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I liked the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, but here's why I ditched it

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max plugged horizontally into TV
(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

I've been spending a little more time with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max recently because I've been looking to solve a big problem I had with Netflix on the Apple TV 4K. (Yes, even the most expensive streaming device can have issues.)

A weird audio problem that flared up as I watched F1 Drive to Survive sent me thinking about getting reacquainted with as many of the best streaming devices as I had lying around. So, I decided I'd take a risk on the first Fire TV Stick I actually liked. While I've never been a huge fan of the ad-heavy home screen of the Fire TV 4K Max, I was curious how long I could last.

Unfortunately, the answer was "less than a month."

I actually got over the Fire TV home screen

I won't say I'm a fan of the Fire TV OS home screen. It's still too busy and cluttered, and you only control a small strip of what you see — the apps that sit to the right of the Live button. By contrast, you can edit half of the Roku home screen, as the grid of app icons shows nine-plus (you get slivers of the three in the row beneath) apps at a time. 

But, to be honest, I don't spend that much time on the home screen. The worst part of the whole ordeal was moving my cursor to the "more apps" button (the three squares and a plus symbol next to the Settings icon) if one of the apps I wanted wasn't in that immediately available row.

Live TV screen on Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

Sure, I missed how the Apple TV 4K was faster, especially when the Fire TV Max would stutter while loading the Sling TV animation. But the weirdness of the Fire TV home screen being all about Amazon and other stuff — and not my apps — was something I got over.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max remote offered its own learning curve

The other part of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max experience I didn't exactly love — but learned to appreciate — was its remote. Remotes, I'd argue, should be of a distinct layout that you can use without looking at the buttons. So, I expected I'd be irked by this set of 8 tiny circles and one I-shaped volume control (just as I'd been by the Chromecast remote's buttons). 

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max's Alexa Voice Remote

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

But somehow I learned this layout fairly quickly. The top row (back, home and menu) is for getting around screens, the second row (rewind, play and fast forward) is for navigating inside shows and movies and then there's the third row. Something about the mute on the left and the volume control right next to it worked for me. 

It's a very personal call, and I wouldn't have designed this like that, but it worked.

Live TV didn't really thrive on my Fire TV Stick Max

But the biggest example of "your mileage may vary" in my testing is one that became an insurmountable roadblock: watching best cable TV alternatives. It was so confusing that I started a second subscription to try and test which is the most stable. And when I say stable, I mean Sling TV and YouTube TV kept buffering while I watched live TV on the Fire TV Stick Max. A little "processing" spinning circle would appear on screen while the image was stuck. This is exactly why — if you ask me — people don't want to cut the cord. Cable (mostly) works, and moving to something that's seemingly based around the internet is a risk.

At its worst, these buffering moments happened a few times or more an hour. At best, it was once an hour. I thought this was a Sling TV problem at first, as Sling TV's buffering woes got really annoying during one night of the NBA Playoffs. Not for me, though, because my sport of choice is the predetermined chaos that is pro wrestling. While these weird buffering moments came and went quickly, I was able to capture one of these moments, when the All Elite Wrestling faction comprised of "Platinum" Max Caster, Colton and Austin Gunn and their father Billy were on screen:

See more

Moments like these were rather new to me. So I thought it could be a Sling thing, and not a Fire TV Stick problem. So, I got a YouTube TV subscription, and started alternating between the two services, to see which would buffer and how often.

None of that worked.

As I dove through all of the trouble-shooting pages online and talked to customer service reps, nothing seemed to solve the issue. My apps were updated. I'd tried unplugging and replugging the Fire TV Stick 4K Max's power supply. To try and remove potential interference, I turned off my TV's Wi-Fi connection and moved all the wireless devices that were between my Fire Stick and my Wi-Fi router (which were, at the most, separated by 7 feet of distance). 

None of that worked. So, since this issue was happening across two seperate services, I started to wonder if the Fire TV 4K Max was the problem. And then I saw that Sling TV's troubleshooting page (opens in new tab) mentions "you may be experiencing a drop in the internet bandwidth available to your device." So, I pulled out the streaming device that's designed for better Wi-Fi bandwidth, the Roku Streaming Stick 4K which has a long-range Wi-Fi receiver in its power cord. And since then? Well, I've only had one moment of buffering in two weeks. A huge upgrade (though I want better).

A note about connectivity. Amazon does not mention on its site (opens in new tab) if the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a dual-band device, which would make it better at managing Wi-Fi. That said, since the other (cheaper) Fire TV Sticks are, it would be shocking if that wasn't the case here. The Fire TV Stick 4K Max supports Wi-Fi 6 routers (which I haven't had a need to buy yet).

Bottom line: I'm not sure what Amazon needs to do

Amazon, as it's put a Live button on the Fire TV OS home screen, does care about live TV. But I hope it can work with streaming services such as Sling and YouTube TV to try and stop this from happening. Maybe I'm an edge-case with some weird X-factor that even I can't figure out. Until we learn more, the Fire TV Stick 4K still has a spot on our best streaming devices list.

But, for now, I'm going to stick with the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and see how many more buffering issues happen. If it becomes a problem, I'll probably go back to the Roku Ultra (and see if the Apple TV 4K's Netflix issue is fixed), since both have a dedicated Ethernet port for stable streaming. See y'all next time.

Next: We've just heard how Deadpool 3 introduces its star to the MCU. We've got all the NBA Draft 2022 live stream info. Oh, and Netflix's new show just jumped the reality TV shark, or rather the Snowflake Mountain.

Henry T. Casey
Senior Editor

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.

  • Tex61
    FWIW, I stream YouTubeTV for hours on my 4K Max with zero buffering.

    The 4K Max supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (wifi 6); 2x2 MIMO (2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz dual band) .

    You can find the tech specs for all Fire TV devices here: https://developer.amazon.com/docs/fire-tv/device-specifications.html
    Reply
  • theronaldoblack
    I have used both the Roku and Firestick, as well as HTPC. I prefer the ease of use with the Firestick 4k and TVs. Any form of navigation quickly takes you where you wants to go with voice control, or simply by scrolling down. With prime, and IMDB tv you have tons of shows to watch. That replaces much of the above screen you posted.

    Using voice to open any app your using or show is very easy and responsive. I also like that you can side load tons of apps from android. Plex, a popular streaming content app, works very well with Firestick at many different resolutions.

    The sound may not be perfect or at the level of Atmos, you can at least tinker with the Fire OS to make it work for you. And that is really nice. I prefer my HTPC for high-end uses, but everything else, the firestick, Firetv OS works very well for me.
    Reply
  • 10basetom
    I've stuck with the Fire TV Stick 4K simply because it's the cheapest streaming stick by a reputed company that let's you sideload apps. Yes, the home screen is crowded and sluggish (somewhat alleviated by disabling autoplay), but it doesn't bother me because I spend 99% of the time in the apps where I watch my shows.
    Reply
  • Sinisterj12
    I dont have any Buffering issues. I created an account on Tom's guide just to comment on this. The reviewer is horrible and sounds like he's paid for this review.... From cable company's or something Clearly something is up with his router/network. Sheesh, horrible review on this. Firestick 4K works fantastic. Multiple Devices with Buffering issues... yea lets blame streaming sticks... Probably on 15mbs DSL speed using a 4 year old router or older.
    Reply
  • JLGF1
    Sounds like the reviewer probably has sub-par internet service - local house or ISP.
    Reply
  • Skibbs1102
    Im not sure what fire stick I have since my remote doesn't look like that but I don't ever have any problems whether it be buffering or anything else. I don't use live cable apps since my house also has cable but I couldn't be any more happy with the firestick
    Reply
  • karenkonczyk
    You can change the homepage .
    There are way cheaper ways to watch TV.
    Google is your friend
    Reply
  • Skibbs1102
    Sinisterj12 said:
    I dont have any Buffering issues. I created an account on Tom's guide just to comment on this. The reviewer is horrible and sounds like he's paid for this review.... From cable company's or something Clearly something is up with his router/network. Sheesh, horrible review on this. Firestick 4K works fantastic. Multiple Devices with Buffering issues... yea lets blame streaming sticks... Probably on 15mbs DSL speed using a 4 year old router or older.
    I did the same thing, created an account just to comment on the OP
    Reply
  • mellissaberthiaumeguthrie
    That's gotta be an issue with your personal Internet. I have been using the 4k since December. I am currently watching popcorn planer do a live stream and no issues. I'm actually nowhere near my wifi router and I stream everything. I have 6 TV sticks in my house all of which stream. There are usually at least, 3 of them going at a time and none of them buffer ever. In fact I just ran a speed test for the heck of it, I'm running at 134 per second right now. I personally don't care for sling, I jail broke my main 4 k and run nova mainly along with Hulu and YouTube. I have 0 issues as long as I occasionally check the device for updates.
    Reply
  • Mike Faraday
    No problems with buffering but the HDMI & Bluetooth audio doesn't stay synced to the video. There is an adjustment screen to adjust this but it is difficult to use and it doesn't 'stick'. You have separate adjustments but persistence is bad.
    Reply