Home / Technology / Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019) review: improvements on all sides

Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019) review: improvements on all sides

The first Fire TV Cube from Amazon was really three products in one: a Fire TV streaming device, an Alexa smart speaker and a universal remote control for other devices connected to your TV. It offered the same streaming experience as Amazon's other Fire TVs, but the built-in microphones allowed the Cube to be used completely hands-free through voice commands. It can also control cable boxes, audio rods and A / V receivers with built-in IR blasts. But the original cube lacked the Dolby Vision HDR, and eventually Amazon released a cheaper Fire TV Stick 4K that did with Dolby Vision for less money and left the do-everything cube in a difficult place.

So for 201

9, Amazon has updated the Fire TV Cube to make it a clear flagship in the lineup. It has the same exact design as before, but now has Dolby Vision, a more powerful processor and faster response times. Amazon is trying to reduce the cube's dependence on the cloud with a new "local voice control" feature that processes basic commands on the device itself. And the new Fire TV Cube can still control your home theater components and dim the smart lights as you sit down for a movie night – all with just your voice.

Fire TV Cube looks completely unchanged from the outside. It has the same controls as an Echo speaker on the top (with a matte texture) with eight small microphone holes and it is glossy everywhere. I get that Amazon chose this design for maximum throughput of IR signals, but the thing is still a huge dust magnet.

Around the back is an HDMI output, power, an input for the supplied IR extender and a Micro USB port for the Ethernet adapter (even in the box) if you need it. You want to use the thin IR extension cord if some of your home theater components are not visible or placed in cabinets. Unfortunately, Amazon still doesn't include a $ 120 Fire TV Cube HDMI cable.

Amazon recommends that you place the cube at least one foot away from all speakers. Even with sound blaring from a Sonos Beam, I found the microphones to be quite good at producing my voice and the "Alexa" word with a normal speech volume.

Dolby Vision and HDR10 + are new to the second gene Fire TV Cube; the first model had only basic HDR10 support. HDR review worked well on my TCL TV, where the screen automatically recognized when Dolby Vision or HDR10 content was playing and used the right expanded color and brightness settings. With all major formats now supported, you have many options for streaming 4K between Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu and other apps. Like a fire TV, this year's cube is objectively superior to the originals.

But it is still just like a universal remote control. Fire TV Cube can control most TVs, receivers and sound fields – plus some cable boxes. You have been asked to choose your devices during the installation, after which Alexa will know the equipment. In general, the IR transmitter works well to get commands to your home theater components and enable everything in sync. But for other hardware like game consoles or Blu-ray players, Alexa can't do that much at all. Cube switches to the right HDMI input, but then you are yourself. That's all you can really expect from IR blasts, but companies like Caavo are trying to do more with on-screen machine learning.

Still Alexa feels more responsive this time. Local voice control results in some basic voice commands running up to four times faster than before, since the cube handles them directly and doesn't need any help from Amazon's servers. The awkward pause after a voice command has disappeared – but only occasionally.

Local control works for your usual functions like navigating the UX. You literally tell Alexa which way you can browse or select a number to open the app or content you want to watch ("Alexa, play number 5"). Apps like Netflix and Hulu have been optimized for hands-free voice control with these numbers on the screen next to choice, but that's not true for many other streaming apps. In these cases, you are still better off using only the physical Alexa remote control. And the cube will still need to check with the cloud for a lot of commands, though the basics are now much faster.

Fire TV Cube contains the Alexa Voice Remote for when you don't feel like doing everything with your voice.

As for its secondary function as a smart speaker, Fire TV Cube has become a better Alexa speaker thanks to continued software updates. It now supports calls, voicemails, and the Drop In feature, so it's basically on par with an Echo. You can also add the cube to a multi-room music set with other Alexa devices. Remember that the cube always plays music requests via your soundbar or TV speaker; the built-in speaker is good for Alexa & # 39; s voice response but doesn't fit too much else.

Amazon says that the cube now has a hexa-core processor, and the Fire TV interface has felt shabby in my time using it so far. However, some owners of the original unit discovered that it fell over time and exhibited an annoying amount of delay, and I haven't had enough time to exclude that opportunity. However, Amazon believes that the Fire TV Cube is now the fastest Fire TV, while the Fire TV Stick 4K set the field before. So it should be more consistent and able to run Kodi, Plex and other apps without any problems.

The software experience broadly matches that of other Fire TVs. All the apps you want are there, and Amazon has finally picked up the YouTube hole that existed last year. YouTube TV is now also available, though Sony's PlayStation Vue gets preferred treatment among streaming TV services and is integrated directly into Amazon's live guide.

My usual nitpicks with Fire TV's home screen remain: Amazon can drive its originals a little too aggressively, and it also directs customers to Prime Channel subscriptions for HBO, Starz, Epix and other networks. But when searching for a genre or specific movie or show, the platform does a good job of showing you wherever it can be streamed. And seeing visual answers to alexa questions (like asking about the weather or searching for nearby restaurants) is a nice touch. But these functions are not unique to the cube; they are now part of the Fire TV OS as a whole.

I think the Fire TV Cube is most meaningful to people who have just got started with Amazon's ecosystem. If you already have an Echo Dot in your living room, Fire TV Stick 4K is more meaningful. It offers the same Dolby and HDR support and costs just $ 50. In addition, the Alexa Voice Remote with that device can also control your TV and sound field. You really really need the cube's hands-free powers – and its ability to pull double duty as an Alexa speaker when the TV screen is off – for $ 120 that it's worth it.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

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