To say I was excited when the Amazon Fire TV Cube was announced would be an understatement. While I did not really need a new streaming device and I certainly did not need another Echo device, it was a good opportunity (excuse) to upgrade to a 4k streaming device to go with my new Samsung 55NU8500 curved 4K Smart TV. Now I already had an Amazon Echo, Fire TV Stick and Harmony Hub setup in my living room, so this was going to take some rearranging of devices, so it would have to be a project for when my wife was not home. I pre-ordered the Amazon Fire TV Cube as soon as it was available and planned my attach. I came up with uses for all the devices that I was hoping the Fire TV Cube would displace and was happy with myself. On paper all was good, and I could not wait, then the Amazon Fire TV Cube showed up.
I have to say I was kind of shocked when I first unboxed the Amazon Fire TV Cube, it was smaller than I thought it would be but this most likely was not a bad thing, still assuming it would replace all the devices I had hoped. When looking at this product you really must break it down into three different areas. As we go through this review I will review the Fire TV Cube as a Fire TV Device, as an Echo Device and as an IR control device. I feel breaking it up like this really is the only fair way to do it, we can then take the individual strengths and weaknesses into account and make a final decision.
As a Fire TV device, I am happy with the Amazon Fire TV Cube. It performs and acts much like you would expect from an Amazon Fire TV Device and has the same interface as the rest. I am not a huge fan of this interface, but I can deal with it and have gotten used to it. The video performance out of the Fire TV Cube is exceptional. I am happy to finally be taking advantage of the 4K display I have in my living room, I only wish there was more 4K content available but that is not Amazon’s fault. Audio on the other hand I am not all that thrilled with as I find the audio output through HDMI to be very low and I really wish it was not. The low volume causes me to turn the volume up which is not an issue when I am watching something but when I switch to another source like my cable box I am often faced with an abruptly loud volume and must quickly turn it down which can be difficult because I do not always have the remote on hand and usually Alexa can not hear me. I am a huge fan of the inclusion of an ethernet port on the Fire TV Cube and feel it is an absolute necessity if you are going to try and stream UHD content. Sure, it will work wirelessly if you need it to but just to have the option to have a wired connection is great. All in all, as a Fire TV device the Fire TV Cube is pretty much what I expected it to be. It does not do anything more or anything less than any other Amazon Fire TV Device and while I am happy with this because Fire TV devices are nice, I would have liked to have seen some improvement here and there was not.
As an Amazon Echo Device, I have to say I am not happy with the Amazon Fire TV Cube. Why on earth would the device use your televisions speakers for audio? I can not for the live of me figure out what Amazon was thinking on this, all they had to do was take an Echo and a Fire TV and put them together, why not put the nice speaker that is in the Amazon Echo inside of it? Now in full disclosure for me this is not really an issue as I have Sonos that handles my audio in the living room, but it still does not make any sense to me. Audio aside, Alexa works just as you would expect, she can do everything that she can do on other Echo Devices except it can not be added to an Audio Group…WTF their goes my whole home audio. This is a huge mistake in my opinion and one Amazon needs to fix if they want this product to succeed, I could have left things as they were, had the same functionality and still have my whole home audio group. The other annoyance I have is that sometimes I want to play a song or two quickly for my son and not necessarily stop the TV show that is playing, well…cant do that with the Fire TV Cube again because it uses your televisions audio it will even change sources for you and display some album art on your tv, from experience I can certainly tell you I do not need to see the album art for The Wheels on the Bus, it is not impressive.
Now the big feature that the Amazon Fire TV Cube was supposed to bring was the ability to become a universal remote for you and control the device in your entertainment center. Some of this control is done over the air through API integrations and some through a built in IR blaster. In my experience this universal remote capability has worked quite well. Sure, I have had a couple hiccups but nothing that I am really concerned about. That being said in my application I have very few components that I need the Fire TV Cube to control, it is the Cube itself, a Xfinity Cable Box and a Samsung TV. Now I have read a lot of people complaining about this functionality not working so great on larger systems and I can certainly understand the frustration. At the end of the day the Amazon Fire TV Cube is not a Harmony Hub and if you have a larger system you want to control the Fire TV Cube will most likely not do it. Harmony has had a lot of time to get this space right and Amazon is just getting started. I think it will continue to get better and they have even already announced support for DirecTV showing that they are working on improving.
That’s it, that’s all we really need to talk about when discussing the Amazon Fire TV Cube except for the final verdict. I am kind of torn on this as I am a fan of the Fire TV Cube as a streaming and even as a universal remote device but I am very disappointed with its lack of a real speaker and subsequent dependency on my televisions audio. I really want to put my Amazon Echo back in my living room for audio uses but that would put them way to close together and I only see issues with that. Would I recommend the Fire TV Cube to someone who was not already entrenched in the Alexa ecosystem? Yes, I would, it is a solid streaming device that can handle some IR needs and still give you Alexa. Would I recommend the Fire TV Cube to someone to replace an existing Echo device while adding Fire TV support? Most likely not unless they were replacing an Echo Dot.
What are your thoughts on the Amazon Fire TV Cube? Let me know in the comments below.
I am passionate about the IoT and connected devices. Using connectivity to automate our lives will empower civilization to achieve greatness.