Not content with just releasing bundles of new Echo devices, Amazon has also introduced the Fire Stick 4K. As the name suggests: it's essentially a smaller version of 2017 Fire TV and, crucially, it's mega affordable, too.
- Don't need 4K? Then check out the Full HD version of the Amazon Fire TV Stick or the standard Full HD Google Chromecast.
Unlike the Now TV Stick, however, the 4K Fire TV Stick ups the ante on rivals, with full 4K resolution supported. Its nearest rival is the Roku Streaming Stick+ – which is a good option if you don't want to be tied to Amazon services. Further up the chain there's the Google Chromecast Ultra (although there's no Amazon Prime Video there), with the top price spot occupied by the Apple TV 4K (if you're invested completely into the Apple ecosystem anyway).
Design and remote
The Fire TV Stick 4K's design means it's small enough to just plug into the back of your TV via an HDMI port. An HDMI extender is included if you don't or can't plug it in directly. As with other such streamers, power comes from a USB cable and power adapter.
We powered our 4K Stick from a USB port on our TV – although this isn't supported by all sets, it worked fine for us. The benefit with this arrangement is that the Stick powers on with your TV rather than being permanently powered.
Amazon has slightly redesigned the functional-yet-unexciting Alexa remote (as you can see below). There's now a standby button as well as volume up and down buttons on the bottom of the main body. The Alexa button remains at the top, which works fine – although we think the voice control button on the side of the Sky Q remote is a little better. The remote takes two AAA batteries (which are included).
Amazon has also changed its logo on the remote and main body of the stick – it's now just the 'Amazon arrow'. Seems a trifle odd given Amazon's brand recognition, but we've noticed this trend on some other Amazon devices this year, including its packages which were shown off aplenty during the 2018 Christmas TV advertising period.
As an alternative to the remote, you can use an app on your phone which can also be used for keyboard input. However, we think the inclusion of the remote is one of the more compelling aspects of the Fire TV devices versus their Google equivalents; not everybody is happy using their mobile device a controller for their TV and connection difficulties can mean it's sometimes a poor experience. Coincidentally, it is possible to connect the Fire TV Sticks to Ethernet using an optional adaptor.
Setup and navigation
Setting up the Fire TV 4K is a pretty standard process: you have to enter your Amazon account credentials and your Wi-Fi password using the arrow keys on the remote. Amazon has recently talked about its Echo devices being easier to setup via your Amazon account – and we'd expect it will do this for other products like future Fire TV devices, too, so there's less arrow key tapping.
Software hasn't been Amazon's strongest suit over the last few years – as we've noted with various Echo updates – but that doesn't apply to the Fire TV OS, which remains slick and very simple to use with a top-navigation and content suggestions, topics and groups as you scroll. It's similar to that on Fire tablets and always seems bulletproof. Let there be no doubt that Amazon services are prioritised, but there is naturally support for other players and apps.
Last year's Fire TV offered 4K with high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Atmos support, but there was no Dolby Vision out of the box. This newer stick corrects this so HDR, HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG and HDR10+ are all catered for.
Note that you will need to have a compatible TV to get the most out of the stick, with HDMI capable of 4K (2160p) at 24/25/30/50/60Hz (most recent TVs will have HDCP 2.2 support, which you'll need for 4K content). You'll need an HDR compatible TV to view HDR content, naturally. And if you're connecting via another device, like an AVR, then you need to ensure that's capable of 4K HDR passthrough.
For Dolby Atmos, you'll need a compatible Atmos sound system, while your TV will also need to be able to passthrough using an ARC-compatible HDMI port.
4K HDR content (and what else is available)
There's no doubt that 4K HDR content from both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are stunning on a compatible display. While Netflix has always labelled HDR content pretty well, Amazon had some catching up to do in this department.
Ultra HD content is easily accessible through the Fire TV interface, but finding HDR content is still a pain and you need to go into individual programme pages. As a consequence, it still feels as though HDR content is emerging; it certainly isn't the norm even on these services.
We know that more content will be coming, not least HLG 4K content from iPlayer. Considering the Fire TV 4K from last year was able to access this, we presume this new 4K stick will be able to as well. ITV Hub, All 4 and My 5 apps are also available – but none have yet announced any 4K plans.
There are, of course, plenty of other apps, including Spotify, Curzon Home Cinema, TuneIn Radio, Twitch, Plex, and more – but it's likely you'll stay within the apps we've mentioned already, where the best content exists.
Note that you can switch from watching something on Amazon Prime Video from your phone to your TV using the app, but it's not as flexible as casting video from Android to a Chromecast, for example. However, it isn't as universal an experience as AirPlaying content to Apple TV from iOS or casting to the Chromecast.
App support isn't as plentiful as on some other devices but, again, this is really designed as a way to stream rather than being a device to bring your phone to your TV as the Apple TV and Chromecast are.
Alexa on the Fire Stick 4K
As before, Alexa voice control is surprisingly powerful on the Fire TV Stick 4K. Searching for programmes by actor, title or other details is really easy. Just hold down the microphone button at the top of the remote and speak aloud what you're searching for.
What's especially great is that it brings Alexa into your living room, whereas you might well have your main Alexa device in your kitchen, bedroom or study. So you're able to adjust the heating or ask for the weather just as you would on an Echo or, more accurately, just as you would on the Echo Show. As with all the other Echo devices, the best uses are simple; for more complicated stuff you might just as well get your phone out of your pocket.
Even though it can be hard to find, it's the presence of 4K HDR content from Amazon Prime Video (and also Netflix) that makes opting for the Fire TV Stick 4K worth it over and above the Full HD version – if you have a compatible TV.
The value of the Amazon's device can't be questioned – compared to a device like the Apple TV 4K it's far cheaper. The only justification for buying the Apple TV or Apple TV 4K is if you're invested completely into the Apple ecosystem, regularly look at Memories from your iCloud photo stream and AirPlay stuff to your TV. With Apple expected to start making more TV content in 2019, it will surely have to join the others in producing a cheaper Apple TV.
That said, you do need to be invested in the Amazon Prime ecosystem to get the most from this Fire Stick (and probably be used to barking commands at Alexa). If you don't then do check out the Roku Streaming Stick+ as an option instead.
Equally, if you have an Android phone and you use Google services like Google Photos then you may be better off with the Chromecast Ultra – simply because it's a more seamless experience with your device.
The bottom line is, if you want 4K HDR streaming, use Alexa and like Amazon's Prime Video ecosystem then there is nothing better out there. And given how good some Prime content is right now, that makes it a very compelling proposition indeed.
Alternatives to consider
Roku Streaming Stick+
If you aren't allied to any particular ecosystem then the Roku option for 4K HDR makes a lot of sense. It is a little expensive compared to the Fire Stick 4K, however. What you get with Roku is supreme ease-of-use and streaming quality. As we mentioned in our review" "the important thing to figure out is what your TV can already do and whether you actually need to buy it. If you do, then it's an easy decision to make."
Apple TV 4K
Apple TV is over three times the price of the Fire TV 4K, so unless you're very particular about having Apple devices then it's an unnecessarily expensive option. iTunes does feature a big choice of 4K HDR content though – and you get it upgraded for free if you've bought it already. With a potential Apple streaming service on the horizon it's also set to become even more compelling. You can also get Amazon and Netflix content as well.
Google Chromecast Ultra
Chromecast devices are simple but brilliant. This 4K version is looking a little expensive compared to the Fire TV Stick 4K, but it still represents great value if you're an Android user regularly using Google apps who uses your phone as the centrepiece of everything. With no remote it's ironically a bit complicated for less knowledgeable users who aren't comfortable with the concept of casting from a device. And, as we mentioned, there's no Amazon Prime Video support – which is a big absence if that's what you're after!