Fire TV Cube Review: Everything you need to know
If you never got around to buying a universal remote to control all the entertainment hardware in your living room, the Fire TV Cube is ready to take on the job.
With a simple voice command like – “Alexa, play The Path on Hulu” — Amazon’s latest 4K HDR streaming box turns on your TV and begins playing the show in a snap.
Likewise, subscribers to Hulu with Live TV and PlayStation Vue can say, “Tune to CNN” to launch the app to the news network’s channel.
Want to turn the volume up on your sound bar?
Just tell Alexa, and she’ll handle it.
These new hands-free perks for streaming and TV controls don’t just extend to cord cutters.
Amazon says the Fire TV Cube is compatible with set-top boxes from cable and satellite TV providers including Comcast, DISH, and DIRECTV, covering more than 90 percent of households with a cable or satellite subscription.
Being the cord cutter that I am, I didn’t splurge on a cable subscription to test that out. Amazon says once a cable box is connected to the Fire TV Cube, you can say, “Alexa, Tune to NBC” and you’ll get the live channel.
5 Skills on new Fire TV Cube
- Adds voice commands to most TVs
- Power your TV on and off
- Change the volume
- Switch to different inputs
- Change the cable channel: (Comcast, Dish, DIRECTV)
No matter what TV-watching ethos you subscribe to, the new Fire TV Cube is going to add a lot to your living room.
And its price at $119.99, the Fire TV Cube sits right in the middle of competing devices like the Roku Ultra ($89 at Amazon) and Apple TV ($149 at Wal-Mart) that have few, if any, voice commands. The only exception is the NVIDIA Shield TV ($179 at NVIDIA). The NVIDIA Sheild uses Google Assistant so users can use their voice to search for programs and control smart home hardware and fixtures.
Key Takeaways from my Fire TV Cube Review
After a week of testing, the Fire TV Cube feels like the flagship device that many people hoped for when the pendant-shaped Fire TV was released last year.
The Fire Cube TV is ideal for people who use it primarily for streaming. It’s also great if you own a sound bar and want to stream music in your living room. I admit: I’m much more likely to use my sound bar if I don’t have to pick up a remote.
Say “Alexa, play Bob Dylan” and the Cube launches Spotify and starts playing through your sound bar or stereo speakers. And the nice thing is that the music is on your good speakers, not the Fire Cube speaker.
If you own a gaming console like an Xbox One, you can switch over to playing games using a voice command. That’s enabled through an included IR extender that’s included with the Fire TV Cube. The IR extender is designed to control audio hardware or gaming consoles while they are hidden away in a TV stand or closet. It has an 8 foot cord so it can be placed alongside devices that are tucked away.
Fire TV Cube Specs: Far-Field Voice Recognition
Amazon Fire TV Cube uses far-field voice recognition with eight microphones to hear you even from across the room. Advanced beamforming technology combines the signals from the individual microphones to suppress noise. So you don’t have to worry about your voice commands being drowned out by the sound from the TV or music playing in the room.
The Fire TV Cube has 16GB of internal storage. That’s larger than previous generations like the 2nd generation Fire TV. But there’s no MicroSD slot to expand your memory.
I did most of my testing over WiFi using a mesh network and the Cube handled streaming 4K HDR, gaming and playing music without any interruptions. If you were hoping for a dedicated Ethernet port, you’ll have to settle for an Ethernet adapter that’s included in the box.
The Cube has the same 1.5GHz processor as the pendant-shaped Fire TV 3, but it’s still plenty fast for streaming 4K and HDR programming.
Learning Alexa’s lingo
Even if you’re an experienced Amazon Echo user like me, you may have a slight learning curve of saying the right things to get where you want to go within the Fire TV Cube interface. So don’t say “Alexa, main menu.” Instead, you’ll want to say, “Alexa, go home” to get back to the main menu.
The voice commands take away the need to scroll through menus using your remote. You can say, “Alexa, scroll down” or “Alexa, scroll right” to surf through movies and TV shows. Each queue of shows and movies are numbered as well, so you can essentially pick a number to get to a deeper part of the menu. That will be important because Fire TV devices have shifted towards offering up selections from Hulu, Netflix and Vudu alongside some of its own subscription-based services like Amazon Channels.
Phrases like “Alexa, find sci-fi movies”; “Alexa, play the trailer”; and “Alexa, show me more results” will pull results from all your apps and some you don’t subscribe to. You can also search by uttering the name of a director or actor.
Fire TV Cube Review: By the Numbers
You’ll find a small video collection of Fire TV Cube tutorials when you get your device. Each video runs about a minute. And it’s well worth checking them out to make your transition into the new world of hands free navigating is easier to pick up. To find out even more commands outside of searching for new shows or movies, just ask the Cube, “Alexa, what can I say?” She’ll show you.
What apps are Alexa-enabled on Fire TV Cube?
Alexa support for apps is not widespread, but you’ll find plenty of voice commands to try out and play around with.
The Alexa-enabled apps as of this writing are: Hulu, Showtime, Netflix, CBS All Access, ESPN, Sony Crackle, NBC, ABC, Freeform, Starz, CNBC, PlayStation Vue and NBC News.
I’m not too worried about having only a small number of apps that can take on more sophisticated requests. For the last couple of years, Amazon has maintained a solid record of upgrading its hardware through over-the-air software upgrades.
Amazon says dozens of more skills are expected for the Fire TV Cube by the end of 2018. Many Alexa responses have already been optimized for the big screen and accompanied with rich visual information, according to the company. Ask Alexa what the weather will be while your TV is on, and you’ll see for yourself.
You’ll also be able to view your smart home camera feeds, watch video flash briefings, view sports scores, see extended weather forecasts, and watch trailers for movies playing in nearby theaters.
Fire TV Cube Compatibility and Routines
A quick search can give you an idea of the types of devices that Alexa already controls – from light bulbs to thermostats.
Using the Alexa app, you can also set up what are known as “Routines” where the Fire TV will execute two or three tasks simultaneously based on a single voice command.
But really most people will likely want the Fire TV Cube to navigate their living room entertainment by just using their voice instead the remote control included with the device.
Amazon Fire TV Cube: Setting Up Voice Control Compatibility
Once you plug in your Cube and connect it to your television, the operating system will jog you through identifying the brand of your TV and sound bar. I tried out the setup procedure on three different TVs in my home. The newest is a 4K HDR TCL television made in 2017, the other two – a Sony and Samsung – are more than a decade old. The Fire TV Cube detected each of them with ease and quickly ran through its process of identifying then testing out
A Bluetooth-enabled soundbar should be connected to the TV with either an HDMI cord or an optical cord so the Cube can control them.
You can manage what other equipment you want to control under settings even after you go through the initial setup process.
When I wanted to add Hulu to my menu of apps, I just asked Alexa to find it. I still hand to use a physical remote to download the app, but being able to avoid typing it in was pretty handy – and pleasant.
Gaming on the Fire TV Cube
If you’re a proud owner of a 2nd generation Fire TV who played Android games like “Beach Buggy Racing” or “Badlands”, you won’t be disappointed with the Fire TV Cube’s gaming chops. I connected an inexpensive Matricom Bluetooth gaming pad, and said, “Alexa, play Beach Buggy Racing” and the game came on the screen.
The game play was zippy. But not having any way to expand memory and a bunch more games is frankly a bummer.
Areas of improvement for Fire TV Cube
There were two slight irritations with the Fire TV Cube, but neither thing makes me hesitate recommending the Cube.
All of this hands-free voice stuff is great. Really great, and perhaps revolutionary for the way we watch TV.
But what happens during the week where I have laryngitis and all I want to sit on my couch and binge watch while I recover? If I want to turn down the volume, I can’t do it with the Fire TV remote. I have to go searching for the remote that was swallowed months ago by my whale-of-a couch. Roku had no problem adding a volume button to the remote of its flagship streaming devices, including the Roku Streaming Stick and Roku Streaming Stick+.
Downloading Apps on the Fire TV Cube
Downloading apps should be a more streamlined process.
I own three other Fire TV devices. Netflix should be on my new Fire TV Cube by default. It shows up as the first choice in my new menu with a cloud icon in the upper left hand corner. This means I have to manually download the Netflix app again, even though Amazon informs me: “You own it.”
If I want any of the Fire TV apps that I carefully chose while using my other three Fire TV devices, I need to download each of them.
It’s a small complaint. But there should be a more elegant solution for people upgrading from an earlier generation of Fire TV. Nobody wants to sit in front of their TV and spend 30 minutes or more downloading a number of apps they’ve already chosen.
Those two minor issues aside, Amazon has likely set off a new race among device makers because of the Fire TV Cube. The innovation of the Cube is so significant that I’m eager to see the response from competitors.
Is the Fire TV Cube worth it?
Whether you have a full blown entertainment system in your living room or just a spare TV in a bedroom or office that could use an upgrade, the Fire TV Cube is well worth the money.
You’re getting all the convenient aspects of owning an Echo for things like weather reports, and news briefings with an added voice-activated butler of sorts that can control your TV, music and smart home hardware if you have it. If you don’t already own a Harmony Hub setup, or another universal remote, the Fire TV Cube will likely be a better buy for you, especially if you prefer Fire TV over using a Roku or Apple TV in your living room.
Want to get up to $35 off a Fire TV Cube? Amazon is giving up to $35 in credits towards a Fire TV Cube when you turn in an old Roku, Apple TV or competing streaming device to them.
Now I want to hear from you. What’s your favorite thing about the Fire TV Cube? Is there something that Amazon could improve? Let fellow readers know in the comments below.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble