Since Amazon launched its own media streaming device, it has successfully refreshed the main set-top-box, adding faster processing, better remote access, 4K Ultra HD support and, in recent times, an all-new user experience. Its Fire TV Stick remained untouched, in the UK at least.
That's has finally changed, however.
From today, 6 April, Amazon has introduced an updated dongle that includes nigh-on everything above, bar the 4K video streaming. And, like the latest US edition, also adds Alexa support and a voice remote as standard, all for £39.99.
Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017) preview: Available now
The new Amazon Fire TV Stick is available now. We are soon to publish our full review, but in the meantime can give you the lowdown on what's on offers as we saw the device in action a few weeks ago. We have to say, for the price and form factor, it could match its predecessor in sales figures.
It looks similar to the first device. It essentially has a USB-stick aesthetic, but with a HDMI jack at one end. You plug it into a spare port on your telly, connect USB power to the other end and Bob’s your uncle.
It tucks away out of view, with the new remote working wirelessly and not needing line of sight. It’s physically unremarkable for good reason. The magic happens inside.
Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017) preview: Specifications
The 2017 model comes with a quad-core processor, so works much faster than its forebear. There is also dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi on board, so has a stronger, more stable internet connection – essential for playing video and downloading new apps as quickly as possible.
Amazon’s latest Fire TV UI also requires speedy connectivity as it provides content rich experience. The top bar on the home menu page, for example, streams preview video if you linger on it.
The speed is also important for quick-as-you-like Alexa access.
Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017) preview: Alexa on your TV
The new Fire TV Stick (and, presumably, the Fire TV 4K box) has almost full Alexa support. Just about everything you can do on an Amazon Echo, you can do on your TV through the Stick. Indeed, much of it is better as you’ll also get Visual Skills on screen, with cards popping up to support the AI’s dulcet tones.
In our original demo, we had Alexa pull up the latest Liverpool football score, Arsenal’s next fixture, a commute to work and a weather report. Each were coupled with an on-screen indication that gave us even more information than was verbally presented.
We asked if you can also control your Alexa-connected smart home through the Stick. You can.
This gives the Fire TV platform even more depth, and considering it is one of the best out there for services and app support, you get an awful lot for your penny shy of 40 notes.
You can also use the voice remote for in-depth, contextual content search and even skip through playback of shows and films. Bark “skip 10 minutes” and the footage will do exactly that, instantly. You can also rewind in similar fashion.
Amazon Fire TV Stick (2017) preview: Integrated Netflix
One thing that impressed us with the new UI is the way it integrates other services into search results. For example, you search for Breaking Bad, vocally or by text, and it will give you the option to watch it on Amazon Video rival Netflix. You can also buy or rent it from Amazon if you don’t have a Netflix subscription, but to offer a competing service front and centre makes the hardware considerably more relevant to our viewing habits today.
Of course, you will get even more satisfaction from the Fire TV Stick if you are an Amazon Prime member, especially considering menu bars are dedicated to its own content. But as the company no longer prioritises it over others’, you no longer feel a Prime subscription is a necessity.
There are a lot of other apps on offer, including all of the terrestrial TV catch-up services in the UK. We’ve been told that some of the partners could soon have their content more deeply integrated too. The API is open to developers and we’re looking forward to seeing this further explored in the near future.
We will spend much more time with the new Amazon Fire TV Stick in the next day or so before casting final judgement, but as it stands it seems the company is onto another winner. It is clearly better than equivalent dongles and media sticks.
There’s no 4K support, which would have been the cherry on the cake, but you always have the main Fire TV box for that. And Ultra HD is not the Fire TV Stick’s raison d'être. It was always designed to be a simple, invisible solution for making a TV much smarter. And for as little spend as possible.