Amazon is updating its $40 Fire TV Stick streaming player for the first time since 2016, giving it a much faster processor and HDR video support. The company is also launching a cheaper option called the Fire TV Stick Lite, which will sell for $30.
To go along with the new hardware, Amazon’s overhauling its Fire TV software, with fewer confusing submenus, new features for Alexa, and a bigger emphasis on user profiles.
Updated December 9, 2020 to report that Amazon has begun to roll out its new Fire TV software. The updates, however, will initially be made available only on these new devices; owners of Amazon’s higher-end streamers will likely need to wait until early 2021 to get the new user interface and other features.
Both of the new Fire TV Sticks are shipping next week, and pre-orders are starting today. Here’s what you need to know about the new lineup:
New Fire TV Stick
The third-generation Fire TV Stick (pictured above) looks identical to the previous version, but Amazon says it’s 50-percent faster. Elias Saba of AFTVNews reports that it’s using a MediaTek MT8695D quad-core processor, which is similar to what powers Amazon’s existing Fire TV Stick 4K. Speed had been a major sticking point for the old Fire TV Stick, but the new one should feel much snappier if it can match the speed of the 4K version.
The new Fire TV Stick also supports HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio decoding, just like the 4K model. The difference is that the new Fire TV Stick doesn’t support 4K video or Dolby Vision HDR. (HDR support is instead limited to HDR10 and HLG.) For those features, you’ll need either the $50 Fire TV Stick 4K or the $120 Fire TV Cube.
At $30, the Fire TV Stick Lite is Amazon’s answer to the Roku Express, which sells for $29. And like Roku’s budget streamer, the Amazon’s version makes a major compromise to hit that lower price: There are no volume or power buttons on the remote, so you’ll need a second remote to operate those functions on your TV.
Intriguingly, though, the Fire TV Stick Lite also includes a new remote button with a TV icon, which Amazon’s pricier streamers lack. This button takes you straight to the Fire TV’s Channel Guide, which can aggregate multiple live TV sources into one grid. Without the dedicated button, you’ll need to navigate to the guide through Amazon’s software menus.
The Fire TV Stick Lite otherwise has the same processor, HDR support, and Wi-Fi 5 support as the Fire TV Stick; both devices support Alexa voice commands through a microphone button on their remotes.
New Fire TV software
As for the new software, it looks like Amazon has recognized the chaos in its current interface and is taking steps to streamline it. Several submenus have been stripped away (including Your Videos, Movies, TV Shows, and Apps) in favor of a single “Find” submenu, where you can discover new things to watch. Meanwhile, your favorite apps will appear in a single strip on the menu bar, and they’ll stay persistently visible even as you scroll to other submenus.
The software will also support up to six user profiles, and if you say “Alexa, go to my profile,” you can set the device to recognize your voice and switch accordingly. Alexa itself will also be less intrusive, occupying just a part of the screen in response to voice commands, and Amazon says it will add a “hub” where you can learn what voice commands Alexa supports.
Amazon’s adding support for video calls as well, so you’ll be able to plug in a Logitech webcam for Alexa video calls. (Amazon says it will add support for other video chat services such as Zoom “over time.”)
The new software will debut on the 2020 Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite, and Amazon plans to roll it out to other devices later this year.
Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.