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Amazon Fire TV’s new remote copies the worst thing from Roku

Amazon Fire TV’s new remote copies the worst thing from Roku
(Image credit: Amazon)

Pour one out for Amazon Fire TV's old, elegant Alexa voice remote. Amazon is copying the worst thing about Roku's remote by adding four preset buttons for streaming services. They're brightly colored and don't appear to be programmable, which means if you don't subscribe to those four services, the buttons are totally useless.

Amazon revealed the new Alexa voice remote (3rd gen) on Wednesday. The product description enthuses, "Get to your favorite content quickly with preset app buttons for Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu." Three of those presets also exist on Roku's voice remote, though it swaps in Sling for Prime Video.

The new Alexa Voice remote also adds a guide button that takes you to a cable-like grid of live programming. The remote will start shipping with Fire TV Stick (3rd gen) devices and can also be purchased separately for $29.99 on Amazon. The remote is compatible with Fire TV Stick (2nd and 3rd Gen), Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Stick Lite, and Fire TV Cube (1st and 2nd Gen). It does not work with Fire TV Edition smart TVs.

The Prime Video button makes sense, since Amazon wants to keep users in-house as much as possible. But why add presets to its competitors? The answer can only be: $$$. A Bloomberg report revealed that Roku charges Netflix and other streamers for the real estate on its remote: "At $1 per customer for each button, the cost can quickly add up to millions of dollars in monthly fees."

Think of the presets more like advertising space, tiny billboards that send users straight to streaming services. And since Roku and Amazon are the No. 1 and 2 streaming device makers in the U.S., that's a lot of billboards in homes. Even the most recent iteration of the Chromecast With Google TV has a remote with Netflix and YouTube buttons (Google owns the latter, but the former is surely making them some money).

Again, if you don't happen to subscribe to all (or any) of those services, the buttons are entirely useless. If Amazon and Roku only cared about user experience, they could have designed their remotes with four blank, programmable buttons so that users could create shortcuts to their favorite apps. 

(Note: The Roku Ultra comes with a remote that does have two programmable buttons.)

The Fire TV's previous remote was so simple and elegant that adding branded presets makes it feel cluttered and garish. And does Amazon really need more money by selling remote space? On the other hand, using a preset is a quick way to escape the all-Amazon-all-the-time vibe of the Fire TV interface. So, your mileage may vary.

Kelly Woo

Kelly covers streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.