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.
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).
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:
Sling on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max continues to go Botchamania. Anyone out there watch sling on a fire tv stick? Any time I’m watching wrestling on this thing … pic.twitter.com/O9IlHHHWfZMay 20, 2022
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.
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.