Small updates including the addition of Wi-Fi 6 support ensure the Fire TV Stick 4K remains one of the best 4K streamers around
- Still affordable
- Wi-Fi 6 support
- Faster performance
- Still only 8GB of storage
- Not a huge jump from the 1st gen
Five years is a long time in the tech world, so the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – first launched in 2018 – was certainly due an update.
There wasn’t much wrong with the 2018 model, which earned our praise by offering 4K HDR support on the cheap. The second-generation model strengthens the Fire TV Stick 4K’s standing as one of the best 4K streaming sticks with improved internals for slightly speedier performance along with the addition of Wi-Fi 6 support.
Amazon faces some stiff competition in 2023, however, meaning the Fire TV Stick 4K isn’t quite the slam dunk choice it once was.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd gen) review: What you need to know
Given how much time has passed since the release of the first Fire TV Stick 4K, you would expect some updates and you’d be right – even if there are no wholesale changes.
Powering the original model was a quad-core 1.7GHz MediaTek processor and the 2nd generation device sticks to the quad-core formula on a revamped MediaTek MT8696D CPU, which Amazon claims delivers a performance boost of more than 25%.
There’s no change to the Imagination Tech GE9215 GPU, although the new model does have slightly more RAM at 2GB compared with the 2018 iteration’s 1.5GB. The 2023 model also moves the base software from Android 7.1 to Android 11 and runs Fire OS 8 instead of Fire OS 6.
Another notable change is Wi-Fi support being enhanced to include Wi-Fi 6, promising speedier loading when paired with a Wi-Fi 6 router. Bluetooth is also upgraded from version 4.2 to 5.2.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual. The Fire TV Stick 4K continues to support 4K at 60fps across all major HDR formats (Dolby Vision, HDR, HDR10, HDR10+, HLG) while adding the AV1 codec, an increasingly used digital video codec, to existing support for HEVC/H.265, H.264 and VP9. Storage remains unchanged at 8GB. Only 5.29GB of that is usable but you can connect the Fire TV Stick 4K to an OTG adapter to expand that by up to 128GB.
You also get all the same accessories as the first-generation Fire Stick 4K, including an HDMI extender and two AAA batteries for the included 5.6in Alexa Voice (3rd gen) remote. The latter is very similar to the remote included previously but adds dedicated buttons for Prime Video, Amazon Music, Netflix and “Apps”, which takes you to the full app list.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd gen) review: Price and competition
When the original Fire TV Stick 4K launched, Amazon was ahead of the competition in terms of its HDR support, with all four main HDR formats present and correct. However, both the Google and Roku streamers have now caught up and provide identical HDR support.
There are slight differences in audio provision, however. While the Fire Stick 4K (2nd gen) offers Dolby Atmos natively, the Google Chromecast 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K can only deliver it via HDMI passthrough. Besides that and the fact that Roku’s 4K stick also supports DTS, the remaining audio support is identical with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Digital Plus 7.1 both covered.
Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K offers Wi-Fi 6 connectivity along with a huge range of streaming services accessible via a simpler and less advert-heavy UI, making it a fierce competitor. Google’s Chromecast 4K lacks Wi-Fi 6 at present, so is a slightly less attractive option unless a Google-centric interface with Google Assistant support appeals to you.
A cheaper option is the Roku Express 4K (£40). It’s a module box rather than a stick and connects to your TV via HDMI. The box needs to be visible for its infrared remote to work, and there’s no option for voice controls. It also lacks Dolby Vision support but does offer HDR, HDR10+ and HLG and is a low-cost way of bringing smart features to an old TV.
There’s further competition within Amazon’s own product range, too. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2nd gen) was released alongside the new Fire TV Stick 4K and is £10 more expensive than its stablemate at £70. That extra tenner gets you increased storage of 16GB and support for Wi-Fi 6E.
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Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd gen) review: Design and setup
Design-wise, there’s not much change from the original Fire TV Stick 4K. The 2023 model brings greater curvature to the equation via some rounded corners and sloping sides, but its dimensions are identical at 90 x 30 x 144mm (WDH). It weighs 43.5g, 10g lighter than the 2018 device, but still connects to your TV via a HDMI connector. The power supply connects to a micro-USB port at the other end.
Once plugged in, setting the Fire TV Stick 4K up is a simple enough task and takes around 10 minutes. You’ll need to connect the stick to your Wi-Fi network and then sign into your Amazon account using the supplied remote or via the Fire TV app on your smartphone.
If you’ve previously paired a Fire Stick with your Amazon account, you’ll have the option to restore a backup and automatically download your favourite apps. You can also semi-automate the setup process by using the Fire TV app, which will save you fishing out login details for each streaming service.
Otherwise, you’ll start afresh and receive suggestions about which applications to install. You’ve not got a huge amount of storage to play with, but there’s enough to download all the major apps: I installed 12 and had 2.48GB remaining.
You’ll also be instructed to test out the volume controls on the remote to make sure the TV and controller are synced, set parental controls if necessary and download the latest software updates before reaching the home screen.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (2nd gen) review: Interface, apps and performance
The Fire OS interface is as intuitive as ever; I was never left scratching my head as to how to find something. Content is put first with a cycling banner of (frequently Amazon-owned) programming, with a navigation bar below that for Home, Live and My Stuff (saved and purchased content) sections, alongside a few featured apps; you can move your favourites to the front for quick access.
Below this are sections for Recently Watched, Next Up and other recommendations, which are even more Amazon-heavy – a little grating for someone who uses other services more regularly – but they did get increasingly varied over time. Frustratingly, the streamer isn’t particularly adept at syncing information on your Netflix and Disney+ profiles, meaning your progress on series on those platforms isn’t always accurately presented.
Despite its Amazon-centricity, it’s a useful layout to get straight into new content. It’s better for intuitive discovery than the Roku OS, which requires more navigation and is more text-heavy – although that is set to improve with Roku rolling out a “What to Watch” feature.
Navigation itself is suitably slick. Each app opened in around five seconds during testing and once an app is open, you can switch between it and the home screen instantly – although, if you open another app, the original one usually closes and has to be reopened. Still, things are pretty speedy. Whether it’s quite the 25% performance increase Amazon claims is hard to say but I certainly noticed an improvement.
Pictures across various sources looked crisp and clear, especially when viewing Dolby Atmos content, and were only scuppered by the occasional bit of lag. Your mileage will vary depending on your Wi-Fi signal here. Without a Wi-Fi 6 router, which can better handle busy networks with multiple devices, you might not notice much improvement on your previous stick. Likewise, your TV will ultimately dictate how good content looks.
As is the case with most smart TV remotes, typing things using the Fire TV Stick 4K’s remote control is a pretty painful process. However, Bluetooth connectivity means you can connect a keyboard to make things easier or pair a pair of headphones for private listening. It’s a shame that you can only connect one device at a time but it’s a sleeker method than pairing headphones to your phone as with the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. Using Alexa via the remote’s microphone works well to input most text besides email addresses and URLs.
Amazon’s voice assistant can be used for a lot more too and remains a handy tool for quickly looking up information like football scores or quickly searching for shows and films to watch. It’s not hands-free like Amazon’s smart speaker lineup or its Fire TV Cube – you need to hold the blue button on the remote or within the Fire TV app on your smartphone – but doing so is not exactly onerous.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K review: Verdict
The second-generation Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is just as stellar as its predecessor. Bringing incremental performance boosts to an already topline device, including improved processor speed and the addition of Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, there’s very little to moan about.
The competition has intensified, however. Google’s 4K Chromecast and Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K have identical HDR support, offer Dolby Atmos (via passthrough), and have compelling USPs; be it the former’s slicker casting capabilities or the latter’s less promotional UI. Chromecast lacks Wi-Fi 6 support, but if you don’t own a Wi-Fi 6 router, your pick of the three will likely come down to which operating system you prefer.
If you already own the first-gen Fire Stick 4K, there’s no desperate need to upgrade. But for newcomers who can’t find an extra £10 for the best-in-class Fire TV 4K Max, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K stands out as the most future-proofed buy in its price bracket – assuming you can handle the Amazon-heavy interface.