‘dangling dongle’ we mentioned earlier, but this is the first time it's been available on a stick. This is also the first Amazon streamer to offer HDR support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, as well as for HLG, the broadcast HDR standard, putting it one step ahead of its rivals.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K also sports a new 1.7GHz quad-core processor, which Amazon says makes it more than 80% more powerful than the standard Fire TV Stick. It’s designed for speedy performance and that’s certainly what you get. You can zip around the on-screen interface at speed and it’s also very quick to respond to commands.
The other big attraction for the new stick is that it comes with the latest version of the Alexa Voice Remote. This combines Bluetooth and IR technology with far field voice recognition so that you can control your TV, with Alexa’s help. You simply hold down the mic button on the remote and issue your command. It works well with Prime Video - with basics like “Pause” and “Play” and with search commands like “Find 4K movies”. If you say “Play The Man in the High Castle", it knows where you’re up to in the series and will fire up where you left off.
However, support for non-Amazon apps is still pretty limited. Say “Play House of Cards” and it’ll default back to series one, episode one on Netflix. And voice control on BBC iPlayer? Forget it. By the time you’ve tried and failed to get what you want on a third-party app with voice, it would’ve be quicker to kick it old school with your opposable thumbs and just use the remote's buttons.
Because it’s Alexa-powered, you can use the remote’s voice controls to do all the usual stuff like check the weather, start a timer, or control your smart home devices.
APPS: ONE STICK TO RULE THEM ALL
Unsurprisingly, Prime Video content is front and centre on the UI, because this is Amazon’s stick and it wants you to bloody well know it. You get access to almost all of the big-name apps including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, My5 and Disney Life, along with Amazon Music, TuneIn and Spotify for the musos. And if you’re into fancy smart home kit, the Stick supports a range of big players including Hive, Hue and Ring.
But is this really the one stick to rule them all? Alas, not. If you want Now TV, you’re out of luck. Also, as on Amazon’s previous efforts, the YouTube app is infuriatingly lame. It forces you to watch videos either through Amazon’s Silk Browser or Firefox, making the whole process clunky as hell.
PICTURE AND SOUND: SOLID ALL-ROUNDER
The good news is that 4K HDR content looks sharp, with great contrast and impressive colour reproduction. The bad news is that the selection of 4K HDR stuff still feels quite limited - most of it's Prime and Netflix original content, which can vary from some of the most finely crafted TV ever made to films so bad you’ll want to smash the screen and give Alexa a good talking to for leading you towards such rubbish. However, there’s plenty of HD content around and the stick does a decent job in displaying lower quality picture feeds like iPlayer.
Audio-wise, the stick brings Dolby Atmos support when hooked up to a compatible system - pretty impressive stuff for a budget streaming stick. The tiny streamer also copes well with standard stereo and 5.1.
Amazon has produced another excellent little streamer. Because it’s soooo Prime-centric, you’d be bonkers to buy it if you’re not a subscriber. Having said that, the selection of third-party apps is excellent if you ignore Now TV, as indeed Amazon has.
For the expanded HDR support, it’s worth stepping up from the previous 4K streamer. And it’s also worth the upgrade from the non-4K stick for obvious 4K-related reasons (plus voice control). And if it’s your first Amazon streaming device? You won’t be disappointed.