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Amazon Fire TV Cube review: a hands-free Fire TV Stick experience

The Amazon Fire TV Cube is the perfect example of the Seattle-based e-commerce giant’s hardware ambitions. For tech companies to be successful in any category, establishing dominance is important. After missing out on smartphones, Amazon turned its sights to smart home products like smart televisions, smart speakers, smart bulbs and others. It has created two distinct product lines – Fire TV and Echo – to establish itself in this space.

Also Read: Amazon Fire TV Stick (2020) review: still a great investment

However, if you ever wondered what would happen if Fire TV and Echo devices were combined, the result would be close to the Fire TV Cube. Amazon first launched the Fire TV Cube in 2018 as a device that acts as a Fire TV streaming device, an Alexa smart speaker and a universal remote control. With this new version, Amazon has added a more powerful processor, faster voice commands and Dolby Vision. So, does that make it the go-to streaming device for your home? Let’s find out.

Design

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Fire TV Cube is the flagship streaming device in Amazon’s Fire TV lineup

Since Amazon didn’t bring the original Fire TV Cube to India, we can call this a fresh entrant in the market. However, the design of this device has remained the same as its predecessor. It is a good thing because there was nothing wrong with the original design. Amazon has followed the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra here. You are looking at a cuboid device that has a matte finish on the top and glossy finish on the rest of the sides.

I liked this design because my six-year-old niece used this as a prop (not recommended) for her online maths activity class. But handing over this device meant that I got it back with scratches all over the place and that glossy surface is a dust magnet. The glossy surface makes sense for IR signal passthrough but Amazon could have come up with a way to make it easier to handle.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Fire TV Cube is a crossover between Fire TV and Echo smart speakers

The top side of the Fire TV Cube has a matte finish (more of this please) and houses Echo-style controls. You will find volume controls and buttons to control the eight microphones built into the device. Around the back, there is an HDMI output, power, input for the IR extender and a micro USB port for the Ethernet adapter. Amazon includes both the IR extender and Ethernet adapter in the box but the HDMI cable is not included.

With Fire TV Cube, Amazon recommends that you place it at least 1 to 2 feet away from speakers. This is primarily to ensure that Alexa is able to hear you clearly. Even with music playing from my home’s audio setup, Alexa was able to hear me without any issues. The built-in mics do an excellent job of hearing the hot word and yes, you don’t need to shout at Alexa.

Performance

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Even with a hands-free Alexa experience, you can’t completely ditch the remote yet

I used the Fire TV Cube with my Vu Android Smart TV and an old non-smart Sony TV. On my Vu 4K TV, the display automatically recognised Dolby Vision support and HDR passthrough worked reliably well. If you have content that supports HDR10+ and Dolby Vision then Fire TV Cube won’t have any trouble recognising and playing the content in those formats. In fact, I noticed the processing to be way better than the standard colours supported by my Android TV.

Whether I was streaming content from Netflix, Prime Video or Disney+ Hotstar, the richness of colours and the balance between contrast and brightness on the Fire TV Cube was superior to the local processor on my TV. It was also smart when scaling the HD content played through the DTH connection. This is where the new processor shines and while it is a chore to change inputs, I prefer Fire TV Cube over Android TV.

Another area where you notice performance improvements is with Alexa. I have used the Fire TV Stick 4K and I must say Alexa voice commands are processed here much faster. This has to be because of Cube’s local voice feature, where it no longer depends on the cloud to process most common commands. So, when you say “Alexa, play Handmaid’s Tale”, the result is instantaneous. You can use Alexa to control streaming services, volume or even to navigate the Fire TV user interface.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

Amazon Fire TV Cube has ports to connect included IR extender and ethernet adapter

While not every streaming service is optimised for voice, I didn’t have any issue with Hotstar, Prime Video, Netflix, SonyLIV, etc. Since it is essentially equivalent to an Echo smart speaker, you can also control your smart home devices with Alexa on Fire TV Cube. I don’t have an expansive smart home setup but it was able to control the smart lights in our home and get Roomba to start cleaning with voice commands.

The Fire TV Cube does a lot of things but when it comes to a universal remote function, it is still not a complete device. You are asked to select your devices at the time of setup and Alexa is then able to know and control the devices. If you have a lot of smart devices placed inside a cabinet then you would need that IR extender. While it works extremely well with devices like a soundbar, you will still run into compatibility issues with devices like gaming consoles.

The Fire TV Cube is still not there where you can absolutely ditch the remote control. It is the case even with the physical Alexa remote. The Alexa Remote is not compatible with my Vu TV. So I had to use the TV remote as well as the Alexa remote. However, with my Sony non-smart TV, the Alexa Voice Remote was able to control all the functions. It would make sense to read about device compatibility before you get this streaming device.

Software and smart speaker

Amazon Fire TV Cube

That amber colour to indicate that you have muted the microphone never ceases to amaze

Amazon Fire TV Cube has a software experience that is identical to one seen on other Fire TV devices. You will find all the apps that you want on the homescreen and the setup itself allows you to choose all of your apps. There is YouTube and YouTube Kids and even Apple TV is available on the platform. There is a lot of content available to consume out there and Fire TV Cube brings it to your attention on the homescreen.

However, at times, you might find Amazon to push its own Prime Video content way too aggressively. For the smart speaker experience, it works very much like Echo but without built-in speakers. The default speakers on Fire TV Cube are good for Alexa’s voice responses but when you ask for music, it will switch to your TV or soundbar. It also supports voice calls and the Drop In feature seen on Echo.

Bottomline

Amazon Fire TV Cube

The Fire TV Cube is a good place to start if you are not into the Amazon ecosystem

The Fire TV Cube brings so many integrations to your television that it can get overwhelming. However, when it comes to your buying decision, it is rather simple. If you already have any of Amazon’s Echo smart speakers then you should simply get the Fire TV Stick 4K. It gives you the same Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support and costs only Rs 5,999 with Alexa Voice Remote. With that Alexa Voice Remote, you not only get Alexa but also the ability to control other devices.

At Rs 12,999, the Fire TV Cube is expensive in comparison and the only reason to consider it would be for its hands-free Alexa experience. If you are only getting started with turning your non-smart TV into a smart TV and ready to venture into Amazon’s ecosystem then Fire TV Cube makes for an excellent start.

Pricebaba’s Rating: 8 /10

What works

  • Fast performance
  • Reliable hands-free Alexa experience
  • Good picture quality
  • Dolby Vision and HDR10 support
  • Dolby Atmos audio

What doesn’t

  • Glossy surface is a dust magnet
  • Remote isn’t compatible with all TVs
  • Not useful if you already have Echo smart speaker
  • Requires a separate speaker for media output
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