Traditional TV will always have a place in the world, but on-demand is fast becoming the main way the web-connected world is watching movies and television shows. And there's a very good reason: it's bloody addictive.Having a whole series available to view on tap means that people binge - just one more episode here, another Fast And Furious sequel there. We are hoovering up visual stimulation at a heady rate. And not only is there choice in what you are watching, there is also choice in how you watch it - in particular what service you use.
The choice is usually made for you, depending on which service you have bought into. If you have uploaded music to Google Music, then you are inevitably going to veer towards Google's Nexus Player or Chromecast. If your life is iOS based, Apple TV will no doubt be for you and if you are in bed with Amazon you have two choices: the full-fat Amazon TV or the Amazon Fire TV Stick, a device so small and budget friendly you'll be constantly wandering what the catch is. Well, that's simple, it's Amazon Prime. But first a little about the stick itself.
Amazon Fire TV Stick: Features
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a tiny device. It's the size of a USB stick and will plug into any HDMI port. So far so slick but there is a small issue - the stick does need to be powered so you have to attach a ruddy great plug to it. It's not a major issue but it does mean that you will want to plug the device into a HDMI slot that's situated on the back of your television. Otherwise you will have an errant lead hanging out the side of your TV.
Thankfully, having the dongle hidden isn't an issue when it comes to the remote control - everything is done via Bluetooth so you don't need line of sight for it to work.
That's all you get in the box: a dongle, a charger and a remote. Under the hood is a pretty powerful performer - one that beats Chromecast in every way. You have a Broadcom dual-core processor, 1GB of memory and 8GB of storage on board. Compare this to Chromecast's single-core processor, 512MB memory and 2GB or storage and it's a definite winner.
Once the Amazon Fire TV Stick is plugged in, you will get a prompt to add in your Wi-Fi password. Obviously there's no ethernet connection, so fingers crossed your Wi-Fi is steady and at least 4Mbps. When you are set up on to your network you can spend the next five or so minutes watching the animated video that guides you through the install process. Or you could do what we did and skip it, dive in at the deep end and hope that you know what you are doing.
Amazon Fire TV Stick: performance
Fire up the Fire TV Stick and you are presented with myriad options. You have to sign into your Amazon account - if you don't have one, then you shouldn't really be reading this review - and you should also really have Amazon Prime. Yes, that's the catch I hinted at earlier. It's not essential to using the Fire TV Stick but it's like buying a hybrid car and only ever using the electricity part of it - there's more power there so why not use it?
Amazon Prime is costly, though. It will set you back £79, but you do get unlimited one-day delivery for this and access to Amazon Prime Instant Video, the service that's a rival to Netflix. As you would expect, it works really well through the Fire TV Stick.
Prime content is consistently at the front of the user interface and things are split neatly between movie and TV content and you can deep search through genres. Given that Amazon also own IMDB there is also a great feature called Amazon X-Ray. Pause at any time when watching something and contextual information about the thing you are watching will come up, such as information about the actors. It's a fun little extra feature.
Amazon Fire TV Stick: apps
Away from Amazon Prime content you also have access to Netflix - we were surprised too - and a number of other apps such as Spotify, Sky News and iPlayer. There's a great selection here, even if it's not as plentiful as, say, Roku.
The other strands of Amazon Fire TV are music and gaming. Anything you have bought through Amazon will come up in the music section of the service, which is all good unless you stopped buying music at the turn of the century like me. Oh, and any photos in your Amazon Cloud will also appear.
Gaming is unfortunately under cooked. The stick is powerful enough to be a micro console but the games available are very, well, mobile focused. This isn't a device to rival the PS4 - but you can buy an additional controller and pretend that it is. But we wouldn't really recommend it.
Amazon Fire TV Stick: Verdict
If you are a Prime member, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a superb device that elevates the Prime service and will be everything you want in a streaming stick.
If you haven't then there is still a lot to like but all of the Prime business will constantly get in the way of you trying to load up the iPlayer.