Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a brilliant iteration on the winning formula we see across the Fire TV range
Don’t be fooled by its wordy product name, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is devilishly simple. Like other gadgets in the Fire TV Stick line-up, this Amazon-designed gadget plugs directly into the HDMI port on your telly and unlocks a wealth of boxsets, blockbuster movies, sport fixtures, and games. If you don’t have a Smart TV, or find scrolling through apps is a little sluggish on your telly, this is a great way to boost your viewing at home. As you might expect from the inventor of the Echo, Amazon’s clever voice assistant Alexa plays a large role in the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and can be used to search for specific actors, directors, shows or films, as well as control any smart lighting in your home, change the thermostat, order takeaways, find the latest forecast, and more.
If you’re a newcomer to the Fire TV series or have an older device that’s due an upgrade, Fire TV Stick 4K Max could be a great option. Express.co.uk has been using the Fire TV Stick 4K Max for the last few weeks. Here’s our in-depth review…
Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Price and Release Date
Amazon launched the Fire TV Stick 4K Max last year, so there’s no need to worry about pre-orders or any issues with stock. The streaming dongle is available to buy from Amazon (obviously) as well as a number of high street stores, including Argos, Currys, and John Lewis. Fire TV Stick 4K Max costs £54.99, however, during the Black Friday sales, Amazon did slash the price below £40 for the first time – so there are potential savings to be had if you keep your eyes peeled.
The remote that arrives with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max boasts a dedicated Alexa button
Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Design
The Fire TV Stick plugs directly into the HDMI port on the back of your telly and is powered by a nearby USB port on your TV or, if your model doesn’t have one – or you’re already using it for something else, Amazon includes a wall plug that lets you connect the gadget to the mains instead. It’s elegantly simple. For our money, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max looks a lot more secure plugged directly into the HDMI than the rival Chromecast with Google TV, which dangles from the same port – putting some force on the connector.
For most, once it has been installed into the back of the telly, you’ll never see the design of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max again. But those who travel a lot with work and want to make sure they’ve always got a constant stream of must-binge boxsets and games, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is small enough to make for a great travel companion. At 108 x 30 x 14mm, it doesn’t take up any room in your luggage, but more importantly, Amazon has specifically considered this use-case and provides a software feature designed to help connect to finicky hotel Wi-Fi networks (that require you to input your room number, log in using a password scrawled on the back of your keycard by reception, or some other hoop to jump through…)
When it comes to crucial design, the remote control matters more than the Fire TV Stick 4K Max itself. After all, this is what you’ll be interacting with every day …and we’re happy to report that Amazon has nailed this aspect of its latest streaming dongle. If you’ve used the recent Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, or Fire TV Cube – you’ll be familiar with the design. But those who’ve only tried the entry-level Fire TV Stick Lite (£29.99) might not be aware of the extra functionality included with these pricier options.
The remote control, which has a trademark elongated design that makes it comfortable to hold, includes the usual directional pad to navigate around the menu, not to mention the standard fast-forward, rewind and play/pause buttons. However, the remote in the box with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max can double as a universal remote for your telly, so there’s a power button, mute, and volume rocker too. This’ll save you juggling between multiple remotes to change the volume on your soundbar, turn on the telly, or find the right HDMI input to watch the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
Fire TV Stick 4K Max packs all of the functionality you’d get from an Amazon Echo, so you can ask Alexa to play songs, read out the latest headlines and forecast, order takeaways and taxis, and more
The Fire TV software does an incredible job of pairing with your TV to control these core functions. You’ll need to head to Settings and let the Fire TV Stick 4K Max know what brand of telly you’re using, and that’s it. You’ll be asked to try the volume buttons, while the device cycles through a number of the most common signals to try to synchronise with your model. The biggest brands – like Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Philips – are all supported.
At the top of the remote is the Alexa button, which is incredibly useful. Rather than arduously typing out the name of shows, actors, directors, sports teams and games using on-screen keyboards and the directional pad on the remote – you can simply hold down the Alexa button and say whatever you’re looking for out loud. If you’ve never used voice commands with your telly before, we admit, you will feel like a bit of a pillock of your first try. But trust us, voice search is an absolute revelation and makes finding everything faster and simpler.
On top of that, Fire TV Stick 4K Max packs all of the functionality you’d get from an Amazon Echo, so you can ask Alexa to play songs, read out the latest headlines and forecast, find out the answers to general knowledge queries, order takeaways and taxis, add items to your calendar, and so much more. If you’re got a good sound system connected to your telly, the ability to request songs with Alexa is brilliant.
If we had any nitpicks about the design of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max’s remote, it’s the preset buttons for Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music at the bottom. Sure, these can be a quick way to launch the app …but if these are your go-to streaming services, they’re already at the top of the Fire TV menu when the Fire TV Stick 4K Max starts up, so there’s little advantage to including these on the remote. Instead, they just feel like permanent advertising on your remote.
Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Performance
Power is the main selling point of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, compared with the other more affordable options available in the Fire TV line-up. “Dive into 4K Ultra HD cinematic entertainment with a new quad-core 1.8 GHz processor that brings a 40% more powerful experience compared to Fire TV Stick 4K, plus faster app starts and more fluid navigation while switching between apps and searching for content,” Amazon promises on the listing for its latest HDMI dongle.
In our time with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, we never had any complaints about the amount of grunt under the bonnet.
Flicking around the menus, loading new boxsets, and installing apps all worked seamlessly and smoothly. But here’s the thing – that’s something we’ve come to expect with every entry in the Fire TV range. We’ve never unboxed one of these hugely-popular streaming devices from Amazon and found it struggle with the animations in the menu, streaming content in ultra-crisp resolutions, or slow to process a request to Alexa.
We’re not avid gamers on the Fire TV Stick platform, but if this is your primary way to play games, the 2GB of RAM (compared with 1.5GB in the standard Fire TV Stick 4K and 1GB in the standard Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite) could make a substantive difference. The CPU, developed by Mediatek, is also a little faster.
The extra performance is more likely to come in handy for the longevity of the device. While we’ve never found any Fire TV Stick hardware to be slow during our initial testing, older devices do tend to slow down over time. We recently dust off the first Fire TV set-top box to support 4K Ultra HD, which launched in late 2015, and plugged it into the HDMI port …and woah, that thing really struggled with the animations, high-resolution artwork and apps found in the Fire TV operating system. Sure, it’s now over six years old, but that’s not an unreasonable amount of time to keep a Sky Q box around, right? And you’d still expect that to be able to quickly load the TV Guide, on-demand boxsets and more.
With any luck, the beefier processor found inside the Fire TV Stick 4K Max will extend the life of this streaming dongle so you don’t experience any slowdowns in the years to come, even as Amazon adds fancier graphics, new animations, and more demanding apps in its operating system updates.
Fire TV Stick 4K Max also arrives with support for Wi-Fi 6, which unlocks faster wireless speeds and more bandwidth to avoid congestion in busy households. Of course, to take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to have a router that’s kitted-out with support for Wi-Fi 6, not to mention download speeds that are speedy enough to warrant the new Wi-Fi standard. That said, even if you have a slower connection, Wi-Fi 6 is designed to better handle a huge number of devices, so you shouldn’t see buffering …even if there are multiple smartphones, laptops, games consoles, and tablets making video calls, video streaming, downloading updates… and more throughout the house while you’re trying to watch on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max. Provided that you’re not using an ageing Wi-Fi router sent from your internet provider years and years ago, Wi-Fi 6 support in this streaming dongle is a brilliant feature.
When it comes to user interface design, there’s no denying that Fire TV is stunning
Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Software
Fire TV OS, which is the operating system found on all Fire TV Stick hardware and Fire TV-powered Smart TVs, is gorgeous. For our money, it remains one of the best user interfaces on any streaming gadgets – easily beating Android TV and its lack of intelligent recommendations and the functional-but-bland grid of tiles found on Roku devices. Apple’s Apple TV app could claim the crown, but not every service available on an Apple TV set-top box support this feature… so you’re left jumping back to a grid of tiles to try to work out which streaming service owns the show you’re trying to watch.
Fire TV fills the screen with gorgeous, high-resolution artwork from shows and movies as you browse. There’s also brief descriptions and ratings from IMDB – so you don’t need to keep referring to your smartphone to find out whether the film you’re thinking of watching was savaged by critics or not. Hovering over the tile for a particular show or movie for longer than a few beats will start a trailer, so you can get a sneak peek without leaving the main menu.
It’s all incredibly streamlined. And best of all, the main menu populates with shows from Amazon’s Prime Video (obviously), Disney+, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, All4, and dozens of other popular streaming services. So there’s always a huge amount of choice. Shows you’re in the middle of watching appear in a carousel at the top of the menu, so you can quickly resume your latest binge-watch with a few quick clicks.
You’re also able to curate your own Watchlist of shows and films that have caught your eye that you’d like to get around to watching at some point. These can be from a variety of services, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Amazon’s rental store, or its Prime Video subscription service, to name just a few.
As you watch on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, Amazon will use your viewing habits to suggest similar shows and films that you might like. Not all of these are likely to be your new favourite boxset, but it can be a great way to find a new show you haven’t heard of from friends. This is especially useful if you subscribe to a few streaming services – each with a mammoth library with thousands of films and episodes to watch.
One of our favourite feature built into Fire TV OS is the ability to see a summary of all the actors in any given scene, the director of the episode or film, as well as the music playing in the background – or used in the soundtrack, by tapping a single button. Viewers can then play the song in its entirety, or click to see more from any of actors or the director.
Unfortunately, it’s only available in select shows and films from Amazon. So you won’t be able to check the soundtrack at the touch of a button if you’re watching something inside the Netflix app, but shows on other services will be suggested while checking a directors filmography, for example. Hopefully, other supported video on-demand services will adopt the technology in future, so there is a more cohesive experience between different Fire TV OS apps.
Our one complaint is that, while Fire TV OS supports a wide range of different services, there does seem to be a lot of Amazon-produced or Prime Video-exclusive shows that get top billing in the menu. Sure, some of these are definitely worth a watch. But others are not worth your time, and it seems unlikely the algorithms would be suggested them as our next favourite show if we were watching on a Chromecast with Google TV device, for example.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Fire TV Stick, this is it
Fire TV Stick 4K Max review: Final Verdict
- Pros: Support For Wi-Fi 6, Great Remote Control, Alexa Support Makes It Easy To Find New Shows, Fire TV OS Looks Superb
- Cons: Much More Expensive Than Standard (And Excellent) Fire TV Stick, Fire TV OS Recommends A Lot Of Prime Video Shows
With the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, Amazon has crafted another incredibly solid streaming device. Its Fire TV software is stunning and brings together all of the streaming services, apps, and games you could possibly want to try on your telly. Alexa makes searching for shows, actors, and apps much faster than typing with the on-screen keyboard and those with smart lightbulbs at home or a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat will be able to crank-up the heating and dim the lights without moving from the sofa. Video footage from Ring doorbell cameras can also be viewed on the big screen if you really don’t want to interrupt your current binge-a-thon.
Fire TV Stick 4K Max might be the most powerful HDMI dongle in the line-up, but none of the other competitively-priced devices from Amazon feel sluggish. If you’ve got the kit at home to take advantage of the Wi-Fi 6 support in the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, which unlocks faster speeds and a more reliable connection, then that could be worth the upgrade.
This is an incredibly competent streaming gadget. And if you see the Fire TV Stick 4K Max at a discount – it’s a must-buy. At its usual price of £54.99, you have to be sure your usage will take advantage of the speedier processor, Wi-Fi 6 integration, and 4K Ultra HD capabilities (while Prime Video and Disney+ include this crisp picture quality as part of the standard membership, Netflix doesn’t – so you’ll need to make sure you’re paying for the correct subscription tier otherwise you won’t see a difference no matter what device you’re using to watch your favourite show) in order to justify its slightly higher price tag.