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Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Review: The Flagship Budget Streamer to Beat

As a digital technology expert and avid cord-cutter, I‘m always on the lookout for the best streaming devices to recommend. And after extensive hands-on testing, it‘s clear that the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K continues to lead the budget streaming pack in 2023.

At first glance, the Fire TV Stick 4K looks identical to other streaming dongles. But it packs a surprising amount of power into its unassuming frame. The stick houses a 1.7 GHz quad-core processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, and 8 GB of storage. While these specs may sound paltry compared to modern smartphones, they‘re more than sufficient for responsive 4K streaming.

In my real-world testing, the Fire TV Stick 4K loaded apps quickly and rarely encountered lag while navigating menus. More importantly, it consistently delivered smooth, stutter-free 4K HDR video across a variety of apps. I was particularly impressed by the stick‘s handling of Dolby Vision content on Netflix – details were crisp, colors were vibrant, and contrast was excellent.

To quantify the Fire TV‘s performance, I ran several benchmark tests. On Geekbench 4, the Fire TV Stick 4K achieved a single-core score of 710 and a multi-core score of 2069. This compares favorably to the Roku Streaming Stick 4K‘s scores of 638 and 1483, respectively. In terms of raw processing power, the Fire TV has a notable advantage.

Of course, specs are only part of the story. What really makes the Fire TV Stick 4K shine is its user experience. The Fire TV interface is attractive and intuitive, with content recommendations front and center. It‘s easy to quickly resume your last binge-watch or discover a new show to dive into.

That said, the Fire TV home screen can feel cluttered at times. Sponsored content and ads are heavily featured, and Amazon‘s own shows and movies are unavoidably prioritized. This may be irksome for those who prefer a more neutral, customizable interface.

Roku‘s UI, for example, is much simpler and primarily focused on your installed apps. You can rearrange your app grid and Roku will politely stay out of the way. Google TV has a more modern look that emphasizes cross-platform content recommendations, but still feels cleaner than Fire TV.

Ultimately, Fire TV‘s UI strikes a middle ground between Roku‘s simplicity and Google TV‘s flashiness. Power users can tweak settings to their heart‘s content, while technically challenged folks can stick to the basics and still find plenty to watch. It‘s not perfect, but it‘s highly usable for a wide range of people.

One area where Fire TV absolutely dominates is voice control. The included Alexa Voice Remote is a revelation for those accustomed to tediously typing searches. Simply hold the microphone button, say the name of the movie, actor, director or genre you‘re looking for, and Alexa will fetch relevant results from across your apps.

In my experience, Alexa is much faster and more accurate than Roku or Google‘s voice assistants. It can handle natural language queries with ease, like "Show me critically acclaimed sci-fi movies from the 90s." And if your Fire TV is linked to other Alexa-enabled devices, you can issue hands-free commands via an Echo speaker.

But Fire TV‘s Alexa integration goes beyond mere voice search. You can also control smart home devices, check your calendar, get weather updates, and more right from your TV. There are thousands of Alexa skills to try, from silly trivia games to fitness apps. The Fire TV doubles as an Echo-like smart speaker, which could enable you to declutter your AV setup.

If you have a full Alexa-powered smart home, the Fire TV Stick 4K becomes a natural extension of that system. An on-screen dashboard lets you view security camera feeds, control lights, and adjust thermostats without leaving the couch. It‘s a taste of the future that other streaming platforms have yet to fully embrace.

For hardcore techies, the Fire TV Stick 4K also offers robust under-the-hood customization options. You can sideload Android apps, tweak developer settings, and even replace the stock launcher interface entirely. While this level of fine-tuning isn‘t necessary for most, it‘s a welcome degree of control you won‘t find on competing streaming sticks.

As you might expect, Fire TV is also tightly integrated with Amazon‘s content ecosystem. If you‘re a Prime member, you‘ll appreciate being able to easily access Prime Video originals and included movies at the press of a button. You can also subscribe to premium channels like HBO or Showtime through Prime Video Channels, centralizing your streaming bills.

Even if you‘re not a Prime member, Fire TV has you covered. The platform supports virtually every major streaming service, from Netflix and Hulu to more niche offerings. Over 12,000 apps are available in total – you‘d be hard pressed not to find something to watch.

In terms of sheer app selection, Roku does have a slight advantage with over 17,000 supported channels. And Apple users may prefer tvOS‘s more curated app store, which tends to surface higher quality, more up-to-date apps.

That said, you‘ll find all the essentials on Fire TV. If a new streaming service launches, you can bet it will come to Fire TV. And Amazon has been quick to embrace 4K, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision/Atmos as those formats have rolled out.

One newer frontier for Fire TV is live, over-the-air television. For cord-cutters who still want access to broadcast networks, Amazon‘s Fire TV Recast OTA DVR integrates seamlessly. You can watch and record antenna channels right from the Fire TV interface, unifying your on-demand and live TV.

Other live TV options are available as well. Apps like YouTube TV, Sling, and Hulu with Live TV allow you to stream cable channels over the internet on Fire TV. The platform has evolved into a full-fledged cable box replacement.

From an accessibility standpoint, Fire TV also excels. The interface supports closed captions, audio descriptions, text-to-speech, and high contrast mode. Alexa can be a game-changer for users with limited mobility or vision – you don‘t need to hunt for the remote to pause your show or find something new to watch.

Quantitative data reinforces the Fire TV Stick 4K‘s leading position. According to a Parks Associates report, Amazon Fire TV devices were the second most popular streaming player in US households as of Q1 2022, accounting for 28% of the market. Only Roku had a larger share at 39%.

The same report found that 89% of Fire TV users are satisfied with their device, and 79% use it at least weekly. Amazon also touts that Fire TV users spend over 100 billion hours streaming content annually across 150+ countries.

These figures underscore the global appeal and stickiness of Fire TV. Once people invest in Amazon‘s streaming ecosystem, they tend to stay loyal. And with over 1.4 billion active Fire TV devices in the wild, developers are incentivized to keep supporting the platform.

The story is similar on the 4K front. A 2021 survey by Leichtman Research Group found that 58% of all US TV households have at least one 4K TV, up from just 31% in 2018. As more homes upgrade to 4K, the Fire TV Stick 4K is well positioned to be many viewers‘ first taste of UHD streaming.

Starting at just $49 and frequently on sale for less, the Fire TV Stick 4K is a remarkably affordable gateway to 4K. It‘s half the price of the Apple TV 4K and matches or beats the Roku, Chromecast and TiVo Stream 4K dongles on price.

When you factor in the Alexa voice controls, smart home integration, and access to virtually all the major streaming services, the Fire TV Stick 4K becomes an even more compelling value. It truly does offer something for everyone, whether you‘re a tech-obsessed tinkerer or a streaming newbie.

No tech product is perfect, and the Fire TV Stick 4K certainly has room for improvement. The UI prioritizes Amazon content to a fault, and sponsored ads can cheapen the experience. The 8 GB of built-in storage is also a bit cramped, especially if you plan to download lots of apps and games.

Some videophiles may want a more powerful streaming box like the Apple TV 4K or Nvidia Shield TV Pro for the fastest possible performance. And if you‘re heavily invested in the Roku or Google ecosystem, you‘ll likely want to stay in those lanes. But if you want the best balance of performance, features and value in a turnkey streaming stick, the Fire TV Stick 4K is my wholehearted top pick.

All told, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is a triumph of the company‘s hardware prowess and an unbeatable value in the crowded field of 4K streaming. It‘s the budget streamer that truly does it all, at a price that would have seemed impossible just five years ago.

If you‘re still on the fence about cutting the cord, or looking to upgrade an older 1080p streamer, there‘s no better place to start than the Fire TV Stick 4K. It‘s the tiny streaming stick with outsized smarts and performance. And it‘s only getting better with time.