Getting Started & User Interface
Setting up the Fire TV is very easy. After connecting the power, an HDMI cable, and an Ethernet cable, the Fire TV quickly recognized the remote and asked me which language I wanted to use. Because the Fire TV was already connected to my Amazon account, the setup process was simplified—I simply agreed to use the account that was registered to the Fire TV. After the registration process, the Fire TV downloaded and installed an update for the remote.
A few minutes after plugging in the Amazon Fire TV, it was displaying a short tutorial about the features of the device and how to use it. Next, I was asked to choose whether to enable or disable Parental Controls and then shown a screen that explained the Alexa features of the Fire TV. The whole setup process took less than 10 minutes and I was greeted with the Fire TV Home screen.
The Home screen on the new Fire TV looks very similar to the original's. If you’re unfamiliar with this user interface, it runs a modified version of Android and features Amazon’s carousel layout that we’ve seen on Kindle tablets. The primary Home screen includes various menu options on the left with sub-categories on the right. Options found in the left column include Search, Home, Prime Video, Movies, TV, Watchlist, Video Library, FreeTime, Games, Apps, Music, Photos, and Settings. Most of these menu options have sub-categories or content. If you’re in the Home category for example, you’ll see options for Recent, Featured Apps & Games, Prime Originals and Exclusives, Featured Movies & TV, Because You Watched, Recommended Movies, Recommended TV, Shop New Release Movies, Top Free Games, and Recommended Apps & Games.
Between the main menu options and the sub-categories, there are a lot of options to sort through. Frankly, we didn’t use most of the options very often. The voice search functionality works very well, and most of our favorite content stays in the Recent category, so the majority of our time interacting with the user interface was spent in these areas. Overall, we felt the user interface was easy to use and navigate.
The Alexa feature on the Fire TV is similar but different from what you’ll find on the Echo. For example, Alexa can look up information such as sports scores, weather, or traffic on the Fire TV but she can’t set a timer or play the latest news like she can on the Echo.
To use the Alexa features, you must press and hold the voice button on the remote while speaking your commands. Because of this, you don’t get the same hands-free convenience with Alexa on the Fire TV that you get with the Echo. Also, you don’t need to say “Alexa” when using the Fire TV functionality because the device only listens when the Voice button on the remote is pressed.
Because the Fire TV is attached to a screen, you can easily view your shopping list rather than simply listen to items on your list. However, the Fire TV’s shopping list functionality is limited in that you can add, but you cannot remove, items from your Shopping List and To Do List. If Alexa hears you incorrectly and adds the wrong item to your list, you’ll have to use your phone or computer to remove items from the list. This is also true of the Echo. Overall, we feel the additional functionality that comes with Alexa is a nice add-on to the Fire TV and having a screen for some of these features is really nice (like seeing the 7-day weather forecast).
Alexa voice search works better with some phrases and questions than others. For example, asking “What was the score of the Patriots game?” returned a prompt and correct response. However, asking, “How did the Patriots do this week?” was met with, “Sorry, I couldn’t find the answer to your question.”
Overall, Alexa voice search worked well during our tests and is much preferred to the alternative 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. Most searches returned what we were looking for within the top one or two results. In a few cases, what we were looking for was a little further down the list. When searching for “Friends” for example, the NBC sitcom was the 13th result behind “Best Friends Whenever,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” Barney & Friends, and others.
The search feature is certainly useful when you have a particular movie or show in mind. In the year and a half since the first-generation Fire TV was launched, Amazon has added a Prime Video category to the menu. Using this option, it is much easier to find an intriguing Prime title than it was previously. In addition to this new category, Amazon has also upgraded the software to integrate the catalogs of various services such as Hulu, HBO GO, Crackle, and others into its voice search functionality. Now, when searching for a show such as “Modern Family,” Amazon will display the ability to watch via Hulu. Unfortunately, Netflix is not compatible with voice search at this time.
During our time with the Fire TV, navigation was very quick. After selecting content to watch, it generally started playing very quickly. We occasionally ran into a problem streaming Hulu content where the service would frequently display “Loading,” play a few seconds, then display “Loading” again. This continued frequently enough that we gave up watching. The problem was sporadic and Amazon assured us they were not noticing this problem with other users, so it could have been related to our broadband connection or the Hulu server we were hitting at the time.