Hands on: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review

Amazon advances its flagship 4K HDR streamer proposition in stick form

What is a hands on review?
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For

  • HDR10+, Dolby Vision and HLG support
  • Smooth operation
  • Ethernet connectivity

Against

  • Amazon-heavy interface

If you thought the just-announced Fire TV Stick 4K would replace the 1080p Fire TV Stick with Alexa that was introduced early last year, you were mistaken.

Amazon’s latest streamer launch isn’t a Stick for Stick replacement at all. Instead the Fire TV Stick 4K replaces the pendant-shaped Fire TV 4K as the shopping goliath's flagship streamer, meaning that Amazon's two-strong streamer range is now purely a stick-only affair. One is Full HD, the other is 4K. Simples.

Features

Amazon claims the new Fire TV Stick 4K is the most powerful streaming stick around (80 per cent more powerful than the Fire TV 4K), thanks to a new quad-core 1.7GHz processor.

A redesigned antenna and more powerful 802.11ac wi-fi chip offers a wireless internet connection over the 5GHz band too, so you shouldn’t just get faster interface browsing and load times, but also stable 4K HDR streaming.

Those wanting an even more secure internet connection can tether the Stick via ethernet, though this will require a separate ethernet adapter.

We’ve never had any problems with the operation of previous Fire TV devices, calling them ‘seamless’, but who can argue with a boost in usability efficiency?

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K features

The big news here, though, is the Stick’s support for not only 4K but also HDR10+ and Dolby Vision HDR formats, as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound. That means it should be able to play every piece of premium content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime video services.

The Stick also supports the Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) HDR format, so it should be able to play back the next 4K HDR trial hosted on the BBC iPlayer TV app, too.

That puts it one up on its rivals. The £70 Google Chromecast Ultra dongle only has 4K and HDR 10 support – as does the recently-announced, £4 cheaper Now TV Smart Box (although that benefits from exclusive video streamer access to Sky content). The Roku Streaming Stick+ overlooks Dolby Vision too. 

The Apple TV 4K (£179) matches it with similar support (bar HLG and HDR10+) and of course has its own 4K HDR library, but then it is over three times the price of the Fire TV Stick 4K.

The new 4K stick brings with it an all-new Alexa Voice Remote, which gives it more purpose than the first-gen tool. The addition of power, volume and mute buttons means it can control TVs, soundbars and receivers connected to your Stick-toting TV via HDMI. 

Of course, it facilitates Alexa voice control via its dedicated button too. Amazon says the new remote makes it easier to find 4K HDR content on its Prime Video platform.

Saying ‘find 4K movies’ into the Alexa-powered remote should in theory bring up ‘thousands’ of Ultra HD titles. In our demo, the action brought up a row of 4K titles, identified by small ‘UHD’ badges, although there was nothing to show whether HDR was embedded, or indeed which format it would be in. 

Which reminds us... we’ve found it hard of late to easily search for 4K HDR content on Prime – a real usability bugbear. Amazon says it is working on new HDR and 4K labelling for its Prime service, so fingers crossed that won't be an issue for long.

The Stick can also pair to an Amazon Echo speaker for hands-free, far-field commands if, say, your hands are full or the remote is on the other side of the room.

Note that voice commands are app-dependent, so, for example, while you may be able to ask for content starring a specific actor on Amazon Prime, you may not be able to do that on the BBC iPlayer app.

Build

That new (perhaps multiple?) antennae means the Stick is slightly thicker than its Full HD sibling – as thick, albeit not as wide, as the Alexa remote and about the size of a chocolate bar.

We can’t imagine its connectivity will be impeded by any TV rear panels – surely Amazon’s design team would have thought about that – although its larger body and rigid stick form may not make it as flexible as its dongle or box rivals.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K build

Initial verdict

We were given a whizz through the Stick in action and are pleased to report the operation appears typically smooth. Delay between the voice commands and on-screen actions are minimal – we’re talking a second or so – and in our brief demo content loading times were fractional. 

Time in our test rooms will tell whether the picture quality of the 4K HDR and SD HD streams maintain our positive first reaction to the new Stick. If it does, we could be looking at the best budget streamer on the market – for those who subscribe to Amazon’s Prime and/or Music video services at least.

The Fire TV device’s Amazon-oriented interface may put off non-users enough to overlook the Stick's vast format and video app support, and reasonable price tag. But that always has been – and perhaps always will be – the risk with a Fire TV device.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.