Amazon Fire TV Is Smart, Quick but Doesn't Play Nice
Were Fire TV free, I might understand Amazon taking this approach. But priced at $99 (like the Roku 3 and Apple TV), it comes across like a self-involved host, inviting you over for something and, when you accept, only talking about itself. If you watch or care about only Amazon content, Fire TV is a great option. But if you rely on a variety of services for the content you watch, Roku is a far more democratic option. To spend a minute more on comparisons, Roku also has a remote control that users can plug headphones into, so they can watch TV without disturbing anyone—a feature that in itself can tip the purchasing decision toward Roku. As for Apple TV, the interface is a bit biased toward iTunes content—though not in as flat-out a way as Amazon's approach. Plus, Apple TV users can't access any Amazon content at all. Chromecast, at $35, is the least inexpensive option by far, but it doesn't have an interface—users control it via a smartphone or tablet, which means firing up that device to pause a movie or perform similar actions. For some users, that inconvenience is worth saving $65 over.Another nice Fire TV feature lets users download an iOS or Android app to easily share photos from their devices, as well as Amazon's Cloud Drive, on a TV. (The app surprised me by pulling up not only photos from my iPhone, but photos I took with a Kindle Fire HDX I reviewed and wiped clean before returning. I'd assumed the photos had been deleted, but apparently Amazon was keeping them safe for me.) Fire TV also lets users listen to music via apps including Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and others. They're simple to access and offer a better audio experience than using a smartphone without headphones, which I sometimes default to, racing around while making dinner. In summary, Amazon created an odd offering. It made attractive hardware and smart software but tied them to frustrating policies that don't put users first. On the upside, it's a good start. If with the next version of Fire TV, Amazon can use its powers for good—letting Voice Search find all that really is available—Amazon will surely gain heart share, which analysts like to say leads to market share. Throw in a Roku-style remote, and Amazon's competitors will be in real trouble. Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.
Also on the Pros ListThe Fire TV box has 2GB of RAM; 8GB of internal storage; dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi; and a quad-core 1.7GHz processor, all of which help to make it incredibly quick and robust. This power also helps with games, which Fire TV launched with 100 of and the promise of more on the way.
There are games that can be played with the remote control and (many more) that can be played with a gaming controller that's sold separately (for $40). The few I tried out worked fine enough—I can't claim any expertise on this front, though I did expect them to load more quickly. They did offer a quick lesson, though, in how users might easily rack up a bill, even when playing a "free" game.