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Handy Multi-Media Device Of The Future Or Stick In The Mud?
The Amazon FireStick is essentially the TV equivalent of the Neuralink brain chip that Elon Musk keeps harping on about.
It simply plugs into the HDMI port of your garden variety television and makes it smart. But does it really work, and is it really worth it? Let’s find out.
The Amazon FireStick (2020) At A Glance
The latest FireStick looks almost identical to older variants, and truth be told, you’re paying for most of the same core features, but there are a few new additions that may make it worth the upgrade, especially if you want to stream content in higher quality.
- HDR Support
- 60fps Support
- Dolby Atmos Support
- Improved Remote
- Excellent UI
- No 4K Support
- Adds in the UI
- No Subscription Labeling
The headlining upgrade in the new FireStick is definitely the full HDR support. For the uninitiated, HDR is an abbreviation of High Dynamic Range.
It gives a display a more detailed color palette and brighter highlights, amounting to an altogether more immersive and enjoyable viewing experience.
It allows you to stream HDR content at optimal quality, but the really magical thing about the FireStick’s HDR facilities is they can transform standard dynamic video into HDR, giving all your favorite standard-quality shows a facelift.
Second on the list of exciting new upgrades is the 60fps capacity (up from 30fps). As long as your TV is capable, you can use your FireStick to stream buttery smooth, incredibly rich content — hurray!
4K is still too much of a push for the standard FireStick. For that, you’ll need the UHD FireStick, but as long as your 4K TV can be upscaled to reduce resolution, the FireStick will work as normal.
The lack of 4K support is a little disappointing, as lower resolutions impose a bottleneck on the HDR output, but you’ll still notice a huge difference in quality in less pixel-dense displays.
Under the hood, we have an all-new 1.7GHz quad-core processor, effectively doubling the power of the 2019 FireStick, while simultaneously reducing power consumption by 50%, so you can expect a snappier performance and reduced energy bills.
What’s more, the new FireStick features dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi that supports 5GHz networks, leading to a more stable connection.
The FireStick remote has also been given a partial makeover in the form of preset buttons that eliminate menu diving and take you directly to your favorite apps.
Besides that, it’s more or less the same as previous generations. It offers full Alexa voice support and can be used to control not just your TV, but AV receivers and soundbars too.
Moving on to audio, the only thing to report is that the FireStick can now support Dolby Atmos surround sound, but only if your speakers support it too.
Some not-so-new features include access to upward of 500,000 movies and TV shows (a lot of which are included with a Prime membership), and a choice of tens of thousands of channels.
Much like the older FireStick, it also supports most of the major music streaming platforms such as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora, transforming your TV into a full-blown multi-media center.
Amazon already had the main facets of FireStick design on earlier versions of the device, so there’s nothing mind-blowing to report here, but there are some neat features I’d like to shine a light on.
First, rather than the Stick plugging directly into your HDMI port, Amazon provides you with a mini HDMI cable to go in first.
You then connect the Stick up to that, thereby increasing its flexibility and reducing the chance of it becoming dislodged or damaged when moving your TV or adjusting connections.
The FireStick itself is less fire and more, well....stick, so it’s nothing to marvel at. It loosely resembles a too-small candy bar that you’ll have to double up on to have a decent snack.
I don’t mind the minimalist stick design, but I’d like to have seen some more concrete labeling, as it can be hard to differentiate it from the older FireSticks.
Wrapping things up in a nice, neat bow is the sleek, ergonomically shaped remote. I love how smart it looks and that the control panel isn’t too chaotic. By keeping the button density to a minimum, it makes for a more intuitive control and prevents accidental pushes — I can’t fault it.
Installation And UI
Even if you’re something of a technophobe, the FireStick will guide you through the installation process in an easy to grasp, step-by-step manner. Putting in your Wi-Fi password is probably the most taxing part.
It uses the typical Fire UI format, so if you have experience with an older FireStick, you’ll feel right at home. It can take a while to warm to if you’ve never used a streaming platform before, but Netflix or Disney+ users should pick it up pretty quickly.
Despite this being an Amazon product, I really appreciated that the UI didn’t hide competitor apps beneath layers upon layers of Prime-only content, but it is clear that the in-house media has been given priority.
There’s a little bit of advertising for Audible, which is kind of irritating, but I can make my peace with that.
The only real note I have for Amazon on this front is that I’d appreciate it if subscription shows and movies were labeled as such before you get your hopes up and click on them.
The Final Verdict
Overall, I’m very happy with the 2020 Amazon FireStick. The new processor and support for HDR television make it a worthy step up from the 2019 model rather than a by-the-numbers refresh, and the UI assembles your options in a clear and intuitive manner.
A lot of its functionality is tied in with Amazon Prime membership, so I can’t recommend it for the average Amazon account holder, but if you do already have a Prime subscription, it makes for a great addition to your home entertainment array.