Hands on: Amazon Fire TV (2017) review

Amazon's Fire TV rivals Chromecast both in looks and performance

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

Amazon has completely redesigned the Fire TV, changing it from a 'front of the TV' solution to one you plug into the back of your television. It's added HDR to the mix, too, making it one of the most complete streaming solutions around.

For

  • HDR compatibility
  • Better voice tech

Against

  • Smaller size won't be for all

The Amazon Fire TV range has been a fantastic gateway drug to 4K for many a user. Offering up 4K content on the cheap, thanks to its simple plug-and-play capabilities, it’s a system that’s turned many a dumb 4K TV into a smart, sophisticated system. 

The Fire TV of old was a sizeable black box, one designed to sit next to your existing television setup rather than behind it. If you wanted something a bit more discreet, though, then you were limited to the Amazon Fire TV Stick

Design and features

With the launch of the new Amazon Fire TV (2017) that changes. The new Fire TV is a dongle. It keeps its square black-box look - put on its side so it's now a diamond - but it has been severely reduced in size, with the thinking that you can hide it behind your TV. Sorry, Fire TV Stick it looks like your time is up.

Given its small size, it is a pure plug-and-play device. Connect it to a free HDMI port, then link it up to your Wi-Fi and you are away. Think Chromecast, but better looking. 

It's clear to see that Amazon has rethought its approach to the device: Yes, it's smaller and can be hidden behind the screen but it's packed with a lot more tech - the kind that will really improve the streaming experience. 

Performance

Of those additional benefits, the first one worth covering is picture quality. 

The addition of HDR was an obvious step but definitely a welcomed one. HDR (specifically HDR10) refines picture quality so we're glad to see Amazon making the Fire TV compatible. Add to this 60fps image quality and the inclusion of Dolby Atmos and you have a box that complements 4K TVs. 

But visual performance isn't the only upgrade – voice has been completely overhauled, too. Alexa integration was nothing to write home about with the old Fire TV, feeling a bit like an afterthought rather than a primary design goal. 

The new Amazon Fire TV fixes this. It's not quite what the rumors said - there is no Echo-like voice system integrated into the new Fire TV and you still have to use the included remote or an Echo device - but voice control is a lot better. 

This is because Amazon opened up its API to the likes of Netflix, Hulu, NBC, Showtime so you can access content through their apps, either by asking for services individually or just asking for shows. 

In our hands on time with the device, we asked to watch Ray Donavon and it found this in the Showtime app – even though we didn't specify Showtime. 

It's a big change as it means search is now not contained to certain services - it works straight from the main screen.

Flicking through channels is quick and responsive too. We went from CNN to Showtime in under two seconds, again just using our voice. This is because Amazon has put a 1.5Ghz quad-core processor into the device with 2GB of memory and 8GB of on-board storage. There's 40% more power in the new Fire TV which is impressive given its smaller size.

Amazon said in its presentation that it has given the new Amazon Fire TV a new UI but the changes must be subtle as we didn't see any real difference. The main screen is still Amazon heavy. Amazon has made no bones that this is an Amazon product. It really wants the premium 4K you watch through it to be supplied by Amazon Prime. 

Yes, Netflix and other services are available through the device - and are shown as apps - but its Prime service is front and center of the UI. In Amazon’s eyes: you buy the Fire TV, then you buy the Amazon eco-system that comes with it. 

You can also now access some smart home content through the Fire TV. If, for instance, you have a camera in your setup that's controlled by Alexa you can view that feed through your TV. It's a great addition to the Fire TV and one feature we're sure will get a lot of use. It's not a feature that is limited to the new Fire TV, though, as it will be be coming to older devices too.

Early verdict

The new Amazon Fire TV (2017) is a radical redesign of the Fire TV range, both inside and out. It's been turned into a dongle but also given a hug power boost. It's 4K credentials have also improved with the addition of HDR and it's always great to see Dolby Atmos getting some love. 

The new Fire TV is a dinky dynamo of a device and we can't wait to spend more time with it when it comes out on October 25.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.