Amazon is entering the set top box wars at a very interesting time and with a very compelling product, especially for heavy users of Amazon's digital services. At $100 it's priced competitively with Roku 3 and Apple TV, and we expect the gaps in its channel lineup to be filled in the coming months. It's clear now that the retailer was not waiting, it was watching. Almost every aspect of the Fire TV attempts to improve or refine the aspects of the Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast that currently vex consumers. And as a powerhouse retailer, it's certain Amazon put the reams of customer data to which it is privy to heavy use.
It's a beefy box with processing capacity to spare. Amazon services are quick and easy to access and its ASAP feature pre-caches Amazon content for you so you can watch instantly. Voice search is the kind of breakthrough you wonder why we didn't see earlier in these devices. It's an open system with most of the must-have apps and channels. Photos were a very pleasant surprise and Amazon seems to be attacking gaming with a diligence we have not seen from their competition.
It's hard to escape the fact that Fire TV's interface tilts toward Amazon's offerings. We would like to see more visibility for third-party apps in the main menu, as well as customization offerings. The inability of its search function to scan across all of its services (as Roku does) makes the feature worthless unless you are only interested in Amazon's offerings. Customers who aren't sure where to find a particular piece of content will be forced back to searching the web for information.
This device is simple to use and works well. If you are significantly bought in to Amazon's services, it's hard to go wrong with this box. However, if you are not an Amazon customer or even an Amazon customer who doesn't have or want Amazon Prime, then you might think twice. The device is clearly tilted toward Amazon customers, and nothing short of a full UI overhaul is going to change that. We'd like to at least see Amazon allow some kind of user customization in the interface. Until then, we're calling this device great, but not perfect.