Amazon Fire TV Stick/Stick Lite review: The best budget streamers


For some people, nothing less than the best will do. In the streaming device world, that means Apple TV 4K, a roku ultra, or a nvidia shield tv. These set-top boxes run anywhere from $100 to $200, and they’re packed with cutting-edge technology to help you get the most out of your 4K HDR TV and home theater sound system.

But what if you’re looking for an affordable way to add streaming capabilities to your old TV, or perhaps you just want a device for the second TV in your home?

Does this quest to save some money mean giving up all the great features of more expensive devices?

Earlier the answer would have been yes, but of amazon $40 fire tv stick and $30 fire tv stick lite It has redefined what we can expect from a budget streamer. Do they deliver the goods, or should you look at more expensive equipment?

Here is our full review.

What’s in the Box?

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020)
Simon Cohen / Nerdshala

Your first reminder that the Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite are budget devices, they ship in a simple orange cardboard box. It’s thin and barely there more than a sleeve designed to protect the components inside. As such, it’s one of the most durable packages in the streaming world — easily recyclable and disposed of with just a few tiny bits of plastic wrap.

Stick design makes a lot of sense. It’s small, portable, and disappears completely behind your TV.

Inside, you’ll find everything you’ll need: sticks, a remote control, two AAA batteries (kindly not shrink-wrapped), a microUSB cord for power, a USB power adapter, and for TVs with tight HDMI ports An HDMI extender dongle.

design

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020)
Simon Cohen / Nerdshala

Stick design makes a lot of sense. It’s small, portable, and disappears completely behind your TV.

For a completely wire-free installation, you can try running a microUSB power cable to an available USB port on your TV, but since Amazon includes a power adapter, I recommend using it – like this, You are guaranteed to get the best performance and fast startup as it gets constant power.

Both the Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite come with a Bluetooth remote. Not only does this let them communicate with sticks without line-of-sight requirements, but it also enables advanced features like voice access for Alexa.

The remotes look alike, but there are some differences. The Fire TV Stick comes with a standard voice remote — which includes a power button for controlling the stick, as well as the TV and any other HDMI-connected device — and volume buttons.

The Stick Lite’s remote, on the other hand, lacks these two features, but does have a dedicated guide button. Pressing it will bring up the Live TV guide – but only if you’re subscribed to a live TV streaming service like Sling TV or YouTube TV. Otherwise, it just takes you to the live screen, something you may or may not find particularly useful.

Set-up

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020)
Amazon Fire TV Stick Remote (above) and Fire TV Stick Lite Remote Simon Cohen / Nerdshala

Both sticks are very easy to set up. As you connect them to power and plug them into your TV, on-screen instructions guide you through pairing the remote, accessing your Wi-Fi, and logging into your Amazon account.

And of course, using any Fire TV device requires an Amazon account, so if you don’t already have one, it’s best to set up one on another device, like a laptop, before starting the setup process. could be a good idea.

You’ll be given a choice of some recommended apps to install – these vary by region – but don’t worry if your favorite apps aren’t among them. These are just the apps Amazon is promoting, not a complete list of available apps. You will be able to install additional apps once the setup is complete.

The Fire TV Stick has an extra step that doesn’t light up – it walks you through a quick process to identify your TV and/or soundbar or A/V receiver so that the power and volume buttons work correctly.

There is one aspect of installing these devices that can be greatly improved. Right now, when you download and fire up an app like Netflix that requires you to sign in, you need to use the on-screen keyboard to find and peek your way through your credentials. It’s a tedious process that Apple and Roku have made somewhat more bearable because of the ability to use your smartphone as a text-entry tool. Even though Amazon has an Alexa app — the de facto way to interact with a Fire TV device from a phone — there’s no way to use it for text entry.

interface

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020)
Simon Cohen / Nerdshala

Amazon’s Fire TV interface, which is the same across all of its Fire TV devices, is heavily focused on curating content for you to watch.

But the period feels like Amazon’s heavy-handed promotion for its Prime Video content. It is also highly repetitive. You’ll see the same movies, shows and features over and over again in each of Home, Your Videos, Live, Movies, TV Shows and Apps.

In theory, the interface should result from a variety of services, but I only saw a row of Netflix suggestions, and none from Disney+, even though I was signed in to both apps.

Unfortunately, the solutions for this presentation are not very satisfactory. There is a search function available, but it is difficult to obtain and it is global: a search for “Formula 1” will return results from all available content sources, as well as apps. There’s no way to filter these results, and you can’t access tab-specific searches for movies or TV shows.

There are some major streaming services that cannot be added to Fire TV.

Should you want to jump straight into one of your installed apps, the Apps tab counterintuitively isn’t the way to do it. Instead, long-pressing the Home button is required, which brings up four main shortcuts: Apps, Sleep, Mirroring, and Settings. Selecting Apps takes you to a full list of installed apps.

Speaking of apps, there are a few major streaming services that can’t be added to the Fire TV – HBO Max and Peacock being the biggest omissions. There is a solution: Virtually any Android TV app can be sideloaded onto these devices, but it’s a multistep process that’s probably best left to those with real technical aptitude.

One highlight, especially for cord-cutters, is the Live tab. If you subscribe to YouTube TV, Sling TV, Philo, or Hulu+ Live TV, the Live tab can receive content recommendations from these services and display available channels from the Guide screen.

Display

The Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite are similar from a hardware standpoint, so you should expect a similar, if not identical, level of performance, but I didn’t think so.

The regular Fire TV Stick is quite fast. Not so much in terms of response time – each model responded very quickly to button presses – but how quickly each new screen filled with content.

For example, when you switch from the Home screen to the Live screen, and then back, the Fire TV Stick immediately populates the new page with thumbnails. Stick Light is slow, often taking twice as long to complete the same task.

It’s not a deal-breaker—we’re talking only a few seconds here or there—but if you’re impatient, the regular Fire TV Stick is probably a better option.

The only notable lag time was when I started a new stream, but I’ve used this on almost every streaming device, and it’s mostly related to the streaming service and/or your internet connection, not the hardware.

Talking to Alexa was fast on both sticks, with response times mostly one to two seconds.

Both come with 8GB of onboard storage, which should be enough for a serious collection of installed apps, but there’s a catch: You only get access to just over 5GB of storage.

My 20 installed apps consumed half that allowance, which suggests that if you’re a power user you might have to make some tough choices.

Audio and video quality

Audio quality is great on both devices, supporting the two main streaming audio formats: Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus. Dolby Atmos fans should beware: Despite the fact that both Fire TV Sticks support Dolby Atmos via passthrough over HDMI, only the Fire TV Stick will natively decode Dolby Atmos.

For some streaming services, it makes the difference between receiving Atmos or not. For example, Netflix will only deliver Atmos to the Fire TV Stick, and Disney+ will not deliver Atmos to any device. Atmos title on Amazon Prime Video worked fine on both the devices.

It is possible that this problem is specific to my particular setup. I contacted both Disney+ and Amazon about this problem, but neither company was able to reproduce it. Bottom Line: If Dolby Atmos is what matters to you, the Fire TV Stick is the safer bet.

Offering HDR without the high price of a 4K device is a game-changer.

For most people, the big advantage offered by these affordable streamers is being able to stream in HDR. Generally speaking, only streamers that support 4K resolution offer HDR—the same holds true for Apple TV and Roku devices.

As great as 4K is, HDR makes a huge difference in perceived picture quality due to its superior brightness, color, and contrast. Also, why should you use more bandwidth streaming 4K video to enjoy the benefits of HDR (thus possibly reaching your data cap faster)?

The Fire TV Stick and Stick Lite are now the first streamers to give you HDR without commanding the high price (and bandwidth) of a 4K device, and it’s a game-changer.

Granted, HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG (the three HDR flavors these devices support) aren’t quite as great as Dolby Vision, but it’s still more than what you could get from devices in this price range even a year ago. It is a big step forward.

I Tried HDR Content From Netflix, Amazon…

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