Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max full review
When Amazon announced the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it would replace the existing 4K model. But no, the range has expanded again.
There’s now the Lite, the regular Stick, the 4K and 4K Max. Four ‘stick’ models to choose between, that’s before you consider the Fire TV Cube, or any of the actual TVs that have the Fire TV interface built in.
If you have no plans to replace your TV because it’s already a 4K (UHD) model, then you’re probably looking for a 4K streaming device. And Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max is likely to be a candidate because of its relatively low price.
In simple terms, it differs only from the existing Fire TV Stick 4K by having Wi-Fi 6 and an upgraded processor that Amazon says is 40% faster.
There’s also a picture-in-picture feature that displays the live feed from a compatible doorbell (which means Ring models) when someone presses the doorbell. Previously that was only available on the Fire TV Cube, which costs a lot more.
Features & design
- Unchanged form factor
- New remote control
- Wi-Fi 6
Physically, the new streaming device is identical to the existing Stick 4K. Amazon hasn’t even changed the microUSB port to USB-C.
The only thing those familiar with the Fire TV Stick will spot is the updated remote control. This third-gen remote is now bundled with all TV Sticks except the Lite and includes shortcuts to Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music (Hulu in the US).
There are also TV controls, so you can use the remote to adjust and mute volume and turn the screen on and off without having to have your TV’s remote to hand. As it uses IR, you can also configure it to control certain soundbars and A/V receivers.
As ever, you can plug the Fire TV Stick 4K Max into an HDMI input on your TV (or soundbar) or use the included flexible cable if it’s impossible or inconvenient to attach it directly.
A power supply is included in the box (as are batteries for the remote) but if your TV, soundbar or another set-top box has a USB port that will deliver enough power, you might get away without using a power socket.
Though the 4K Max will power up from virtually any USB port, it will display a message telling you if there’s insufficient power and to use the mains adapter.
Alexa is built in, and there’s a button on the remote which you hold down while making your requests: she’s not hands-free on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.
There’s also Bluetooth, which allows you to pair Bluetooth speakers and headphones and not have to rely solely on your TV’s speakers.
As mentioned, the upgrades are mainly things you can’t see. Wi-Fi 6 should mean better performance when streaming 4K content, but you will need a Wi-Fi 6 router or mesh system (such as Amazon’s Eero 6 or Eero 6 Pro) to take advantage. Otherwise it will use whatever Wi-Fi standard your router offers.
In most cases, though, performance will be exactly the same if you have a Wi-Fi 5 router.
The Max also has a bit more RAM – 2GB in total – than the Fire TV Stick 4K. Along with the faster processor, a quad-core 1.8GHz Mediatek 8696, this means the Fire TV interface is more responsive: apps load quicker and it’s smoother when scrolling through content.
Like the Fire TV Stick 4K, the Max will output 4K resolution at 60Hz and supports Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, HDR 10, HDR10+ and HLG. There is one significant difference: support for the new AV1 codec which looks like it might replace HEVC.
The Fire TV Stick 4K, which launched in 2018, has no AV1 decoder. The new format is even more efficient than HEVC and could be required to use certain apps in future, such as YouTube or if not to use them, to get specific video resolutions or HDR formats.
Finally, the 4K Max runs Android 9 underneath all the layers of FireOS. That’s only relevant because it means Netflix, for example, supports Dolby Atmos whereas it doesn’t on the 2018 model.
There's another tiny change which is easy to miss. Like other recent Fire TV Sticks (including the Fire TV Stick Lite and 3rd gen Stick), the newer operating system means it properly supports Bluetooth speakers unlike the old Fire TV Stick 4K. That means you can use the volume buttons on the remote control to adjust the volume of a connected Bluetooth speaker, or headphones. Previously, if they didn't have their own volume control the function was basically useless unless you could endure maximum volume all the time.
Interface & content
- All major streaming services
- Lots of other apps
- Games (including Luna)
The choice of content is the same as you’ll find on other Fire TV devices. As you might expect, Amazon’s Prime Video service is featured prominently, and areas of the home screen permanently show ads for different shows. These banners will bother some more than others, but it’s something all media streamers do, not just Fire TV Sticks.
Around a year ago Amazon updated the Fire TV interface to make it easier to use. It’s intuitive but there’s still a bit too much advertising, and Amazon-owned Prime Video and IMDb TV content tends to get the most exposure as you’d expect. It isn’t only video content advertised: you’ll also see ads for hardware that’s compatible with Alexa, apps and services.
You can have six of your favourite apps on the home screen, but to get to the rest you have to scroll to the All apps icon – it’s a shame there’s no button on the remote for this.
As mentioned, there are extra buttons on the 3rd-gen Alexa Voice Remote, which give you shortcuts to four other apps. It is possible to reprogram them, but it’s not exactly easy and their labels don’t change, making it pretty confusing if you do change the shortcuts.
Besides the streaming services on the remote control, there are many others that you can watch. These require you to download their apps from the on-board Appstore and with 8GB of storage, there’s a limit to how many apps – and games – you can install.
It’s not a limit you’re likely to hit, but it’s there.
In the UK, you can get apps for YouTube, iPlayer, All4, ITV Hub, My5, Now, Apple TV, Twitch, Plex, BT Sport, Pluto TV, IMDb TV (owned by Amazon) and lots more.
US buyers will find quite a few of those as well as HBO Max, Peacock, Sling TV and Discovery+. The point is, every major streaming service is catered for, making the hardware fade into the background.
It’s even possible to cast from certain apps to the Fire TV Stick - it’s not Chromecast or AirPlay, but it’s useful nonetheless.
Another new button on the remote is for live TV. This replicates the Live option in the main menu, and makes more sense in the US where there’s more live content available. In the UK where I tested, despite being logged into BBC iPlayer and All4, only Channel 5 and Paramount were available in the list, and no obvious way to get BBC, ITV and Channel 4 to appear.
It’s certainly not the focus here, but for UK users at least, it’s one button you probably won’t be pressing much.
The new 1.8GHz quad-core chip is only 100MHz faster than the old one, but along with 2GB of RAM – up from 1.5GB - it allows apps to load faster and makes navigation around the interface smoother.
Netflix and Prime Video certainly launch without much delay and Fire OS is very smooth when you’re scrolling through lists of shows and films.
You can use Alexa, of course, to search for things to watch – genres such as “action movies” or specific titles like “Fast & Furious” and she’ll give you results from the various services you’ve got installed and will break them down into ‘From your subscriptions’, ‘Free to me’, 'Free with ads' and ‘Rent, Buy or Subscribe’ section so you know what you can watch without paying.
Sometimes the results aren’t what you would expect, but it’s still a lot faster than using the remote to labouriously key in letters.
Plus, she’s good for playback: you can say “Rewind 2 minutes” or “Next episode” which can be faster than using the app’s controls.
Beyond video, Alexa can do all the things she can do on an Echo or Fire Tablet. In other words, you can ask her general questions, get her to set timers, alarms, reminders or put cucumbers on your shopping list.
She can give you a news briefing, weather forecast and, thanks to skills, plenty more besides. Skills let her integrate with smart home devices so she can turn lights and smart plugs on and off. If you have a Ring doorbell, the video feed will appear automatically an a picture-in-picture window over whatever you’re watching.
Unfortunately that doesn’t extend to the new Blink doorbell, but for any camera or doorbell that is compatible with Alexa, you can ask her to show the feed at any time.
You can play games on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max and even pair a Bluetooth gamepad for titles more serious than Crossy Road. In the US you can access Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service, but a year after launching it’s still not available elsewhere and is lacking in choice.
Price & availability
That’s more than the £40 / $40 Roku Express 4K, but the extra volume and power buttons along with the AV1 codec will make it worth the extra for many.
Again, if you have a soundbar with Dolby Atmos and watch a lot of Netflix, the 4K Max will be an advantage over the cheaper Stick 4K.
For more alternatives see our roundup of the best streaming sticks and boxes.
You could argue that the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is only worth buying if you need the specific features it offers over the older 4K version. But you’re not really saving much money and the extra performance is well worth having even if you don’t care about Wi-Fi 6, getting Dolby Atmos from Netflix or the support for AV1.
Ultimately, it’s a great streaming device which gives you access to all the streaming services you would want at a decent price – and one that’s much less than a Fire TV Cube.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max: Specs
- Media streamer
- 1.8GHz quad-core processor
- 2GB RAM
- 8GB storage
- Wi-Fi 6
- Bluetooth 5.0 LE
- 3rd-gen Alexa voice remote included
- HDMI extender included
- Support for Dolby Atmos + Dolby Vision, AV1 codec
- Output: 4K up to 60fps
- 108 x 30 x 14 mm
- One-year warranty
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