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A Great Budget Pick for the Alexa Crowd

Illustration for article titled The New Fire TV Finally Offers a Decent Streaming Experience

Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

Fire TV has been due for an update for a minute—a very long minute. With its latest experience overhaul, Fire TV is finally delivering a user interface that stands up to those of rival streaming devices.

When Chromecast with Google TV arrived on the scene this year, Google gave other $50 streaming devices a run for their money. It’s well designed, snappy, and delivers clean and organized recommendations with a layout that just works. At the time, both the Roku and Fire TV experiences seemed clunky by comparison. But the new Fire TV update offers a far better experience for the Alexa set who prefer it to other streaming devices, with new navigation tools for finding content, the addition of user profiles for more customized viewing, and a vastly improved home screen. Fire TV Stick Lite and third-generation Fire TV Stick users will get it first, and Amazon has said other devices will get the update in early 2021.

Fire TV

What is it?

A new-and-improved version of the Fire TV experience.

Like

New user profiles and better content discovery features.

Dislike

Ads and recommendations for Amazon-owned content still appear everywhere.

The first thing existing Fire TV users will notice is a reorganization of apps, menus, and content. Rather than the primary navigation features being situated at the top of the home screen, they now appear closer to the middle under a spotlight banner for content and feature promotion. This new menu is also where you’ll find icons for your primary apps, with a “more” button to the right next that will bring up the rest. I quite liked this design, as I find I generally only hop between four or five primary apps at any given time depending on what I’ve been watching. Below this row on the home screen, you’ll find categories for “next up,” recently used apps, Prime originals, live and upcoming events, recommendations for ad-supported IMDb TV content (which is owned by Amazon and appears everywhere on Fire TV), as well as genre- and app-specific content suggestions.

The primary navigation menu has been pared down from its previous iteration. To the left of the home tab, you’ll now see a library tab. This is where Fire TV will file your watchlist selections, rentals, and purchases. To the right of the home tab, you’ll see new “find” and “live” options. Amazon axed its TV and movie tabs from the old experience and nested them under its “find” discovery screen. This is where you’ll be able to search for apps, TV shows, movies, and free content, as well as content by genre category. This, to me, was one of the best decisions Amazon made with respect to content discovery, although ads and promoted Amazon-owned content still appear throughout these categories—something I hated about the previous experience that managed to carry over here. Is it unbearable? No. But it is still a big differentiator between the experience you get with Fire TV and, say, Apple TV.

Meanwhile, the dedicated live TV tab is a welcome addition to the Fire TV experience for anyone who’s officially cut the cord. The live tab will surface breaking news and sports suggestions here, or, if you prefer the old-school feel of live and linear channel surfacing, you can use the channel guide feature to find something to watch. I loved this tool for surfing Sling TV for something to watch, but I could see some room for improvement. When using the guide for this app, I could browse by channel but wasn’t shown real-time teasers of the show itself. Instead, the guide only showed me how much of the show was left to watch with a thumbnail for the series or movie. Again, not a deal-breaker, but a live feed of the series while surfing would be a big improvement here.

Illustration for article titled The New Fire TV Finally Offers a Decent Streaming Experience

Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

A big bonus of the new Fire TV, however, is the addition of individual user profiles. Fire TV will support up to six profiles, which will offer multi-user households a more customized viewing experience. Specific settings, viewing history, watchlists, live TV, and recommended content will all be tailored for each individual profile, meaning that you no longer have to see suggestions for Botched if disturbing reality TV isn’t really your thing—even if someone else in your house is an avid viewer. Additionally, profiles allow parents to age-restrict content with Amazon Kids profiles that filter out stuff that might be suitable for you but not your 5-year-old.

Voice support is no longer an especially intriguing feature given that it’s present on just about every recent streaming device. But it was a welcome addition to a Vizio M-Series Quantum unit I’ve been reviewing. Additionally, I’ve been using a fourth-generation LED-powered Echo Dot to test the new Fire TV experience, and I have to admit, having a totally hands-free option for powering on my television and launching content felt like a luxury—particularly since I kept losing the slender Fire TV remote underneath a mountain of blankets and pillows. If I’m being honest, I much prefer Google Assistant to Alexa for most things, but Alexa did a pretty good job of handling commands for stuff like powering on my TV, opening apps, and showing me content. A few times, Alexa got stumped by Hulu’s user screen when I asked it to show me content in the app, but this was often resolved by repeating the command again.

Ultimately, I think Amazon hit a home run with its Fire TV redesign. The navigation makes more sense, user profiles offer better personalization, and finding content is easier here than it has been in the past. There’s room for improvement, to be sure. As mentioned, real-time live TV teasers would be a great update to the experience, as would fewer recommendations for Amazon’s own content and features (though these somehow managed to feel less ubiquitous as they did on the previous version of the interface). Amazon hasn’t quite lured me from the Google TV experience that I love, but Alexa enthusiasts and streamers looking for a device on the cheap will not be disappointed.

README

The new Fire TV offers up to six user profiles for better customization and content recommendations, including for kids.Voice control with Alexa allows for hands-free browsing by genre, title, or category—either with a compatible Fire TV remote or connected smart home device.An improved home tab and navigation menu makes discovery easy and fairly straightforward.Expect to still see ads and promotional banners for Amazon-owned content just about everywhere.

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