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Remote App

As noted in the introduction, quite a few people were upset they couldn't purchase a Fire TV Stick with the Voice Remote. If you happen to be an Android user, you're in luck. There's an Android app named "Fire TV" available in the Play store, and I'm sure, also in the Amazon App store.

This app provides remote control access as well as the voice search feature using the microphone in your Android device. Installation is a snap. You just download and run the app. Your phone must be on the same Wi-Fi network as the Fire TV Stick. Upon launching, the app will scan your network and find your Fire TV Stick. The TV Stick will generate a four digit PIN, as shown below, that you must enter into the Android app in order for them to communicate.

Amazon Fire TV Stick app connection request from Android remote

Amazon Fire TV Stick app connection request from Android remote

The shot below shows the corresponding confirmation screen on my Android phone.

Android PIN confirmation for Fire TV APP

Android PIN confirmation for Fire TV APP

The user interface for the remote app is fairly simple. In the center, there's a large touch pad area. You swipe left, right, up or down to navigate and tap the screen to select. Icons corresponding to the navigation keys on the remote are located at the bottom of the screen. You can also pop up a virtual keyboard - a handy feature for when you have to enter login credentials for your subscription services.

To use the voice search feature, you just tap/hold and drag down the microphone icon at the top of the screen and start dictating. Both the remote app and the TV screen will show a "listening" message while you are dictating. When you release the microphone, the Fire TV Stick sends your request to the cloud for interpretation.

In my tests, the voice search using the remote app on my Android phone worked just as well as voice searches on the Fire TV using the Voice Remote. I was surprised at how fast and responsive the UI was. There was no noticeable latency between actions on the remote and responses on the screen.

Android user interface for Fire TV Stick Remote App.

Android user interface for Fire TV Stick Remote App

Performance

I tested the Amazon Fire TV Stick my wireless network attached to an AC1900 class D-Link DIR-880L router on the 2.4 GHz band. My typical speedtest.net speeds are in the range of 100 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream (today measured at 126.2 down/12.4 up), so I didn't really expect to see any performance issues while streaming HD content.

In fact, tested HD media from Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime all streamed without jitter or pausing on both platforms. Content from the three services delivered HD quality, uninterrupted streams. Streaming video from Amazon Prime through the Fire TV Stick started almost instantaneously thanks to Amazon's ASAP feature. Other services took 4-5 seconds for the initial buffering.

Closing Thoughts

It's hard to believe such great sound and video can come from a device not much larger than a standard-sized USB flash drive. But the Amazon Fire TV Stick delivers both and via wireless connection, too. That said, the Stick shares the weaknesses of its Fire TV predecessor, most notably its crippled search feature that still only works for Amazon and Hulu Plus content.

Fire TV also still lags Roku in app count even though Amazon has rearranged categories and added new ones for a total of 15 categories and 366 apps. While that represents a lot of growth for the Fire TV platform, it's still far short of the over 1200 "channels" claimed by Roku. (Of course quantity of channels is quite different than quality...)

The voice search feature on Fire TV stick worked very well, just as it did on the Fire TV. In contrast, Roku's search feature, which also supports voice from its Android and iOS apps, works equally well and supports at least MGo, Vudu, Netflix and Hulu Plus in addition to Amazon. Amazon also doesn't yet have an iOS app for Fire TV.

As I concluded in the Fire TV review, I prefer the user interface on the Roku devices. I like having a home screen arranged with just the apps (or channels as Roku calls them) arranged just the way that I like them. About the only home screen entry on the Fire TV Stick that comes close is the "Recent" menu that shows recently used apps and recently played content.

Overall, I like the Amazon Fire TV Stick. It provides a good way of browsing "free" content that I'm already paying for with my Prime subscription. About the only people for whom the original Fire TV is worth the extra $60 are those who need its optical audio output, Ethernet network connection and prefer talking into their remote vs. an Android device for voice search.

I didn't look at gaming apps at all in either the original or this review. But other reviewers have noted that only around half the games available for the Fire TV are available for the Stick. And the games that are available run more sluggishly on the Stick's dual-core processor vs. the original Fire TV's quad-core. So if you want gaming on your Fire TV, skip the Stick and go with the original.

If you're thinking of the Fire TV Stick as a stocking stuffer, you're out of luck, though. Amazon is sold out for the 2014 holiday season and currently projects the Fire Stick TV back in stock on January 15th, 2015. At $39, if you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, the Fire TV Stick is a bargain - especially if you have Android device to use the remote app. Otherwise, I'd spend the extra $10 and buy the Roku Streaming Stick.

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