Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Speedy app delivery isn't everything

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Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max is the company’s highest priced and most powerful streaming stick to date. A step up from the $40 Streaming Stick 4K, the new Max runs $55 and packs a faster processor, support for Wi-Fi 6, and nearly all the latest playback standards, from 4K, HDR10, and Dolby Vision. HDR10+ Plus for Dolby Atmos audio.

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Spoiler: Max is fast. For those who want the fastest way to stream Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max, YouTube TV and the rest, this streamer is (literally) hard to beat. This speed makes the Max worth the higher price compared to the original Fire TV Stick 4K.

Max and Google’s $50 . for those who argue between Chromecast with Google TV or Roku’s upcoming $50 Streaming Stick 4K? It’s a little more complicated. Google’s voice assistant and search work better than Alexa, and Roku’s simple menu system is still my favorite of the three. Amazon’s menu system is fine, but there are a lot of ads and searches often return unexpected results. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is my favorite Fire TV yet, but unless you’re heavily invested in the e-commerce giant’s world of devices like Alexa speakers or Ring cameras, streamers from Roku and Google are better options.

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8.4

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

like

  • fast performance
  • Supports all major streaming apps
  • smart home control via alexa

do not like it

  • Ads prevalent on home screens and screensavers
  • No Chromecast or Airplay Support
  • The search results are great
  • Luna lacks compelling games

a speed boost

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Amazon cites the processor speed upgrade as one of the big reasons why this streaming stick warrants the name “Max.” And in using the device over the past few days, I can report that it’s actually really fast.

Opening and switching between apps was one of the quickest I’ve encountered on the Streaming Stick. It’s not always instant, especially if you haven’t opened an app in a few hours, but for the most part, everything from Netflix and Prime Video to Disney Plus, HBO Max, and YouTube TV opened quickly.

Amazon Luna Gaming

Fire TV Stick 4K Max and Remote (optional, $70) with Luna Controller.

However, there were some instances where the screen would go black for longer than I expected. And using Alexa to bounce back into YouTube TV sometimes requires grabbing the remote and restarting the stream.

On Amazon’s menu? too many amazon ads

Amazon’s interface plays the show, and I appreciate the quick access to the “Recently Viewed” tab. However, I don’t like that there’s a giant “Sponsors” tab on the home screen, though I’ve grown to ignore all of Amazon’s various recommendations from streaming services under the Recently Watched bar.

It would be great if Amazon added a tab to see all your apps and channels instantly. You can preset six to appear on the main page, but getting faster access to that full list would be more valuable to me than the “Find” and “Live” tabs.

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Ads on Fire TV can easily fill screensavers.

The TV also doesn’t appreciate being a giant rotating billboard for content or commercials when in screensaver mode. It’s one thing to have a little ad here or there like a Roku; Turning my entire 65-inch TV into a billboard for iFit or Nancy Grace’s Fox Nation show is another.

Max 4K HDR format, Wi-Fi support

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Max works with almost every major audio and video format. TV shows and movies available in 4K and/or Dolby Vision played flawlessly on my TCL 6-Series TV. Since that TV lacks HDR10+ support, and my Sonos Beam soundbar likewise doesn’t include Dolby Atmos, I was unable to test any of these features. As we’ve written in the past, while it’s nice that Amazon supports all of these formats, we don’t consider Dolby Vision or HDR 10+ to be essential, as it’s not a major image quality upgrade over standard HDR.

Amazingly, Amazon sticks a 4K icon on anything available in 4K, even if you have to pay for it. For example, scrolling through the home screen I saw a 4K icon next to the Despicable Me 2. The animated film is available in high resolution, but only if you want to rent it or buy it from Amazon. Streaming will be in HD for free through Amazon’s IMDb TV.

For those with overcrowded homes, Wi-Fi 6 Support Might be good if you have already upgraded or are planning to update your Wi-Fi router in the near future. The limited space in my New York apartment didn’t provide a great place to test bandwidth improvements, but I didn’t have any problems streaming from the old Eero router in the same room.

Like most streaming sticks, you can power the device either using the included wall adapter or (if your TV supports it) plugging the USB power cable directly into your television. While some devices, including the Fire TV Stick 4K, flash warnings when using USB power, I had no problem playing the device from the USB port on my TV.

New blue remote buttons and shortcut keys

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Amazon’s updated remote gives the Alexa voice assistant a prominent blue button at the top — you have to press and hold it to issue voice commands — as well as dedicated keys for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney Plus and Hulu. While some people don’t want the logo to clutter the all-black controller’s design, I found those keys to be convenient. Like other Fire TV remotes, the Max also allows you to control the volume and power on your TV or other devices.

Fire TV supports almost all the major streaming services you can think of. However, it lacks Broadcasting Support (which Roku and Apple TV offer) or the ability to Chromecast from Android devices (a feature offered by Google’s Chromecast with Google TV).

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Always present but not always helpful Alexa

You’ll want other Amazon devices in your home to get the most out of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Alexa is an important part of the device, acting as a search assistant not only to open apps, movies or shows by voice but also to control your smart home.

If you have a Ring doorbell, you can ask to “show me the front door” and see in real time what’s happening outside. New with 4K Max is the ability to shrink the Ring into a “picture-in-picture” box, so you can keep an eye out the door while watching something else. Alexa commands in the remote are also capable of controlling smart lights or other devices, and there’s an Alexa Home Theater Audio feature that lets you pair a Fire TV with an Echo speaker.

Unfortunately, Alexa on Fire TV wasn’t that good at providing relevant search results for actual TV shows and movies. Asking to “play Pixar movies” displayed results such as Luca, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. in the line “From your subscription” (assuming I was logged into Disney Plus) as well as non-Pixar animated fare such as “Cocomelan Halloween Songs.” For some reason, it put Dave Chappelle’s new Netflix special The Closer on the same line, sandwiched between Ratatouille and Onward.

The likes of Titanic and Disney’s Muppets Haunted Mansion also came out to watch Marvel movies, along with expected results like Black Panther and Avengers movies.

Amazon does a pretty decent job of integrating Alexa with other apps. YouTube TV and the White Sox-Astros game began airing on MLB Network on Friday afternoon, saying “Play a baseball game.” Like search, it’s not always working as you expect.

Saying “Play the News” would not bring up YouTube TV, but instead opened up to Amazon’s dedicated news app that pulls content from ABC News Live, CBS News and local news stations.

Luna lags, lacks games

Amazon Luna Gaming

With the Stick 4K Max and its new 750MHz graphics processor, Amazon is also making a new effort to pay $6 a month Luna Gaming Service House. I could see the potential for a solid cloud gaming experience when I played a handful of games, although at times Amazon’s service felt like an Xbox 360 rather than an Xbox One or Xbox Series X.

I’ve experienced lag on all cloud gaming services, including Google’s Stadia or Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming, where games tend to not respond quickly, and Luna was no exception. I had no problem playing Team Sonic Racing but it was becoming increasingly difficult to control and play Dirt Rally 2.0. I lagged behind on the Luna despite my Stick 4K Max being located right near my router with fast internet – my Spectrum connection showed download speeds above 350 Mbps (with an upload speed of about 20 Mbps and a ping of 20 ms) .

My biggest issue with Luna, though, isn’t the device or even necessarily Amazon’s infrastructure, but the game itself. Even in a year, the platform is still severely lacking in games.

Amazon Luna Gaming

Luna’s game selection is still lacking.

A handful of publishers like Ubisoft, Capcom and 505 Games have titles for the platform, but big publishers like Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games and 2K are still not here, so don’t expect to play Call of Duty, FIFA, Fortnite or Do it. NBA 2K. (The fact that, at the time this was published, Amazon explicitly lists Capcom as “Campcom” on its website Makes me question how seriously the company is taking this effort.)

Getting the most out of Luna will cost you dearly. Ubisoft titles, such as Far Cry 6 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla,…

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