TV set-top boxes that don’t rely on an aerial to deliver programming are increasingly popular. Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast and NOW TV all offer access to movies and TV programmes plus sometimes iPlayer and other catch-up services, all streamed via a broadband connection. Most come in conveniently tiny pieces of hardware and range from affordable to cheap – NOW TV is just £10 for the box.
Amazon launched its Fire TV box last year and it’s been a convincing bestseller on the site ever since. It has a fluid, highly responsive operating system, including a streaming set-up that anticipates what you’re going to want to watch next and starts preparing for it by downloading or buffering. This means that there’s no waiting for the next episode of whatever you’re watching.
Today, Amazon releases a smaller, more affordable model called the Fire TV Stick. At £35 it’s less than half the price of the regular Amazon Fire TV and though there are some features missing from the cheaper device, there aren’t many and there are even some extra benefits.
The original box has a clever remote with a microphone button on it. With this you can speak instructions such as “Find Spanish films” or name a programme so the system can find it. It does this fast and with great accuracy – it’s a real standout on Amazon’s system compared to its rivals. It only works with the system, ie not with apps like Netflix.
The Stick remote doesn’t have a microphone, but all is not lost – a free smartphone app available for iPhone, Android and Amazon Fire phones lets you speak your searches. This isn’t quite as convenient if the owner of the smartphone has taken it with them (how selfish), but is still a clever solution. Additionally, you can buy the Amazon voice remote separately, though obviously this adds to the cost.
One advantage the Stick has over the regular box is it’s extremely portable. So you could take it with you. This is handy if you want to watch something round at a friend’s house or even on a hotel TV with an accessible HDMI socket.
Subscribers to Prime Instant Video also have access to lots of extra content, including an increasing number of programmes made especially for Amazon. And if you’re midway through a Prime show and getting on a plane, you can temporarily download it to the latest Amazon Fire tablets to access offline – a feature many wish Netflix would offer.
We’ll be testing the Stick in the coming days but this is a highly promising, affordable gadget