Amazon has revealed it has given its Fire TV Stick a complete overhaul, adding Alexa Skills functionality and a completely redesigned UI.
Launched two years ago, Amazon’s cheapest streaming hardware option is also its most successful. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is the company’s fastest-ever selling device in the UK and now it’s been given a spruce both inside and out – something that happened with the US version back in October 2016.
Although it’s a touch chunkier than the original Fire TV Stick, the chassis contains 30% faster performance, thanks to a quad-core processor, and re-jigged Wi-Fi that makes it, according to Amazon, the fastest Wi-Fi on any streaming stick.
This has something to do with a mashing together of 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi and Amazon Video’s Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) technology. This apt acronym is for Amazon’s predictive buffering system, which essentially loads up what it thinks you will want to watch next, so that you can view it quicker.
To go with the new-look hardware, Amazon has given its Fire TV Stick UI a makeover. Gone is the left-hand navigation sidebar. In its place is a bigger, bolder navigation bar at the top, as well as a new carousel for shows and movies you might like and a shuffling of the category order.
First up is your recent watches. This is something that will please the binge-watching crowd as you don’t have to root through myriad menus to get to what you last watched.
There’s also a Your Apps and Games section, movies to watch and TV shows. Amazon has also started to heavily promote its partners on the service. We’ve always loved that you can get Netflix through the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV, something that rivals such as Apple TV just don’t offer, and now it has made this content even more central to its interface.
There’s a whole section dedicated to Netflix content, something that’s curated by Netflix. This is the first, and Amazon assures us, not the last to offer up this type of showcase for their content.
The other big change is Alexa integration. Now, this isn’t always-on Alexa as you will find on its Echo devices but Alexa through the accompanying voice-controlled controller. Hold down the button and you can summon Alexa and its many Skills.
A voice-controlled remote was the more expensive option with the old Fire TV Stick, now it is something that comes as standard.
So, if you have set up turning your lights on and off through Alexa, you can do this through the Fire TV Stick. Amazon has also created new ‘cards’ that appear when you ask Alexa for things such as weather and information on your commute – the screen doesn’t stay blank but shows off the relevant information in a nice clean layout.
Amazon has also improved the accessibility options on the Fire TV Stick. Using voice, it will let you know where you are on the UI, which will be a massive help for those who are visually impaired.
As much as Amazon has changed the Fire TV Stick, it has not made it 4K compatible. The Stick will only output to 1080p. You can see why Amazon has done this: the Fire TV Stick is a budget-friendly option for Amazon’s streaming service. If you want 4K then you will have to pay extra for the Amazon Fire TV.
Amazon also confirmed to TechRadar that the existing Fire TV will get the new UI and Alexa functionality, but there’s no official date for this.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick is available for £39.99, is up for pre-order now and will begin shipping in April.