Amazon Fire TV Review, A Competent Media Streamer

User Interface

Amazon’s Fire TV has a number of features and options that help differentiate it from other set top boxes. One of the big selling points of the Fire TV is its voice search capabilities. This eliminates the annoying right-right-down-enter-left-left-up method of tediously entering one letter at a time via a remote control and on-screen keyboard. To use voice search, all you have to do is press and hold the Voice Search button while speaking—no initial training is necessary. You can search using keywords such as title, actor name, director, or genre. During our tests, the Fire TV was very quick at returning search results that were impressively accurate. After using voice search for a little while, it would be hard to convince me to go back to entering search results using an on-screen keyboard as you would have to do with competing boxes or similar functionality that’s built-in to some TVs and other entertainment devices.

Although voice search works great, the fact that you can’t currently use voice search to search all of the box’s content sources is a significant shortcoming. The Fire TV’s voice search currently supports all of Amazon’s video, app, and game catalog. It also supports music videos from Vevo. If you have subscriptions to other content services, you may also want to search them to see if a particular show you're searching for is already included in your Hulu Plus, Netflix, or other subscription. 

If voice search doesn't provide the answer you're looking for, Amazon also has a text-based search option. Unfortunately, the Fire TV’s on-screen keyboard uses the carousel view which feels a bit archaic, especially since you’ll have to go from the first letter in the list to the last character (a space) and back if you are searching for something like, “A Beautiful Mind.”

This summer, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Showtime Anytime will be integrating their full catalogs into Fire TV’s unified voice search. Amazon plans to add additional content partners over time. Until then, you’ll have to resort to the hunt-and-peck method associated with onscreen keyboards.

If you have a particular movie or show in mind and search for it, Amazon’s Fire TV user interface is great. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood to watch a movie and aren’t sure what you want to see, browsing the list of options can be time consuming using the carousel layout. In addition, the Fire TV won’t display a list of movies that are available for free through your Prime subscription. This Spring, Amazon intends to release an update to Fire TV that will remedy this by enabling users to browse several categories of Prime content.

When you use voice search on the Fire TV, Amazon saves the voice recordings. In doing so, Amazon claims it can better learn your voice and how you speak, thereby improving the accuracy of the results and other services. In the Manage Your Content and Devices section of your Amazon account, you’ll find an option to delete these voice recordings if you choose.

Whether you’re using voice search or paging through options with the remote, navigation is very speedy. After selecting content you want to watch, it generally starts playing very quickly. In order to deliver these near instant streaming capabilities, Amazon has created a feature called ASAP that predicts what content you might be interested in watching and buffers it for playback before you hit play. Even with this feature, we still experienced a short wait the majority of the time when trying to view content.

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