It's clear Amazon sees games as a key piece of their strategy with this box. The idea here seems to be to capture casual gamers who aren't sufficiently invested to buy a £400 dedicated games console, not a bad bet in a time when mobile gaming is reaching more consumers than ever.
Since Fire TV runs the latest version of Amazon's Fire OS ("Mojito"), which is based on Android, it's relatively easy for existing Android games to be ported to work on the system and Developers I spoke with from Telltale Games (The Walking Dead) and Mojang (Minecraft) both emphasized how easy it was to move their games onto the platform from their existing games, both of which already run on the Kindle Fire HDX.
Amazon has big plans for games, and appears to be actively courting developers and publishers (including EA, Disney, Ubisoft, 2K, Sega and Rockstar) as well as starting up their own in-house design team.
Amazon's seriousness about gaming is best exemplified by its creation of a dedicated game controller for the system (sold separately).
While serviceable, the controller does not show the same polish as the rest of the system. Looking like a cross between an Xbox 360 controller and the Ouya controller, the feel of the face buttons and sticks is solid, but its shoulder buttons are a bit stiff and the triggers have a shallow travel that feels unsatisfying.
It's worth noting that many of the games on the system (primarily those with simple tablet-type controls) are playable with only the remote.
Standout titles include Minecraft, The Walking Dead, Terraria, Zen Pinball, You Don't Know Jack, Badland and the original Sonic The Hedgehog games. Sev Zero, the first in-house game from Amazon Game Studios is an impressive hybrid tower defense/third person shooter that moves surprisingly well for running on a box this small.
The controller also sports all the buttons on the remote (including play/pause, fwd and rew), allowing you to easily manipulate the system's media options via the controller.
While the controller feels substantial in the hand, its look doesn't quite measure up to the gorgeous industrial design of the box itself or the remote. That said, having a dedicated controller at all is a very welcome option.
It currently ships with a free copy of SevZero – which around £4 when bought a la carte – and 1,000 Amazon Coins, a $10 (likely £10) value.
Interface and Search
Amazon has built an amazingly elegant solution to search in this device, thanks to a microphone embedded in the remote and cloud-powered voice recognition.
Unfortunately, the way they have implemented this breakthrough feature is deeply anti-consumer. Voice recognition is accurate and solves the aggravating problem of tapping in your searches in via an on-screen letter grid.
However, Amazon has destroyed most of the value of searching this way as voice searches scan only Amazon's native content library.
This search myopia isn't only limited to the voice feature though. Indeed there is currently no way to search across services on the device.
When I search Roku for a film it tells me if it's on Netflix, Crackle and others as well as if it's on Amazon. I ran into several scenarios where I searched for content I know is on another service (that I'm already paying for) and was only presented the option of buying or renting it from Amazon.
It's the device's most serious flaw and Amazon should address if they want their device to be as consumer-friendly as they claim.
Amazon's self-bias is even more striking in the menu structure it has created. Of the 10 top-level tabs on its home screen (Search, Home, Movies, TV, Watchlist, Video Library, Games, Apps, Photos, Settings), all but three (Home, Games and Apps) are for Amazon services.
Third party apps are relegated to the "Apps" tab. Thus, four of the highest-level menu items are devoted to different aspects of Amazon's video services, while a single menu item at the bottom of the page houses 40-plus third party apps.
Certain high-profile US services (Netflix, Hulu) are profiled on the Home tab under Featured Apps and Games (which sits just below the "Recently Added To Prime" area).
To make matters worse, the Apps tab is populated by games as well as apps (the Games tab only has games in it), making that area even more cluttered than it has to be.
In short, Amazon seems to be going out of its way to bury third-party apps on the system. It's not a dealbreaker, as most consumers will be aware of the services they want on their device and figure out how to find them, but it's irksome that these services require several extra clicks to access and can't be customized.
Tip: Voice search can be used to navigate and launch the apps you have installed and is often the fastest and easiest way to find a given app.