Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, available in the US since the end of last year, is now available to buy in the UK and Germany for the first time.
As well as allowing you to watch Amazon Prime content included with your subscription, or buy titles to keep, there’s also provision for playing back your own content stored on other devices, either by using Amazon’s cloud locker storage services, or via third-party apps like Plex.
That’s not really my requirement, as I stream most content directly nowadays rather than fill up hard drives with things I may never watch again, but it certainly is important for people with huge ‘offline’ collections.
Convenience is king
Plugged into my TV is a Chromecast, a Roku 3, a Sky+ box, a PS4 and now an Amazon Fire TV Stick. Why have so many plugged in? Because they all seem to be slightly better at one thing than another.
The PS4, when used for watching movies or TV shows, has slightly imprecise controls. The Chromecast is more useful to me whenever I want to do anything in a browser on the big screen, and the Roku has been my go-to streaming device in most circumstances until now.
However, my one irritation with the Roku is fixed with the Fire Stick – it offers both Netflix and Prime streaming in the UK. As a subscriber to both, that’s appreciated. It has Spotify and some other big name apps that you might want too, as does Roku.
For some reason, Prime Streaming still doesn’t exist on Roku in Europe, and that’s a major omission for an otherwise fine platform.
In some ways, I still prefer the Roku. I like the headphone socket on the controller, the UI’s just had an overhaul to make search better and there’s a neat new follow feature for specific titles. However, the Fire Stick will probably see more use in the future for the sheer convenience of having all the services I use in one place.
The Amazon UI has its charms too, and it’s consistent with its mobile and desktop incarnations in overall feel. There was no problem with full 1080p streaming and no jitteriness. It was a tiny bit on the laggy side when navigating between different options and shows though.
Amazon has its own search features too, which you can execute via voice or text commands. For the Stick incarnation, there’s no microphone button (or mic) on the controller, so to use voice you’ll need to install the companion app for Android or iOS devices. Alternatively, if you want the remote with the mic built in, that costs an extra £24.99.
The voice search actually works pretty well out of the box, although the search results themselves left a little to be desired in some cases.
You’ll probably want to check out the Fire TV Stick if gaming is a priority, Roku has gesture controls built into the remote, but Amazon lets you pair up a full-on game controller and has a better selection of games.
One place where the Roku is ahead of the Fire TV Stick is the mobile app, as it provides an easier way of beaming your own images straight to the TV without needing them to be saved in a specific place — in this case, Amazon’s cloud locker.
Amazon’s Fire TV Stick isn’t perfect — it’s closely tied to Amazon’s ecosystem and you’re constantly reminded that buying shows is a possibility, for example — but convenience goes a long way when the retail price is just £35.