Amazon Fire Stick: Long Term Update

Despite the device’s apparent success, I find many people still have questions about how good the device actually is.  As with any well-made new product, a quick Google search will return dozens of glowing product reviews and “first impressions”.  What these reviews don’t tell you however, is what’s the experience of owning one, not just using one.

Well, I’m here to answer those questions and tell you exactly what life with the Amazon Fire TV stick is like.  We put one on our living room TV after cutting cable and have been using it for six months.  Prior to getting the Fire TV Stick we were pretty ardent Roku and Chromecast users, so this long term review has the benefit of being relative to other devices that are available, for comparison’s sake.

Most Importantly: Does it work reliably?

The importance of a device working properly is magnified when it’s hooked up to your TV.  For decades the TV was a device expected to work every time – no matter what.  We find ourselves in a time where this expectation is being eroded.  Smart TV development is barely out of it’s infancy and streaming media players for the TV aren’t that much ahead.  The result of this shift in the industry is that “loading” screens, or software crashes are becoming increasingly frequent on our TV, a device where we don’t take kindly to these sorts of interruptions.

With this in mind, I can say that of all the small form-factor streaming media players I’ve used, the Amazon Fire TV stick is easily the most reliable.  With Roku I’ve had to contend with slow connections that drop more frequently than they should.  With Chromecast we’re continually annoyed by lagging streams that won’t pause, or won’t allow you to change programs without resetting your connection.  These problems rarely arise with the Fire TV Stick.

In addition to working in a fashion that lets you forget you’re not watching a traditional TV, the Fire TV Stick also has the best video quality, in my experience.  I’m not saying that the Fire TV Stick’s 1080p is superior to anyone else’s; what I’m saying is that it seems that we actually get 1080p more often than we do on other devices.  My Roku player doesn’t get a connection capable of full 1080p half the time and while Chromecast does get 1080p reliably, it suffers from connection slowdowns that negatively impact your video quality more often than the Fire TV Stick does.  So here, the Fire TV Stick wins out also.

But it’s not perfect.

With all that I’ve already said, people are surprised when I don’t recommend the Fire TV Stick outright.  There are a number of small annoyances that the device does present that prevent me from wholly endorsing it.

  • It doesn’t always power on your TV and change to the proper input automatically.  This may seem trivial but it isn’t — especially with children.  Every other device in my home will automatically turn on the TV and set it to the proper input when you press a button on it: the DVD player, Roku, Chromecast all do it.  For families with kids, the importance of this cannot be understated, but even in homes without kids, this matters.  It’s annoying to have to look around for the TV remote when you really shouldn’t need it.
  • The menu is ever-so-slightly laggy.  Again, this seems like a very minor issue, but it really has a plus-sized negative effect on your user experience.  I cannot explain how many times we’ve started the wrong show because we pressed “over” or “down” twice to get to our selection and hit “enter” so quickly that the device lagged and did not properly read our input.  I know that the Fire TV Stick is not alone in this, I’ve seen Plain-Jane cable boxes with this issue, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.
  • Searching is horrible.  Again, the Fire TV Stick isn’t alone here.  With almost all of these devices you have to input text by using the arrow keys.  This final shortcoming is why the Amazon Fire TV Stick comes in just a smidgen below the Chromecast in my book.  I’m aware that there’s an app for your phone that eliminates this hurdle, but if I’m using my phone to stream to the TV, why not use a Chromecast.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick offers the best experience for TV users looking to transition into the world of streaming media.  For people in this category who are already Amazon Prime subscribers, this device is a home run.  You won’t be disappointed.  However, if you are a savvy-ish smartphone user looking to make your TV into a more connected device, I might not be as quick to make that recommendation.