Amazon Fire TV Stick First Impressions


A couple weeks ago I ordered the Amazon Fire TV Stick for $20 as part of a special launch promotion for Amazon Prime members. (Regular price is $39.) As a cord cutter I’ve been curious about boxes like the Fire TV but after a less than stellar experience with the Roku last year I wasn’t interested in spending $99 to experiment with another box when I was happy with my Apple TV. But for $20, I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

The primary content draws to the Amazon Fire TV Stick for me were Amazon Prime streaming and Plex, two notable omissions from Apple TV. (There are hacks and AirPlay, but these are not as convenient as native experiences.) Earlier this year I upgraded my primary television to a Samsung Smart TV that included apps for both Amazon and Plex and I enjoyed having easy access to this content. I already have an Apple TV and a TiVo HD connected the television in my bedroom but I had a free HDMI port so for a minimal investment I was able to add Amazon Video, Plex and other channels the Fire TV Stick offers.

While this is by no means a comprehensive review (Dan Moren wrote a nice one on Jason Snell’s Six Colors) here are my first thoughts after an evening with the Fire TV Stick:

  • Setup was very easy, literally plug and play. However in addition to plugging the Fire TV Stick into an unoccupied HDMI port you also have to provide it with power. A USB power adapter is included in the box, but as Dan reported in his review, I found I was able to power the Fire TV Stick off the USB port on my television. This was convenient because my access to power plugs was limited. Unfortunately, the Fire TV continued to nag me, really nag me, to plug it into a power supply though it appeared to function properly. A downside of the TV's USB port was every time the TV was powered off the Fire TV Stick would lose power and it would have to go through its boot up process before it was ready to use. Generally this was quick and wasn’t a problem, but then the idea occurred to me that I could perhaps plug the FireTV Stick into one of the unoccupied USB ports on my TiVo instead since it was always powered. So far, so good and no complaints from either the TiVo or the Fire TV Stick.
  • The Fire TV Stick is Wi-Fi only, which is to be expected for a device of this size. It does support 802.11n and I haven’t noticed any problems in streaming content. Though one annoyance during setup was entering my complex passwords for my Wi-Fi network and various streaming services. The Apple TV has the remote App to help with this. Amazon says an iOS App for the Fire TV is in the works, but it’s not available yet. Because I ordered my Fire TV stick from Amazon it came pre-configured with my account information.
  • While this is purely a personal preference, I found the UI was much cleaner and "less clunky" than the Roku though I did not like it as much as the Apple TV. While I think the Apple TV user interface still has much to be desired, I’ve yet to see a set top box with a better one. Clearly this is an area where there’s much room for advancment
  • While Amazon promotes the Plex App for Fire TV, it is not one of the included apps. It’s available for a separate purchase of $2.49 in the Amazon App store and can be purchased and downloaded directly on the FireTV Stick. The Amazon App store does not have nearly the selection of the Roku store, but that really wasn't my concern since this was not my primary streaming device.

Overall, my first impressions of the Fire TV Stick are positive for my limited use and will likely only get better as Amazon continues to develop the platform and releases their iOS App. But I should note that this is only a secondary streaming device for me as Apple TV will likely continue to be my primary streaming device since most of my content comes from the Apple ecosystem.

As an Amazon Prime member, I find value in having native access to Amazon’s content, particularly there growing Prime Instant Video collection on my television valuable. But, if Apple TV included a native Amazon App (which it probably never will) and a native Plex App (maybe, one day) I would have little need for the Fire TV Stick. At $20 the Fire TV Stick was an easy decision, and I’d probably even still purchase it at the full price of $40. But I’m not sure there’s a place for a $99 Fire TV in my media center.

A Backup Reminder

Today I wrapped up my first class in my Masters program. It’s been doozy and I have a lot of work to do before the final, but completing the first semester has been a weight off my shoulders.

I noticed about half way through the lecture today that the student I share a table with suddenly became distracted during class. Something just wasn’t right. After the class wrapped she looked at me in a panic and asked, “Do you know anything about computers?”

Turns out her laptop (a Toshiba that looked to be a few years old) stopped charging during class and the battery was running down fast. My friend wasn’t very computer savvy and all she could see was a ticking bomb that was counting down until the battery was drained, the screen would go black, and all her notes was trapped inside. Here we were, last class of the year, getting ready to break for Thanksgiving and she was faced with the prospect of losing it all because, of course, she hadn’t made any backups.

We spent a few minutes troubleshooting the power problem. Checked the plug, checked the outlet but it looked as though there was some kind of problem with the computer itself. She was heading across campus to the school's technology help desk have it checked out. I told her the most critical thing was getting her notes off the computer right then and there because we didn't know when the battery was going to die. She agreed.

keep a flash drive on my keychain for emergencies just as this. Because her class notes were kept in a few Word documents on her desktop making a quick copy was easy. She also emailed the most important documents to herself. Within a few minutes the immediate panic had passed so we took a few moments to sign her up for a free Dropbox account and I explained the importance of in the future, rather than saving her notes to the desktop, saving all her school work to her Dropbox folder would at least sync those documents to the cloud when she was connected to the Internet A free account will get you 2GB which isn’t much these days, but it’s enough to store your mission critical documents. Finally, I introduced her to Backblaze for backing up her entire computer once she got her hardware problem sorted out.

When I left her this morning the hardware problem wasn’t solved, but in less than 10 minutes we managed to backup her last four months worth of work and give her a lot of peace of mind as she was heading home for the holiday.

As “power users” we generally have our backup under control and don't really need to think about it. That's a good thing. But today I was reminded of just how many people are out there with no backups and are just one problem away from a catastrophe.  

Why don’t you reach out to one of your less tech-savvy friends this weekend and see if you can help them with that?

224: The Email Problem | Mac Power Users

Email seems to be a never-ending subject for Mac Power Users. So this week we try to tackle it again, including how David and I have tweaked our email workflows, the tools and processes we’re currently using to manage our email and maintaining sanity in an age of email overload.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Bradley Chambers Releases Learning to Love Google Drive

Bradley Chambers has been killing it recently. He’s writing regularly for Tools & Toys and Sweet Setup, his podcast Out of School with Fraser Speirs just released their 110th episode and he just released his third book, Learning to Love Google Drive.

This is a series of 10 screencasts that is available to purchase through iBooks or as stand alone videos that shows how Bradley uses Google Drive and why he thinks it’s a great alternative to Dropbox. I’ve been using Google Drive for years for Mac Power Users production but admittedly haven’t gone much beyond document collaboration. 

I look forward to digging in.

223: MPU Live: It’s So Choice… | Mac Power Users

Last Saturday was the first Saturday of the month, which means it was time for MPU Live. This month we spoke with Mike Rhode about his new book, the Sketchnote Workbook. David talks about his latest purchase, a iMac 5k with Retina. We also follow-up on a number of topics including academic workflows, goal setting security and share listener tips and answer questions.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver

I’ve been struggling with my home audio system. I want to be able to stream audio from my Mac, iPhone or iPad to any of a number of speakers throughout my house. Thus far, I’ve been doing this by setting up an AirPlay based network with a series of speakers and Airport Express base stations. Unfortunately, I’ve found the reliability of AirPlay lacking with regular audio dropouts and other odd behavior. I’ve looked at installing a Sonos system, but have hesitated because of its proprietary nature and the fact that outfitting my house with a complete system would cost in excess of $1,500. 

The B1 may be a solution because it allows you to add high-quality bluetooth to an existing stereo system or powered speakers. I’ve seen inexpensive Bluetooth adapters for speakers available for years. I’ve tried a few and been unimpressed. Audioengine’s B1 is very different. The B1 uses a high-quality audio converter and special circuitry and an antenna to provide a superior experience. I connected the B1 to a set of Audioengine’s A2 speakers sitting on bookshelves in my home office that I had previously connected to an Airport Express for AirPlay support. The styling of the B1s perfectly complemented the A2s. In terms of audio quality, I found a significant improvement when using the B1 to stream music and podcasts when compared to the same speakers over AirPlay. The connection was stable and I didn’t experience any audio dropouts.

At $189.00 the B1 is pricey, significantly more so than other bluetooth speaker adapters that can be usually bought for $50 or less. But this may be an instance where you get what you pay for. The B1 isn’t designed to be plugged into inexpensive computer speakers, in fact, you won’t find a mini-audio jack on it. Instead, the B1 is designed specifically to connect to stereo systems or powered speakers. If you’ve already invested in high-quality speakers or an audio system, adding a B1 is a great way to upgrade your system to stream virtually any type of audio from your digital devices.

This article first appeared in the August Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at