Amazon jumped into the connected-TV arena seven months ago with the Fire TV, a well-received streaming media device similar to an Apple TV. On Monday, the company upped the stakes by announcing the Fire TV Stick, a streaming media device that plugs right into a TV’s HDMI port. The Fire TV Stick can pull movies, TV shows, and music from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Prime Instant Video, Spotify, YouTube, and a host of other services. It goes on sale for $39 starting November 19, and Amazon Prime subscribers can pre-order one for $19 before Thursday.
Amazon isn’t being shy about comparing the Fire TV Stick to the Chromecast, Google’s streaming-media dongle. The Chromecast has been the best-selling electronic device on Amazon for a while now, and Amazon would surely be happy to see that top spot occupied by one of its own devices.
Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos says in a press release that the Fire TV Stick is “the most powerful streaming media stick available,” with 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of internal storage -- twice as much memory and four times as much storage as the Chromecast. The company says the Fire TV Stick’s specs will result in “faster and more fluid navigation, plus more storage for apps and games.”
The Fire TV Stick can be controlled with a remote app for Android, iOS, or Fire phones (including voice search, which is a thoughtful touch), but Amazon is also including a hardware remote with the device. Promo pictures show a small, simple remote with a few buttons to allow browsing and playing TV shows, movies, and apps. It’s not the same as the Fire TV remote, which has a microphone built in -- that remote is compatible with the Stick, but you’ll have to buy it separately for a cent under $30. A remote would be nice to have in households with kids, or for having on hand so guests don’t have to borrow someone’s phone to use the TV.
The Fire TV Stick also includes a nifty pre-streaming feature called ASAP, which “predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you even hit play so videos start instantly.” Assuming your home Internet connection has enough bandwidth, ASAP will let you launch right into shows without having to wait while they load. The Fire TV Stick also works with Amazon’s Whispersync service, which saves your place so you can start watching a movie, say, on a computer or tablet, and pick up where you left off on your TV.
A final thoughtful touch is found under the hood: the Fire TV Stick has dual-band Wi-Fi, meaning it can stream over either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz frequencies -- so if you have a dual-band router at home, you can take advantage of the less-crowded (and probably faster) 5 GHz band to stream media more quickly and reliably. (This goes double if you live in an apartment building with lots of neighboring Wi-Fi connections, where a crowded 2.4 GHz band can make for frustrating streaming.)
Amazon’s larger Fire TV has been extremely well-reviewed, and if the Fire TV Stick can really offer the same ease of use (especially for $19 for Prime subscribers, who are legion) it should be very popular.