While we rarely have the inclination to tackle a full-on review (like Adam), the $99 Amazon Fire TV streamer that we tracked so closely ahead of launch is worthy of a few posts. Overall, it’s a solid debut… but not quite ready to displace the similarly priced Roku 3 or Apple TV, for those that have already outfitted their televisions.
I’m always fascinated by the decisions companies make in regards to the remote control, which is the primary interface to their TV-based experience. Take the now defunct Sezmi for example – they originally promoted a unique and beautiful remote… only to launch with an off-the-shelf skinned variant to save a few bucks. While that alone didn’t sink the product, a clunky clicker earns no fans. By comparison, TiVo is quite well known for their iconic and practical peanut… still going strong well over a decade now.
In the small streamer category, and without the need for channel number buttons, all entrants have gone for similarly small remotes. None more minimalistic than Apple’s metal sliver of a thing. While it’s beautiful to look at, it’s not at all ergonomic, prone to misplacement, and knee-capped by such a tiny IR emitter window – requiring pretty darn good line-of-site for remote control. Further, the “back” function isn’t entirely intuitive and there’s probably not enough buttons in general. By comparison, the Fire TV remote falls somewhere between the Roku 3 and aTV in sleekness and thickness, relying on AAA batteries versus Apple’s CR2032, and is more comfortable hold. Amazon reproduces Apple’s 4-way disc, which is useful and more attractive than Roku’s cross – although Amazon’s build quality isn’t equivalent to Apple as mine is a bit jiggly.
Unlike Apple, Fire TV and Roku do not require remote line-of-site: Fire TV is Bluetooth only, while Roku is more flexible in communicating via WiFi Direct and IR — meaning all your universal remotes are supported. And, along with that RF communication, comes additional features. Fire TV provides a mic to feed Amazon’s (incomplete) voice search functionality, whereas the Roku 3 ships with a headphone jack (and volume rocker) allowing you to stream content without disturbing a sleeping partner. The more bulbous AA-powered Roku 3 remote also integrates Hillcrest’s Wii-esque motion control, along with A/B buttons, to power a very limited number of gaming apps.
Of the three, Amazon strikes the best balance of form, function, and iconography although it could benefit from a bit more heft and girth. And while it doesn’t include Roku’s instant replay button, Amazon has competently addressed this feature via the transport controls interaction.