Released to the masses in June 2018, the Amazon Fire TV Cube was designed to combine the TV-streaming device functionality of the Amazon Fire TV with the voice-enabled controls of the Amazon Echo. But with an asking price that’s nearly 3 times that of the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the biggest question is whether the Fire TV Cube is worth the upgrade.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is one of the tech giant’s latest entries in its connected TV streaming device family. Sitting alongside the Amazon Fire TV, and the widely popular Fire TV Stick, the TV Cube is designed to offer the same core functionality you’ll find with Amazon’s other TV streaming devices, but with a few upgrades. Most notably, it comes with a built-in Amazon Alexa smart speaker, making it somewhat of a Fire TV + Echo Dot hybrid that makes it possible to control your TV streaming by voice (but without having to push the Alexa button on the Fire TV remote).
How Much Does an Amazon Fire TV Cube Cost?
Amazon sells the Fire TV Cube for $119.99. It also has a payment plan option of $24/month spread over 5 months.
As stated in the pro/con below, you won’t get an HDMI cable with this device. So if you do plan to purchase it, and you don’t have a spare HDMI cable hiding away somewhere, stick one into your shopping cart before you click “buy”. The 6-foot Amazon Choice HDMI cable is just under $7, making your total potential purchase price about $126 to get the Fire TV Cube fully functional on your TV.
Amazon Fire TV Cube Pros and Cons
The Fire TV Cube has a unique look primary function—streaming videos—works well, but there’s a lot to dislike about one of Amazon’s newest TV toys.
- Easy to set up. Take it out of the box, plug it in, and set it up just like you would any other Amazon Fire TV device.
- Voice-enabled without having to push a button first. Other Fire TV devices are voice-enabled thanks to the remote, but the Fire TV Cube makes it possible to control your TV from anywhere in the room without having to push a button.
- IR extender for closed-in TV stands. This is a nice bonus for those with enclosed TV stands. You can still easily operate the device with the IR remote extender for those times when your voice can’t get through.
- Ethernet adapter. One limitation of the Fire TV Stick is no ethernet option, but the Fire TV Cube includes an ethernet adapter for those who desire it.
- No HDMI cable. Yes, most of us already have that “wire box” full of connectors we don’t use, including half a dozen HDMI cords. But at $119, it’s not nice for Amazon to assume we already have an HDMI to use.
- Pricey for what you’re getting. The Fire TV Cube is somewhat of a one-feature upgrade, and the asking price is a bit much for that one added feature.
- Boring design. Let’s face it, in a world of rounded edges, there’s no place for a square.
- No scrolling by voice. Ultimately, you’ll find you’ll still need the remote to scroll through lists, so unless you’re super specific about the exact TV show or movie you want to play, you’re going to find the voice controls to be fairly useless.
Amazon Fire TV Cube Specifications
If you placed an original Amazon Fire TV device on top of an Amazon Echo, you’d basically get the Fire TV Cube. The specifications are almost similar to that mash-up as well.
Weight and Dimensions
The Fire TV Cube is comparatively tall at 3 inches, but small around with a 3.4-inch width. It’s much taller device than most other TV-connected devices, but not as wide as many others (with the exception of the “stick” devices like the Fire TV Stick or Chromecast). At 16 ounces the device is fairly heavy feeling for its size.
Amazon didn’t go all out with the tech specs on this device, although it does have some upgrades over the Fire TV Stick 4K. You’ll get:
- Quad-core 1.5 GHz processor
- 16 GB internal storage
- 2 GB RAM
- Dual-band, dual-antenna WiFi adapter supporting 802.11a/b/g/n/a networks
- Bluetooth 4.2 and Bluetooth Low Energy
- Far-field and near-field voice support
Amazon designed this product as a 4K UHD device, which means you can get up to 2160p resolution. It also supports 1080p and 720p (or less) and offers up to 60 frames-per-second, which is generally considered necessary for some types of media (particularly fast-paced action). It also supports HDR (high dynamic range imaging) for sharper colors.
As is common, if you want to enjoy 4K or HDR through this device, you’ll need a TV that can also support both.
What more is there to say about the Fire TV Cube that’s not in the name already? Amazon designed a black-colored cube of a device, which is both futuristic and anachronistic at the same time. Physically speaking, however, the device feels solid, with a hard plastic cover (the corners are fairly sharp, so watch out). The bottom of the device is rubber with small knob feet to help prevent scratching and to give the device an escape for internal heat.
Amazon ships the device in a rather standard box with a sleeve advertising the Fire TV Cube and its features. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to damage the box, good luck. Even with the best of care, the tape used to keep the black cardboard box holding the device closed will peel the outer layer of the cardboard.
Amazon went for an orange theme for the device backdrop, so everything inside, much like the sleeve’s background, is orange. Everything is also packaged away neatly, although if you’re used to Apple’s more intricate unboxing experience, you might be somewhat let down. That said, the device is well protected in its containers, while the separate box holding the cords has convenient labels identifying which cord cords are held in each compartment.
Specifications Score: 7/10
Amazon Fire TV Cube Hardware and Setup
If you’re already familiar with Amazon’s line of home products, like the Echo Dot or the Fire TV Stick, setup should be a breeze. If you’re new to this, it may take a few extra minutes, but overall, expect to spend around 10 minutes for a full setup.
Once you plug in the Fire TV Cube to the TV and to the wall outlet, it will make a pleasant tone, and shine a blue light on the front of the device (where the “Amazon” name and logo are located).
Once the device has registered itself as alive, the blue light will turn off. You’ll then need to pair your TV Cube remote by pushing the home button for a few seconds. After the remote is recognized, you’ll get a screen telling you the push the play/pause button to start the software setup.
The device will automatically scan for WiFi networks, and you’ll be able to choose your network from the list.
Once you’ve logged into your WiFi (painstakingly, since there’s no keyboard), you’ll need to pair your Amazon account. Presumably, you’ll have one already, but if not, you can create a new account through the device. This, also, requires a long, annoying process of entering each individual letter and character, one by one, using your Amazon Fire TV Cube remote.
If you have two-factor authentication in place, you’ll need to verify with your text messaged code before you can access your account.
From there, just acknowledge your account is registered, select whether to enable or disable parental controls and then click on “Get Started” to start adding your favorite streaming services (or choose “Do this later”).
Finally, you’ll need to enable Alexa voice control, which you can do during this setup, or later. Note that you won’t be able to use the device’s key selling point, hands-free voice activation and control, without doing this part of the setup.
To set up the voice activation, you’ll need to choose whether you use a soundbar, AV receiver, or just your TV. The Fire TV Cube will turn your devices off (TV, soundbar, AV receiver), then turn them back on. From there, the official setup is complete, and a 2-minute video will play letting you know what you can do with the voice service.
From there, the interface is the standard one you’d get with the Amazon Fire TV Stick. If you want to add in Amazon Alexa skills, you’ll need to download the Amazon Alexa app, pair your device with the app, and install the skills from there. However, that’s not necessary to use the device to control your TV.
Setup Score: 8/10
Amazon Fire TV Navigation and Ease-of-Use
There are two experiences you’ll have with the Amazon Fire TV Cube. If you decide to use this device with the remote, it’s just as easily navigable and easy to use as an Amazon Fire TV Stick. You can scroll through menus, install apps, and play, pause, or mute your device with ease. Since Alexa is an HDMI-CEC device, it can also take control of your TV’s sound and on/off functions from the remote.
However, if you plan to use the Fire TV Cube with the Alexa-enabled voice controls, you’re going to have a totally different experience. Everything you need to say to Alexa must be extremely specific, or else you’ll find yourself using the remote. If you even follow Amazon’s suggestions, for example, “Show me movies with Emma Watson”, you’ll get a horizontal list of options — but Alexa’s voice controls can’t scroll (I asked several ways, she said she can’t do it). So again, you’ll need to use the remote. And if you have parental controls on, or need to purchase a movie or show, or even login to an app, you’ll need to use the remote.
All told, I found the voice-enabled controls were more cumbersome and frustrating than making the process easier. At one point, I tried half a dozen times to get Alexa to play a Pokemon series, and I had to be extremely specific to avoid getting the wrong movie playing, or even a random music item. Even then, she still played the wrong series.
The voice functions work well with playing music, but for something that needs a lot of scrolling or has too many details to navigate through, Amazon’s voice technology just isn’t there yet.
Amazon’s UI is the same as the Fire TV Stick. There’s both horizontal and vertical scrolling. As with the Fire TV Stick, Amazon makes it a bit confusing as to what’s in Prime and what’s not, and it does not always show your most recently used apps on the home page.
The device is as fast as it needs to be. You’ll likely notice the speed upgrade over the Fire TV Stick if you’ve used that device in the past. It’s snappy, and transitions from screen to screen are smooth.
The UI was designed specifically for TVs. I wish Amazon would transfer this UI over to its website, where Prime Video navigation is much less user-friendly.
Amazon employs a slightly different remote control with this device than it does for the Fire TV Stick. Most of that is to accommodate for the HDMI-CEC controls, which allow you to turn your TV on or off, and adjust the volume up or down.
If you need to use the IR Extender, it works just as well as the regular IR functionality.
Navigation Score: 5/10
Apps and Performance
You’ll find a large library of apps you can install to this device. Most popular streaming services have apps for the Fire TV, and the Fire TV Cube is running the same Android-based operating system, making it’s library the same as other Fire TV devices.
The only apps Amazon includes pre-installed are Prime Video, Amazon Music, IMDb Freedive, and Amazon Photos.
However, if you have another Fire TV device or used one in the past, the apps you’ve used before will be saved as image placeholders alongside the pre-installed apps, but they aren’t actually installed (Amazon calls these your “cloud apps). For me, that included apps like Philo and Netflix, which I have installed on my Fire TV Stick.
You’ll need to click to install them. Apps with a cloud image in the corner are not installed yet and serving as placeholder previews for the real app, which can be a bit confusing.
From what we can tell, there’s no official app store you can browse through on the Fire TV Cube. Instead, you’ll need to use voice controls to ask Alexa to and download the apps you want. You can say “Alexa, install [app name]”, and the device will load the app download screen for you.
Other apps can be located in the “Apps” section and are categorized. You can use the remote to scroll through them here. But again, there’s no official app store to scroll through that’s accessible from the device, as there was in previous Fire TV generations. If you want a more comprehensive list of apps, go to the Amazon Fire TV app store from a web browser. You can also add apps to your Fire TV Cube from the web.
You can’t remove Amazon’s pre-installed apps. However, any other apps can be removed from the device after you install them. The Fire TV Cube also has a screen saver that you can customize with your photos.
Amazon gets this feature right. Every app operates smoothly once it’s they’re and running. However, app interfaces can vary and are dependent on the app maker, not Amazon.
Apps and Performance Score: 7
Amazon Fire TV Cube Value
The entire time testing the Fire TV Cube, I couldn’t help but see the price tag in the back of my mind. Sometimes it came with a question mark ($119?). Other times, with a few angry exclamation/question mark combos ($119!? Really!?). At no point did it ever come with a smiley face at the end. And that’s bad.
Value Score: 4/10
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a neat product idea that might not quite live up to Amazon’s ideals for what it is. In fact, it feels more like what we described earlier (a hybrid Fire TV/Echo Dot) that Amazon is using to replace the older model Fire TV for a higher price (you can’t buy that original Fire TV model on Amazon anymore).
Amazon designed the device with study case, although it’s overall unappealing to look at. Everything is boxed and labeled well, although the lack of an HDMI cord is starkly disappointing, even if most consumers already have a handful of them.
Positively, setup is easy, even if annoying to do with the remote, and you can get to streaming from your Prime Video account in minutes. The upgrades to the remote to control your TV are also a plus, but the downsides to this device are just far too many.
It’s hard to really justify the price for the Fire TV Cube. The voice-enabled functions are not well suited to the task, as Alexa struggles to disambiguate different search results far too often, and can’t scroll through the results lists to get you to the right one. Amazon’s lack of an actual app store is also a bit frustrating, as it doesn’t list every app it has available. Instead, you have to go back online from a desktop or web browser to find out if certain apps are available, and are forced to use the voice commands to find them.
If you’re planning to use this device, we recommend you reconsider. Instead, go with the $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K or the standard Fire TV Stick at $39.99, both of which are solidly built, even if the specs are a bit toned down.
If you really need voice control, the Fire TV Stick has an Alexa-enabled remote, making this whole Fire TV Cube experiment somewhat moot anyway. And if you absolutely need an Amazon smart speaker to control your smart home devices, just grab an Echo Dot or Google Home, instead.