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Whether you're an Amazon junkie or just someone looking to cut the cable cord, chances are you've heard of Fire TV — Amazon's streaming video gadget. But the latest version, which supports 4k Ultra HD, is up against some stiff competition from the other streaming giants.
How does Amazon fare? Read on to see if Fire TV is right for you.
Fire TV: The Need-to-Know Details
Amazon recently made some major tweaks to Fire TV, dialing up its capabilities and optimizing the overall user experience in the process. The most notable change is that it's now an official 4K streamer, which means you'll be getting some of the best picture quality out there when it comes to set-top boxes.
It also boasts the voice of Alexa, Amazon's voice-activated virtual helper, competing with Apple TV's Siri remote. With the press of a button on the voice remote, viewers can ask Alexa for assistance with everything from music to news to weather and more. It should be noted, however, that Alexa is only available on devices running Fire OS software version 5 or higher.
One big draw of Fire TV is its $100 price tag. The costs is comparable to the Roku 3, but significantly less than what Apple TV is selling for these days.
Amazon is known for pushing exclusivity, and Fire TV does just that. If you're heavily invested in Amazon's various offerings and you're already a Prime member, or plan on becoming one soon, this device is a solid choice. Prime members have access to Prime Video and Prime Music, (plus the opportunity for some great subscription add-ons like Showtime and Starz), and Fire TV will make accessing those features extremely easy.
The new Fire TV also has increased processing power, memory and storage, including a new quad core processor that Amazon claims increases speed by 75 percent over the previous version. This translates to speedier functioning and more space for games and apps; but as PCMag mentions, it does sporadically struggle to transition smoothly from one app to another despite the upgrades.
If you're happy enough with your current streaming device, investing in Fire TV may not be for you. But if you're looking to get into the streaming television game (with or without a Prime membership), Fire TV is definitely worth exploring, especially if you find a great deal. Back in November, Staples was offering Fire TV at 25 percent off and we've seen a few retailers listing it for around $85 recently. Be sure to check out our Amazon page for the latest deals as well.
How Does the Competition Compare?
Considering the fact that Amazon no longer sells Apple TV or Chromecast hardware, it's safe to assume that both pose a legitimate threat to Fire TV — and, depending on what your viewing needs are, it makes sense.
If you're a loyal Apple-for-lifer, investing in Fire TV may not be for you. Over the years, I've put a lot into my iTunes and iPhoto libraries, amassing thousands of songs and images in the process. This is exactly why Apple TV works so well for me. I can instantly access my music on my television, explore iTunes Radio for something new, or sling movies from my desktop right to my TV without a second thought.
I'm also a Prime member though, and guess what? I easily toggle between both, lighting up the Amazon app whenever I need to. Of course, this requires fiddling with an extra remote and changing up the HDMI input, but I don't mind.
However, with a price that ranges from $149 for 32GB to $199 for 64GB, Apple TV is a bit pricey for what it is. In fact, it's the most expensive streaming device of the whole bunch. But that doesn't mean you still can't find a great deal. Last month, RadioShack had the 32GB (4th generation) Apple TV marked down to $100.
In addition to the high price, a recent CNET review notes that Apple TV's non-entertainment apps are also nothing to write home about. In a nutshell, if you're not already an Apple person, you might be better off with another device.
The Roku 3 is a solid streaming device at a great price point. Coming in at just under $100 and featuring voice search, Roku makes a compelling argument against Fire TV with this spec-by-spec comparison. Most notably, the Roku 3 allows you to stream more than 2,500 entertainment channels (compared to 1,600 with Amazon), including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and more.
But, as Alphr calls out, the Roku 3 struggles to compete with Fire TV's memory capacity. Roku is lagging in this department, but you can expand storage memory via a microSD card slot, which is said to be fussy. Even so, the fact that Roku has a wide array of content and isn't "tied down to any one platform," as Alphr puts it, gives the device a big leg up.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you also just might find a good deal. Last spring, Target had the Roku 3 marked down 50 percent to just $50. Jet.com also discounted them to $65 back in November, though only for new members.
Coming in at just $35, Google's Chromecast gives Fire TV a run for its money in some respects. With your smartphone doubling as a remote, Chromecast uses an updated app to serve up tailored entertainment. It's also compatible with Spotify, Showtime, Sling TV and more (including sports and gaming).
While having to use your phone or tablet to command your TV may be annoying for some, Chromecast is a simple, no-frills option without all the bells and whistles of some of the other streamers out there. Depending on your viewing habits, this may be all you need. If you're able to see it on your tablet or phone, then you'll have no trouble transferring it to your TV with Chromecast. For Amazon lovers, this would translate to opening up the app on your phone, tablet or computer before slinging it over.
Chromecast's super-low price point is tough to beat, but even here there are deal to be had. Staples has run sales in the past for just $25, and Costco has been rumored to sell two-packs with a $12 Google Play credit for $68.99.
Which streaming device do you think reigns supreme? Keep the conversation going below.
Images courtesy of Amazon, Apple.com.
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