It is finally coming to India. The Amazon Fire TV Cube, the second generation is now available on our shores, and adds to the existing line-up of Fire TV Stick options already on sale for a while now. Good timing too, just ahead of the new and refreshed Apple TV 4K, which is also incoming. But how does this really stand out when compared with the Fire TV Stick variants already on sale? The biggest differentiator has to be the ability to keep the physical remote on the side and use voice commands to control multiple facets of your TV. This is leveraging the Alexa virtual assistant in more ways than before. TV, soundbars and even DTH STBs including those from Tata Sky, Airtel Xstream and D2h. It is more powerful too. No surprise then, that you pay a premium for the Amazon Fire TV Cube experience.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is priced at Rs 12,999 which by far and away makes it the most expensive Fire TV add-on you can have for your TV. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K (around Rs 5,999) and the Fire TV Stick (around Rs 3,999) are two of the other options, while the Fire TV Stick Lite shows as unavailable at the time of writing this. The Amazon Fire TV Cube would most definitely have a significant price advantage over the incoming and refreshed Apple TV 4K (prices start Rs 18,900). Needless to say, the Amazon Fire TV Cube offers a lot more and is significantly more powerful than the likes of the Xiaomi Mi Box 4K (around Rs 3,499) and the Nokia Media Streamer with Built-in Chromecast (around Rs 3,199). If there is a simpler way of looking at it, the Amazon Fire TV Cube is blending two worlds into one—the Amazon Fire TV media streaming capabilities that have never been in doubt and the Amazon Echo’s versatility derived from the Alexa virtual assistant. That is not the only reason why the Amazon Fire TV Cube costs as much as it does. It is incredibly powerful, at least when compared with the next most powerful Fire TV device, the Fire TV Stick 4K. The Amazon Fire TV Cube is powered by a hexa-core processor clocking at up to 2.2GHz, has 16GB of internal storage, 2GB RAM, supports resolution up to 2160p, will handle Dolby Vision and HDR10 standards, gets you the goodness of Dolby Atmos, has a 1.6-inch speaker for your Alexa interactions and can control a wide range of devices you may use as part of your home entertainment setup connected with the TV. In comparison, the Fire TV Stick 4K has a quad core processor clocking at 1.7GHz, 8GB of storage, supports Dolby Vision and HDR10, Dolby Atmos and up to 2160p resolution, but does not have an Alexa as smart as this and cannot control add-ons like the soundbar, AV receiver or the direct to home (DTH) set top box (STB) too. In a way, the Amazon Fire TV Cube does a lot of things that you’d expect the Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker to do, expect this does much more too when connected with your TV.
First things first, the ability to control your TV and your soundbar as well as AV receivers with the Amazon Fire TV Cube is priceless. That means lesser remotes to struggle with. And to be honest, it is just a lot of fun to say “Alexa, switch on the TV” and “Alexa, open Netflix” rather than having to navigate with a remote. It will work with most TVs, including some of the less smart ones. Let me illustrate how my setup worked. The OnePlus TV Q1 Pro was linked with Alexa using the OnePlus TV skill. Connected with the TV is the Anker Soundcore soundbar, which the Amazon Fire TV Cube allowed me to add using the Equipment Control option in the Fire TV settings. I simply could use voice commands to power on or power off the TV, change the source and control the volume, while also using Alexa’s power of the spoken word to browse video streaming apps and Live TV channels on the Amazon Fire TV Cube. I briefly also tried this with the Tata Sky Binge STB and it worked well—was able to change sources to HDMI the Tata Sky STB was connected to and also able to switch channels using their name. Yet, there are two sides to this coin. Its something that I have been used to with Amazon Fire TV Stick devices is the ability to add the TV to equipment control in the Fire TV settings and then use the same Fire TV remote to power on the TV and control the volume as well. That just wasn’t happening with the Amazon Fire TV Cube, because the exhaustive equipment list for TV manufacturers and models just doesn’t list any of the OnePlus TVs. None of the generic IR codes worked too. That means if I don’t want to use voice commands, I have to first use the OnePlus TV remote to power on the TV and then pick up the Amazon Fire TV Cube remote to navigate the apps. The fact that OnePlus TVs are missing from the Fire TV compatible equipment list is perplexing, to say the least.
Once the setup has been done and you are ready to set off on the video streaming journey, the Amazon Fire TV Cube really starts to show off its true colours. It powers on quickly, the Fire TV OS interface loads quicker than I have seen on any Fire TV Stick device and apps are much more responsive too. There are detailed picture quality settings too, such as frame rates and resolution, in case you want to tweak that. For some strange reason, HDR was set to always on by default when I set up the Amazon Fire TV Cube—changing this to Adaptive makes things a lot better, because the SDR -> HDR for content such as the app interfaces, doesn’t always look good to the eye. That being said, push play on any HDR content on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, and the real fun begins. The picture reproduction is fantastic, and on many Prime Video titles, I often saw the pop-up that said frame rates are being matched—and often, I’d see the resolution with the 24p frame rate, to better match the movie that was being watched. These are those little things that really make content better to look at and reaffirms that the money you’d have spent on the Amazon Fire TV Cube wasn’t in vain.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube, as the name suggests, looks pretty much like a cube. Maybe as tall as two Echo Dot smart speakers stacked one on top of the other, but with straight lines and sharper edges, and not the curved designs Echo speakers have always had. The sides are all glossy black while the top panel which has the Alexa action key, mute and volume controls has a matte finish. Yet, all of this pretty much becomes a dust magnet soon enough. The Alexa notification LED is a strip on the front top spine and is easy to see no matter where you place the Amazon Fire TV Cube—underneath the TV or on a shelf below it. The HDMI port, power, infrared port and a micro-USB port are on the back. Amazon bundles an ethernet adapter with the Fire TV Cube, and that plugs into the USB port. There is also an IR extender cable that could come in handy to control equipment in case you have hidden something in a cabinet, such as an STB, for example. These two are rather thoughtful touches to have included in the box. That being said, there is no HDMI cable that is part of the Amazon Fire TV Cube box pack, and you’ll need to buy one separately. This is also bundled with the latest generation Fire TV remote—the easiest way to identify that is by the quick access buttons for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Music.
While Fire TV OS got a redesign last year, the thing is, the new avatar of how it looks still remains quite fresh. You now have the rightful placement for the Live tab also. Multiple apps are supported, and among my subscription, I have Sony Liv, Voot, Zee 5 and Discovery+ channels listed here. The thing is, not all Zee5 channels are listed on the Amazon Fire TV Cube Live TV tab, and the glaring omission remains Disney+ Hotstar with its set of Live TV channels. Hopefully that’ll change soon. The ability to have your favorite apps listed alongside a complete app drawer makes things a lot cleaner, unlike the earlier avatar that had your apps in one horizontal row and the recently used apps in another horizontal row, leading to clutter and confusion.
THE LAST WORD: AMAZON FIRE TV CUBE’S BIGGEST STRENGTH IS THAT IT IS A POLISHED PACKAGE
The thing with the Amazon Fire TV Cube is that Alexa is now being leveraged better than it ever has been. Your TV remote can for most intents and purposes, be kept on the side, and you can use voice commands for most tasks. No longer the concern now since everyone is playing along with everyone, but I’ll just make sure I say this—all popular video streaming apps are available on the Amazon Fire TV Cube, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Sony Liv, Discovery+, Lionsgate Play, Voot, MX Player and Zee 5. The picture quality is great, Alexa is responsive and delivers and voice commands just work. The Amazon Fire TV Cube still demands you spend a lot of money. But believe me, if you think voice commands is your thing in your smart home, this may just be worth every penny. That being said, for a lot of users, the Amazon Fire TV Cube may just be an overkill, and any of the very competent Fire TV Sticks might get the job done. Depends which side of the fence you are on, and whether you want to go the whole hog with the experience.