The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Is Straight-Up… Fire

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Is Straight-Up… Fire
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia
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The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max is probably the most enjoyable streaming device I’ve used on a TV. It feels more powerful and capable than my Chromecast 4K, my inbuilt Google TV operating system and leaves me with a better impression than its closest rival, the Chromecast with Google TV.

What criticisms I’ve built up around the Fire TV Stick 4K Max are menial, which I’m very happy to say considering I’ve been pretty disappointed with my TV’s inbuilt Google TV (it’s a bit slow and freezes often).

When I put the Fire TV Stick 4K Max beside alternatives like the Chromecast with Google TV ($99), the Chromecast 3rd Gen ($60) and the Apple TV 4K 32GB ($249), the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the clear winner.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max

WHAT IS IT?

Amazon’s latest 4K TV streaming dongle.

PRICE

$99

LIKE

Terrific and fast AI.

NO LIKE

No Binge, No Kayo, Needs sound calibration, less apps than Google TV.

This stick is on fire

I love the Fire Stick. I look forward to using it when I stream something on my TV. But let’s go back to the beginning.

Setting up the Fire Stick was easy. It includes the small Stick module where all the magic happens, which attaches via an HDMI port in the side of your TV. If it can’t exactly fit in there (like with my TV) you also get a small extension cable, about 10cms. The Fire Stick is powered externally, via a wall socket and a Micro USB connection. It’s odd seeing Micro USB again in 2022, but it’s not a bad thing in this case.

Setting up the Fire Stick was also easy, requiring you to sign in with an Amazon account. Fine by me. It runs through some calibration stuff with your TV in setup and asks you what apps you’d like installed from the getgo (I selected Netflix, Stan, Disney+, Twitch and YouTube).

Also when setting up, it asks you what your TV model is (for better integration). I use a TCL with integrated Google TV, so I selected TCL… Which was near the bottom of a drop-down menu which listed hundreds of TVs. This took a minute or two to scroll through. It didn’t set me up for a terrific UI experience, but I was soon impressed.

I signed into all of my most-used apps and with the TV ready to go, I booted up Disney+ and started watching The Book of Boba Fett. With NBN 50 internet, the Fire Stick had a few buffering delays, but loaded much faster when I upgraded to NBN 100.

However, it did have a sound delay. This was quickly fixed by going into the settings of the Fire Stick. If you encounter a similar issue, be it from the Fire Stick itself or the fault of your TV, just know that the streaming dongle has an inbuilt system to compensate for the sound delay.

Also, just quickly, there’s a really annoying “tick” noise that occurs whenever you move from one tile to another. It’s super annoying but it’s easily disabled.

fire tv stick 4k max
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Tell me what you want to watch

Although the Chromecast has a similar feature, the Fire Stick’s take on it is more accurate, at least in my experience. If you hold down the big blue button on the Fire Stick’s remote, you can ask for the show you want to watch. I tested “The Witcher”, “The Book of Boba Fett”, “The Expanse” and “Don’t Look Up” with it, all giving me correct responses, except for thinking I meant Reacher instead of The Witcher.

I’ll also take this moment to talk about the user interface. It rules, made up of rectangular tiles similar to the Apple TV home menu and the Google TV browsing menu (with less clutter). Like the Google TV, the Fire Stick merges all of your collected streaming services together, letting you cycle through content irrespective of the platform. It even lets you do this while sorting through genres, like action, fantasy or anime.

fire tv stick 4k max
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

It does, however, focus a great deal on Amazon Prime Video content, which is noticeably what you’re always prompted with when you start the Fire Stick (understandably, given it’s Amazon). When searching through the content in the filters too, your mixed streaming shows will be limited to one section to search through, whereas Amazon Prime Video content and additional paid and rental content make up the rest of the searching section. Not egregious, especially when you can directly search for something, but not the perfect experience.

fire tv stick 4k max
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

I’ll also touch on the TV remote and integration very quickly. Remember when I said that it asks for your type of TV? That was because the remote can actually act as your TV remote (except for controlling TV and apps outside of the Fire Stick). The Fire Stick remote can control TV volume and can turn it on and off. It can also quick launch Prime, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music via a dedicated button without even being on the Fire Stick channel. I love it.

fire tv stick 4k max
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Getting the mean things out of the way

I’ve had such a good experience with the Fire Stick that it’s hard to talk about the bad things, so let’s just get that out of the way.

Firstly, Binge doesn’t exist on this device. Well, it does, just not Australia’s Binge. The Binge that’s there is an American app that provides content of its own but not the content on the Australian streaming service.

“To all our customers in Australia – This is NOT Binge the Australian video streaming, but another US-based entertainment app,” the app reads.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Is Straight-Up… Fire
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Kind of funny, but it’s sad that one of Australia’s biggest streaming apps is simply not present. Binge’s sports-oriented sister streaming service, Kayo, is also not present. If you really wanted to you could sideload these apps, but it sucks that they’re not available natively.

Apart from the sound calibration issue I mentioned earlier, the only other problem I had with the Fire Stick is that it does lack the breadth of apps that Google TV has.

Unfortunately, another app I’ve been having a play with on my Google TV (Steam Link) is also not present. If you’re coming from a Google TV streaming device, you’ll notice there are fewer apps. That’s not exactly a bad thing, but I think it’s notable in case you use a lesser-known app for certain purposes.

The Fire Stick is great competition for Google

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for a streaming device to cost $249 (looking at you, Apple TV) so when we cut the price down by $150, we’re left with two very strong contenders: the Chromecast with Google TV and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max.

While the Chromecast has the ability to project your phone and has some great technology inside of it, supported by the strength of the Google Play store, it’s also a bit cluttered and slow. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max surprised me, providing what seems like a solid Chromecast rival with less clutter and a faster operating system but also less apps.

It’s a tough choice and it’s tough for me to not love a Google product, especially considering that I like the Google Nest, the Google Pixel and don’t have a bad mind for Google TVs like my TCL.

But I think I prefer the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max.

This article has been updated since it was published.