Gadgets: Amazon's Fire TV has many limitations

  • Updated: April 12, 2014 - 2:00 PM
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IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AMAZON - Amazon Fire TV is unveiled during a press conference in New York, Wednesday, April 2, 2014. At $99, Amazon Fire TV is the easiest way to watch Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, and more on your big-screen TV. (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Amazon/AP Images) ORG XMIT: INVL

Amazon’s set-top box has many limitations

Fire TV, $99, www.amazon.com

Ostensibly, the new Amazon Fire TV is a streaming media set-top box — an Internet-connected device that lets you watch video from Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Crackle or a few other outlets and play games with or without a controller, which is sold separately.

In reality, the Fire TV is a small, flat, matte black Trojan horse intended to sell you even more Amazon goods than you already buy. If you prefer streaming that is content-neutral or that at least allows you to find the best deal, this is not that box.

That’s not to say the Fire TV isn’t likable. The packaging and the ­hardware are tidy, premium and elegant. With its design and $99 price, the device pretty clearly targets Apple TV as its primary competition. The two streaming devices have ­similar designs — and designs on your regular purchasing.

The setup for the Fire TV is remarkably simple, although the package does not include an HDMI cable. The Bluetooth remote pairs relatively easily. There is no clunky entering of a code or anything like that; just hold down the “home” ­button on the remote or controller for a few seconds, and you’re off.

Amazon is promoting its voice integration, which allows searches for content by speaking aloud. The remote uses a microphone button to start voice commands, rather than just passively listening all the time. But that button has to be held down while you’re speaking, which is unintuitive and easy to forget.

That’s the least of what is wrong with the voice search, or any search for that matter. Yes, you can use your voice to search for content on the Fire TV. But the box will return movie, TV and game results only from the Amazon catalog, even if you have downloaded and signed into other apps, like Netflix’s.

Fire TV, overall, is a decent effort that suffers from entering a crowded field. Internet-connected or “smart” TVs offer similar access to streaming media without taking up an HDMI port or room on a component shelf. Google’s $35 Chromecast, the darkest and cheapest horse in the race, lets you stream supported content from a phone, computer or laptop with almost magical ease.

Nevertheless, Amazon has a huge reach and is aggressively promoting Fire TV; if the company continues to improve the content, games and interface, Fire TV could be an accessible entry-level device.

NEW YORK TIMES

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