Apr 3 2014, 6:10pm CDT | by Forbes
After setting it up and using it for a few hours, I can testify that Amazon has done a great job with both the hardware and the user interface but, fundamentally, it does the same thing as the Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and even most game consoles. You can use it to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, HuluPlus. Showtime, Bloomberg TV and other sources along with music from the likes of Pandora and iHeart radio. While it still doesn’t have any many channels as Roku, it’s a lot more robust than Google’s Chromecast was when it was introduced last year, although Chromecast’s offerings are growing steadily.
Probably the biggest advantage of the Fire is the ability to use voice commands to start a show or launch an app by pressing a button and speaking into the Bluetooth remote control. If you know what you want to watch that’s a lot easier than having to use the remote control to move about an onscreen keyboard to type in the name of what you’re looking for. But there’s one problem with it. When it comes to starting a show, so far it only works with Amazon’s video service. So, if you want to watch House of Cards for example, you can use your voice to find it but instead of watching it for free on Netflix, which created the series, you’ll wind up on Amazon Instant Video where you’l pay $2.99 per episode. Of course you can still search Netflix and other services with the on-screen keyboard. You can use voice search to launch non-Amazon apps, including Netflix.
While Amazon gets credit for including apps from streaming competitors, there is no question that Fire is Amazon-centric. First, only Amazon apps are pre-installed. You have to download any other services you want to use. That’s not hard or particularly time consuming but it’s an extra step. Once you have, say, Netflix installed, you can access it from the Home screen or app screen but the other navigation screens – Movies, Watchlist and Games – are dedicated to Amazon content. There is also a screen where you can view your photos stored on Amazon cloud servers.
Besides the voice search, the other major hardware advances over the competition are its faster quad-core processor and it’s 2 GB of memory but – so far – I’m not seeing a lot of extra advantages from those enhancements. Yes, Amazon programs seem to come up a little faster on the Fire than they do on my Roku 3, but the difference is pretty negligible. The main performance barrier to any streaming service is your broadband connection and the device can’t improve that. It can, however, help with content buffering and speed of accessing apps but you will always be affected by the performance of your Internet connection.
Overall, the Fire is a very nice contender priced the same as other premium streaming devices like the Roku 3 and Apple TV but twice the price of the least expensive Roku and nearly 3 times the cost of Google Chromecast. Its voice search makes it a terrific way to access Amazon content and the fact that its written in Android means it will likely play host to an increasing number of apps and games. Its easy to install and use and – as with anything you order on Amazon – easy to get your hands on. But if you already have another streaming device, I see no reason to switch.
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