Skip to main content

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020) review

The new Fire TV Stick (2020, 3rd gen) is faster and more powerful than the previous version, but still streams only to 1080p

Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020) review
(Image: © Amazon)

Our Verdict

The new Fire TV Stick (3rd gen) is zippy and incorporates Alexa, but only streams up to 1080p.

For

  • Fast navigation and loading
  • Supports most if not all services and apps
  • Alexa-enabled remote

Against

  • Only supports up to 1080p
  • Excessive promotion of Prime Video content
Amazon Fire TV Stick specs

Size: 3.4 x 1.1 x 0.5 inches (housing); 5.6 x 1.6 x 0.6 inches (remote)
Number of channels: 9,000+
Ports: HDMI, Micro-USB
Max video resolution: 1080p at 60 fps
Supported HDR formats: HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
Supported audio formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos

The new Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020) looks and acts a lot like the old Amazon Fire TV Stick. This 3rd generation model improves performance and playback, adds HDR and Dolby Atmos support and upgrades the Wi-Fi connection. But not much else has changed — this is not extreme makeover, Fire TV Stick edition.

Still, even these slight changes make the $39.99 Fire TV Stick an even more attractive option among lower-end streaming devices. No, it still doesn’t stream at 4K UHD, but if you have an older TV, that doesn’t really matter. For anyone looking for a reliable, fast, easy-to-use streaming player, the Fire TV Stick gives you all that, plus a good, Alexa-enabled remote. It’s also fully enmeshed in the Amazon ecosystem, which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your personal preferences and home set-up.

Fire TV Stick: Price and availability

The new 2020 Fire TV Stick (3rd generation) costs $39.99 and is available for purchase now at Amazon and major retailers.

That’s the same price as the 2nd generation Fire TV Stick, $10 less than the Fire TV Stick 4K and $10 more than the new Fire TV Stick Lite.

As far as its competition, the Roku Premiere also costs $39.99 and streams in 4K.

Fire TV Stick: Design

The new Fire TV Stick looks exactly like the old Fire TV Stick: a small, slim, black rectangle with an HDMI port on one end. It plugs directly into your television set (and also comes with an extender if the fit is awkward) and since it isn’t much bigger than a lighter, it easily hides away — similar to other dongles like the Chromecast With Google TV and Roku Streaming Stick

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

On the side of the Fire TV Stick is a micro-USB port to connect the power cable. Unlike some streaming players, like the TiVo Stream 4K, there are no other ports to connect external devices like a hard drive.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The remote is the same one that comes with the Fire TV Stick 4K. Like the dongle, it’s also black and rectangular, with a slightly rounded back. The buttons include a directional pad, power, Alexa, home, back, mute, volume up and down, as well as playback controls (rewind, play/pause and fast forward). The nice thing about the full-featured remote, versus the one that comes with the Fire TV Stick Lite, is that you can turn on the TV with it and control the volume. Anything that reduces the number of remotes laying around gets a thumbs up from me.

Fire TV Stick: Interface

Setting up the Fire TV Stick was simple — all I had to do was enter my Wi-Fi and Amazon logins. The interface also prompts you to download favored streaming services, like Disney Plus and CBS All Access. But if you don’t see your favorite services in the initial set-up, don’t worry! I was able to download a ton of other apps, including Netflix, Hulu and Sling. 

While Amazon announced a redesign of its Fire TV platform, it's not yet rolled out. So, all of my comments on the interface are based on the older version. 

On the Fire TV Stick’s home screen, a top horizontal menu lists sections: Home, Live, Your Videos, Free, Movies, TV Shows, Apps and Settings. Below that is a carousel of featured content, most of which is exclusive to Prime Video (this will become a recurring theme as you continue reading).

Then come two rows of apps, divided by Recent and Your Apps & Channels. They took up a lot of space and felt redundant, but at least it provides quick access to the likes of Netflix. 

Right below that was a sponsored ad (in my case, Mulan on Disney Plus). Then, as you scroll down, almost all of the rows tout Amazon content. There was a Prime Amazon originals row, one for IMDb TV free movies and TV, Prime Movies We Think You’ll Like, and on and on. Even the thematic collections, like Political Thrillers and Black Voices, led you to rent or buy a title via Amazon. If you’re looking for an interface that aggregates content from various apps, this is not it. For that, you should check out Apple TV or Chromecast, even Roku lets you pick favorite shows and add them to a list.

As for the other sections, The Live tab is essentially a hub featuring live TV apps like Sling, Philo and YouTube TV. Your Videos houses your Prime Video watch list and recommendations. The Free area is similar to Live, the only difference is that it lists free live TV apps like Pluto and Crackle, and features free movie and TV titles you can watch via Amazon-owned IMDb TV. The Movies and TV Shows sections are expanded versions of the Prime Video rows on the Home screen.

Apps lets you download almost any streaming service you want, with two notable exceptions — which we’ll get to below. Settings is exactly what it sounds like.

The look of the interface is a bit clunky and definitely not as pretty or slick as what you get on Apple TV. And everywhere you turn screams Amazon, which can get annoying (if you're not living the Amazon life). 

Fire TV Stick: Streaming services

The Fire TV Stick works with almost every streaming service out there. You can download the apps of Netflix, Disney Plus, Sling, Spotify, Hulu, ESPN, CBS All Access, Fubo, Philo, Starz, Peloton, Tubi, PBS, and more. The App store also helpfully sorts them in themed bundles, for music or kids or football. 

There's one notable exception to the list above: Peacock. Unfortunately, Amazon is still working out a deal with Comcast. Luckily, as of Nov. 17, 2020, HBO Max will be supported on Fire TV. 

Fire TV Stick: Performance

The new Fire TV Stick operated smoothly and quickly; it was downright zippy. I plugged it into a TCL Smart HDTV, running on a medium-fast home Wi-Fi network. 

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The main improvement to the 3rd gen Fire TV Stick from the previous model is a faster, 1.7 GHz quad-core processor. The new device is 50% more powerful but uses 50% less power. Another major upgrade is that the dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi supports 5 GHz networks.

Navigating the menus was lightning fast and most apps opened in a few seconds (although Netflix was notably slower). The upgraded Fire TV Stick streams up to 1080p (at 60 fps) and HDR formats. As it was connected to a 4K set, there was some upscaling (but it wasn’t too noticeable). 

Most shows and movies I played almost instantly achieved full HD, with the exception again of Netflix. Several titles took more than four or five seconds to resolve.

Alexa did exactly what I expected, delivering quick, accurate results. When I queried “Reese Witherspoon,” Alexa popped up several titles featuring the actress from across my apps (such as Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere and Apple TV’s The Morning Show) as well as movies I could rent or buy.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

You can also ask Alexa to open an app (i.e. Spotify) or play a specific title (i.e. The Great British Baking Show). 

Alexa’s search also works with general questions. I asked it to find pizza places near me and it brought back eight results. I could click each one to see its address, hours and Yelp rating.

Fire TV Stick: Features

Since the Fire TV Stick works within Amazon’s ecosystem, it’s easy to sync up the streaming player with other Alexa-enabled devices like a Ring doorbell or Echo Dot.

One feature the Fire TV Stick doesn’t have is any kind of screen mirroring, which you can get on the Chromecast or Apple TV.

Fire TV Stick: Verdict

The new Fire TV Stick represents a modest, but welcome upgrade to the previous generation. For the same price, now you can get full HDR and Dolby Atmos support, steadier Wi-Fi connection and faster performance. And now it comes with a full-fledged, Alexa-enabled remote that can cut down on the number of controllers floating around (and underneath) the couch.

What you still won’t get is 4K streaming. But if you have an older TV with a 1080p display, you don’t need it. The Fire TV Stick is also fairly affordable at $39.99, but then again, the new Fire TV Stick Lite is basically the same dongle with a less-useful remote for $10 less. And the Roku Premiere is also $39.99 but streams in 4K, which could come in handy if you upgrade your television. 

The Fire TV Stick is the better option, though, if you are fully enmeshed in an Amazon ecosystem that includes other Alexa-enabled devices. As long as you don’t mind a ton of Amazon content promotion.