Amazon makes a full — and often confusing — lineup of Fire TV Sticks. We’ve reviewed them all to help you figure out which one is right for you.
Sarah Lord is an associate writer at CNET covering TVs and home entertainment. Prior to joining CNET, Sarah served as the tech and electronic reviews fellow at Insider, where she covered everything from smart watches and wearables to tablets and e-readers. She began her career by writing laptop reviews as an intern and subsequent freelancer at Tom’s Hardware. She graduated from Wellesley College.
If you want to watch your favorite shows and movies these days, you need a . These small, inexpensive devices have the power to turn any regular TV into a vast entertainment hub. Roku is undoubtedly one of the most popular makers of streaming players, but now Apple, Google and Amazon are all making their own streaming boxes and sticks, too.
Amazon in particular has pushed aggressively into the streaming space by producing a plethora of Fire TV-branded streaming devices. We’ve reviewed them all, and found that we tend to like Roku products best for their easy use and their platform-agnostic approach — Roku’s menus don’t favor one service (like, for example, Alexa
Amazon’s range is robust and runs the gamut from the basic Fire TV Stick Lite to the midrange Fire TV Stick 4K Max to the top-tier Fire TV Cube, as well as a bunch of models in between. If this sounds confusing, don’t worry. Our guide to the best Fire TV streaming device will help you pick out the right model for you.
If you’re looking for the best Fire stick on the market, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is it. The Max is speedy and loads apps almost immediately, and navigating around the system is swift and smooth. Even better, the Max supports Wi-Fi 6 and nearly all the latest playback standards, including Dolby Vision. The downside to the Max is its Fire TV platform and the fact that ads are featured prominently throughout. We just don’t appreciate the TV becoming a giant rotating billboard for content or ads when in screensaver mode. But this is a good choice for those looking for the best and fastest Amazon Fire TV stick.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite is our favorite budget streaming device, besting the Roku Express. The Lite trounces the Express in features-for-the-money. This Fire TV’s biggest advantage is a remote with built-in voice search and control powered by Alexa. The cheapest Roku with a voice remote is the Express Plus 4K, which uses Roku’s more basic voice system, not Alexa. The Fire Stick’s remote also doesn’t need line of sight to work. If you want to spend as little as possible on a streaming player, the Lite is your best bet.
The Fire TV Cube does more than most media streaming devices. It will give you access to all your standard movies, shows and streaming services, but it also comes with a built-in microphone, speaker and Alexa capabilities. This means that it can double as a smart home hub. You can use your voice to search for shows and adjust the volume and inputs on your TV, dim lights, make Zoom calls, stream music and check the weather — all hands-free, without using the remote. It also features a hexa-core processor and 2GB of memory for lightning-fast streaming in 4K, as well as audio support for Dolby Atmos.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K debuted in 2018 and is still around today. While we generally think it is worth it to upgrade to the Max, the original Fire TV Stick 4K is still a good choice for those who want 4K streaming without paying for the latest bells and whistles, namely Wi-Fi 6 and blazing speed. The voice features are impressive and Echo and Dot owners can control it with Alexa. Its app and game selection is superb and responses are still fast, though not as fast as on the Max. The remote can control volume and power on TVs and soundbars. Ultimately, if the price of the Fire TV Stick 4K is close to the Max, we recommend passing on this and getting the newer and faster Max.
Although the Lite is a better value, the Amazon Fire TV Stick is another good choice for those who are still rocking regular HD TVs. The main difference between the Fire TV Stick and the cheaper Fire TV Stick Lite lies in the remote control. Fire Stick’s remote has buttons for volume, mute and power, allowing you to control those functions on your TV. The Lite lacks these capabilities and is therefore slightly less expensive. If you have a 1080p TV and don’t mind paying a little more for a remote that can control the volume on your TV, the Fire TV Stick is a good choice for you.
The Fire TV Recast is not a streaming stick, but is an important accessory for cord-cutters who have a Fire TV Stick and are looking for an over-the-air DVR — basically a box that lets you record antenna TV broadcasts from channels like ABC, CBS and PBS in your area. The Fire TV Recast is our favorite OTA DVR period, due to its combination of features, flexibility and lack of monthly fees. It is a network streaming DVR, meaning it doesn’t connect to a TV directly. Instead it streams to TVs, your mobile device and more. The Fire TV Recast is relatively expensive, but if you want to record shows from an antenna it’s a great choice.
Every Fire TV Stick we review receives hours of hands-on testing. Typically, this involves installing the device on multiple TVs, evaluating the setup process, adding popular streaming channels and using the product as if it were our own. We use all of the major features available and note how they stack up against other Fire TV models in the company’s lineup. To do this, we hook up multiple Fire TV streaming devices to the same TV so we can switch back and forth easily to compare the experiences.
Our metrics that we look at to rate a device include hardware design, distinctive features that differentiate models, remote capabilities and design, overall ease-of-use, effective layouts and design, search capabilities, privacy settings, the number of apps and their performance and the overall speed and reliability of the system.
A Fire TV device, like the ones in this list, are small stick-shaped or square-shaped pieces of hardware that plugs into an HDMI port at the back of your TV. This gives your TV access to Amazon Fire TV software and content, no matter what brand of TV you own.
Amazon also makes Fire TVs, which are televisions that come with Fire TV software pre-installed. This means that your TV will automatically have access to the Fire TV interface without the need for an additional streaming device.
Fire TV offers a long list of streaming apps including Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount Plus, Peacock TV, Tubi, Pluto TV, Showtime, Discovery Plus and others. Spectrum cable users, however, do not have access to the Spectrum app on Fire TV.
No, though you will need a free Amazon account in order to set up the device. While you don’t need to pay for a Prime membership to use Amazon Fire TV, it is useful and recommended. Membership comes with a selection of Prime Video content, including access to shows such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Expanse and Wheel of Time. This, and other Amazon-branded content, is heavily advertised in the Fire TV system and a Prime membership makes it easier to check out all that Amazon has to offer.