Tag Archives: amazon

Brightech – SKY LED Torchiere Floor Lamp




I never thought I would see the day I’d find myself excited by lightbulbs. The LED lighting revolution has come of age.

After recently replacing every remaining incandescent bulb in my house with LED bulbs that perfectly mimic their respective incandescent counterparts, I decided it was time to get rid of a potentially dangerous halogen-powered torchiere floor lamp, and replace it with an LED-capable version of the up-firing ceiling bounce light of the same floor lamp style. After looking at torchiere style lamps for sale in local stores and not being happy with how top-heavy they were, I ended up ordering a Brightech – SKY LED Torchiere Floor Lamp from Amazon.

The lamp is extremely easy to assemble by simply screwing the parts together and plugging a couple of wires together. The heaviest part of the lamp assembly is the base that sits on the floor, which does a great job of stabilizing the lamp even on thick carpeting. The LED light array on the up-firing top disc produces a claimed 3,000 lumens on the brightest setting, one of four light levels. The light is controlled by tapping a touch surface about two-thirds the way up from the floor in about the same place that the old rotary on/off switch was on the old halogen floor lamp it replaced.

The lamp sells on Amazon for $89.50. I don’t know why local stores don’t have lamps like these. I do think they would sell them if they bothered to have them in stock. I wish that brick and mortar stores could somehow grasp that there are some really excellent, innovative products that people want. Unfortunately for the brick and mortars these products seem to be available online only. I don’t expect local stores to stock everything, but it seems to me they could become a bit more savvy about stocking products that forces shoppers to go online.

The touch surface is properly positioned and performs well when repeatedly touched, cycling through the various brightness levels as well as off. The transformer that plugs into the wall outlet gets slightly warm to the touch, coming in at 83 degrees Fahrenheit with an infrared thermometer in a 72 degree room. The top of the lamp generates a bit more heat, coming in at 96 degrees Fahrenheit.


Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote Review



Amazon Fire TVWhen it comes to media streaming via hardware, it’s a four way fight for your eyeballs between Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. The most recent entrant, Amazon and the Fire TV, came to the UK in October 2014 and I reviewed one of the boxes back in January 2015. Over eighteen months later, Amazon’s Instant Video and Fire TV are more well known, with a large element of this courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the ex-Top Gear crew. To see what’s changed since then, Amazon kindly sent me a the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote. Let’s take a look.

Fire TV Stick Box  Fire TV Stick in Box

The Fire TV stick comes in the usual flip open box used by Amazon for its electronics. Inside the box, there’s the Fire TV stick itself, the Voice Remote with batteries, USB power supply with cable, an HDMI gender changer and some slim instructions. As it’s generally expected that the Fire TV will connect straight into an HDMI socket, there’s no HDMI cable. There’s an unboxing video below if you’re interested.

Before getting started, my tip of the day would be to plug the microUSB end of the power cable into the Fire TV stick BEFORE you push the Fire TV into a spare HDMI socket. This saves too much faffing around the back (or side) of the TV and alerts you early to a potential problem. As the power connector is on the side of the stick and the cable comes out at right angles, it’s possible that this will foul against an adjacent HDMI connector. On my TV it was apparent that the Fire TV was always going to sit in the topmost socket. Alternatively, I could have used an HDMI cable along with the gender changer to locate the stick away from the sockets and avoid interference. YMMV, as they say.

The other end of the USB cable goes into the power supply and once all connected and powered up, it’s simply a case of switching to the right HDMI input and following the prompts. The setup begins with pairing the remote to the stick and then connecting to wifi. As with all devices bought from Amazon, it comes pre-configured with your account details.

Fire TV Stick Fire TV Stick Wireless

To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.

Fire TV Stick Cartoon Fire TV Stick Cartoon

With that all done, you’re dropped into Amazon’s Fire interface. It’s largely unchanged since I first reviewed the Fire TV but that’s not a bad thing given that it’s big, bright and intuitive. Click up and down with the remote to move between the media areas….TV shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music and so on. Click right and left to scroll through the chosen area. The Home area summarises recent activity so it’s easy to get back to something that you recently viewed. The interface is generally responsive but there can be a little lag when going into a new area, such as Photos, where it’s checking to see if there are any new media. I assume that the lag will be inversely proportional to your network connection speed.

Fire TV Menu

There’s no doubt that the Fire TV is best used with Amazon Prime and other Amazon services – much of the promoted material is for Prime shows – but other media services like Netflix and Spotify are present via apps, and there’s a full range of catch-up services for UK’s terrestrial services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5). When I first reviewed the Fire TV a few of these were missing from the lineup so it’s good to see the extras. In addition to film and TV, the interface presents music purchased through Amazon as CDs and Amazon Music. If you use Amazon’s storage for photos, they’ll appear in a section too.

Amazon Fire TV StickVideo playback on the Fire TV can’t be faulted. I watched a number of shows through a variety of services, including Netflix, and the picture quality was unfailingly good. Programmes started quickly and got into HD picture quality within a few seconds. No problems here.

The Fire TV Stick supports apps as well, and these mostly offer other media services, such as YouTube, or games, such as…..well, loads including Crossy Road! It’s actually good fun playing mobile games on the big screen, though some require the Fire Game Controller (GB£44.99) rather than just the remote. Some games are tricky enough with just the remote, so if you are gamer, expect to stump up for the game controller. There’s something for everyone, as they say, and I played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars – The Yoda Chronicles. Overall, I felt there was a much greater range of games than last time and more of the headline titles were available.

While having loads of media is a good thing, it’s even better when there’s a search function to quickly find what you want to see. This is the Voice Remote version of the TV Stick and as such, the remote has a button at the top with a microphone symbol. When pressed and held, you can simply say what TV or film you are interested in, and the Stick will work it out and show you the options. Owners without the Voice Remote will have to laboriously type in the name of the programme. The voice recognition is accurate and the subsequent search recommendations are valid. Press the mic button, say “The Fall”, and the first programme it offers is the BBC drama (the one I wanted) followed by other films or TV programmes with the word “fall” in their title, such as “Downfall”.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like search has moved on too much. It is good at finding stuff but it still seems to only reference Amazon-hosted material. Take the above mentioned “The Fall”, which is currently showing the third series on BBC and aired episodes can be viewed for free on iPlayer. However, search on the Fire TV Stick would have you pay £2.49 for the HD version of episode 1 without mentioning the freebie option at all. More on this in a moment….

Amazon Fire TV ContentsBack in January 2015, I said, “Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.” Here in October 2016, there’s not much to add except that it’s even better now than it was then; there are more broadcasters on-board, there are more games and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote is cheaper at £44.99. It drops to only £34.99 with the standard remote.

But….since starting the review of this Fire TV stick, a new version has been announced, at least in the US, which addresses some of the remaining deficiencies, namely cross-media search. Obviously it’s not clear right now when that will arrive in the UK or which apps will be searched in addition to Amazon media. Interestingly, the new Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa so the voice interaction won’t be limited to only search but other queries too. I’m looking forward to it already.

Thanks to Amazon UK for providing the Fire TV Stick for review.


Amazon Kindle (2016) Review



Amazon Kindle LogoEbooks and ereaders have come a long way since I first purchased novels from Peanut Press to read on my Palm III. Neither Peanut Press or Palm are in existence today – the former eventually disappeared into Barnes and Noble, and the latter was wasted by HP – but nearly two decades on, ebooks are part of everyday life, largely thanks to Amazon and the Kindle. On review here is Amazon‘s latest iteration of its entry level Kindle. Released back in June, this is the 8th generation of ereader but brings the much-missed white finish back to the family…and that’s what we have on review here. Let’s take a look.

 

The Kindle comes in Amazon’s easy-to-open packaging. In the box there’s only the Kindle and a USB-to-microUSB cable plus a few bits of paper. Taking the Kindle out of the clear plastic wrapper, it remains true to the form-factor. At 115 mm wide, 160 mm tall and only a smidge over 9 mm deep, there’s enough of a border round the 6″ screen to hold the ereader between thumb and forefinger. The case is a matt plastic with curved edges along with a microSD socket, power button and LED along the bottom edge. There’s some printing on the back and an embossed Amazon logo too. The matt finish helps with holding the Kindle as it’s not slippy at all.

Amazon Kindle with Box

Powering up the device, the Kindle takes the owner through the setup procedure, including connecting to wifi. The Kindle is usually preconfigured to the owner out-of-the-box so after running through a few pages of what’s on offer, his or her library will be on show on the home screen along with some “you might also likes”. There’s 4 GB of internal storage to keep books on the device which for an ereader is plenty of space.

The previous generation of Kindle introduced the touchscreen to the entry level model so there are no buttons to turn pages or go to the home screen. Tapping on a book or icon will open the selected thing but once in a book, the page is divided into three and tapping in the different areas generates different actions. Right side, next page; left side, previous page; top, menu options. The areas aren’t equal and the next page takes up around four-fifths of the page, from the bottom right. Generally the touching the screen works fine, but the back area on the left could do with being a little bigger – as man with fat fingers I did find that I needed to be fairly precise otherwise the book moved forward a page rather than back. It’s pity there’s not an option to adjust where the dividing line is on the page as I would prefer the split to more 50:50.

Amazon Kindle 2016

The eInk screen is the main differentiator between the entry level model and the next one up, the Paperwhite. To start with, the eInk screen is 167 ppi which is about half the 300 ppi of the Paperwhite, and more significantly, this Kindle is not backlit, so there’s no reading while the light’s out. As with all other ereaders, reading in sunlight is glare-free with the eInk screen. Page turns are nippy and the screen refreshes cleanly. As the screen is now a touchscreen, entering text is much easier with a tappable on-screen keyboard displayed whenever needed.

For the visually impaired, the Kindle supports VoiceView which will read books to the owner via a Bluetooth headset as there’s no headphone jack. It’s a bit convoluted to setup involving the power button and two fingers on the screen, which I understand might be easier for some who has a vision problem, but how hard would it have been to have an additional menu option for Bluetooth pairing? VoiceView is purely text-to-speech and won’t play music or audiobooks. Bah!

The Kindle software provides a number of “value-adds” over a paper book, including bookmarking and search features. Amazon’s X-Ray provides more information on the book, plot and people, and GoodReads book recommendations are prominent. Inevitably, social media now features with sharing to Facebook and Twitter.

Battery life is “weeks” and certainly in my use, it took a good deal of page-turning to bring the battery down. Not sure you’d get a whole week’s worth of holiday reading out of a single charge but if you’re bringing a charger for your mobile phone, it’s probably not a problem (unless you have an Apple iPhone).

As an Amazon product, the Kindle is designed to encourage purchases from the Amazon store so getting ebooks from other sources onto your Kindle can be tricky. If you want to borrow ebooks from your local library, check compatibility as I think Overdrive only supports Kindle books in the USA.

The 2016 and 8th generation of Kindle continues Amazon’s gradual refinement of the ereader. With the touchscreen introduced last time, there’s no big headline change over the previous model other than being neater and lighter, though the inclusion of Bluetooth perhaps hints at future features. And there’s a white version. At a penny under GB£60 with “Special Offers” and £70 without ads, the 2016 Kindle is an easy buy that’s unlikely to disappoint.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Kindle.


Amazon Echo Coming To UK on 16 September 2016? No…



echoIs the Amazon Echo coming to the UK on 16 September 2016? Nothing official from Amazon but a Bing search throws up the following link to a pre-order page on Amazon.co.uk which currently doesn’t seem to be live.

Update: Nah…..looks like Bing actually picked up on the release date of a CD called Echoes by the Young Guns, not Amazon Echo. Sorry, that’s entirely my fault as I was so looking forward to getting Alexa.

Capture


Amazon Kindles Coming (Back) to Target



Kindle BackThere’s nothing like trying before buying. It’s the ultimate way to know for sure that the focus of your most recent gadget obsession is truly worth purchasing. Apple opened its own line of retail stores based on that very concept. And while it’s easy enough to order almost anything online and have it delivered quickly, there’s still no way to put your hands thru a computer display and actually hold something before pressing the “add to cart” button. And that may be why Amazon and Target have come to an agreement that’ll soon find Amazon’s Kindle line of products available to purchase on Target’s website and eventually at the massive chain’s many retail stores.

This isn’t the first time Target carried the Kindle line of products. But the retailer abruptly stopped selling the devices in 2012. No official reason was ever given for the change. But considering the fact that Amazon and Target are essentially in the same business (retail), perhaps there was some trepidation on Target’s part about selling something that directly supported its competition.

Regardless of the speculation, this development will be good news to buyers who’ve wanted to try out an Amazon Kindle, Amazon Paperwhite, Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, or an Amazon Fire TV before opening their wallets to buy one.


Amazon Cracks Down on Fake Customer Reviews



amazon logoAmazon has filed a lawsuit against more than 1,000 people who Amazon claims have offered to write fake reviews of products that are listed on Amazon. More specifically, Amazon is cracking down on those who sell a fake review writing service on Fiverr.

Years ago, I had an account on Fiverr. I was trying to use it to earn some money by writing short articles for people’s websites. Overall, I felt that I was unsuccessful there, so I closed my account and moved on. I hadn’t thought about Fiverr until I read about the Amazon lawsuit.

Amazon, however, has taken a close look at Fiverr, and was not pleased by what it saw. To be clear, Amazon has not sued Fiverr itself. Instead, Amazon has sued thousands of “John Does” who have used Fiverr.com as a way to sell fake positive or 5-star Amazon reviews.

Bloomberg Business reports that the lawsuit follows an extensive investigation done by Amazon in which it communicated with some of the people who were selling fake reviews. Every “gig” on Fiverr costs $5 (hence the name). Personally, I don’t see how making $5 is worth the risk of ending up in a lawsuit like this one.

In its court filing, Amazon wrote:

“Amazon is bringing this action to protect its consumers from this misconduct, by stopping defendants and uprooting the ecosystem in which they participate. Although Amazon has successfully requested removal of similar listings from Fiverr in the past, the removal of individual listings does not address the root cause of the issue or serve as a sufficient deterrent to the bad actors engaged in creating and purchasing fraudulent reviews.”

“This action is the next step in a long-term effort to ensure these providers of fraudulent reviews do not offer their illicit services through other channels and to take enforcement action against the dishonest sellers and manufacturers who use those services.”

Fiverr is working with Amazon to resolve this problem. These type of “gigs”, that involve violating a third party’s terms of service, (in this case, Amazon’s) actually break Fiverr’s terms of service. As a result, Fiverr has been doing take-downs of those kinds of “gigs”.

In short, about a thousand people, who broke the terms of service on both Fiverr and Amazon, are now seeing their gigs removed from Fiverr. These people have been sued by Amazon. Cheaters never prosper.


My life so far with Amazon Echo



amazon logoA couple of months ago I received an Amazon Echo. It’s a unique device in many ways. Most interesting likely is the fact that it talks back to you — declines your requests in some cases. A disembodied voice coming from a strange device is odd enough on its own, but it gets much more complicated than that, as we aren’t factoring in what it can do.

So here’s what I use it for — I play music while I work, it’s a great speaker and Pandora works quite well with it. If you use iHeartRadio then you can set that up as well. Or you can just request a song, providing it’s available in Prime Music.

I’m also using it daily for cooking, Bad habits of leaving things on the stove or in the oven too long can be remedied by saying something along the lines of “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes”.

You can also ask it for the weather or a traffic report, among many other things. It’s an endless source of fascination for guests,

There is a darker side — quite literally, actually. It has nothing to do with Alexa (yes, that’s its name. They’re all named that). No this dark side comes from my experiment and is my own doing.

The Echo is compatible with a home automation hub, which in turn is compatible with GE Link light bulbs. The Amazon device is great, the bulbs are fine. The weak link lies in the middle. Most of the time when I ask it “Alexa, turn on/off living room lights” everything goes smoothly. Other times I get a reply along the lines of “That command doesn’t work with that device”. This means resetting the hub, no fun in the dark.

Do I recommend the Amazon Echo? Yes. Do I recommend the house of cards that is my lighting setup? No. Those cards can, and do, collapse. The home automation features will get better, but for now the setup is a major pain and not for the average user. However, the hub is working to improve all the time and I still love the product, I just wish I didn’t reset quite as often as I do.


Amazon Kindle (2014) Review



Kindle LogoArriving in 2007 with its e-paper display, the Amazon Kindle revolutionised reading and has become almost synonymous with e-readers. Seven years on, there’s been a steady evolution of the Kindle, introducing whiter screens, backlights and touch. On review here is the Kindle, 2014 edition. This is the standard model – not the Paperwhite, not the Voyage – so let’s take a look at what Amazon has done this time round.

Kindle with Box

The headline news for the Kindle e-reader is that it now has a touch screen and the power button is the only moving part on the e-reader. This brings touch right across the Amazon range, and while some diehards may mourn the demise of the buttons, navigating round the Kindle is much easier. Besides, whenever I had anything go wrong with electronic devices, it was always the buttons.

Kindle Library

In other news, the Kindle has picked up the same design cues as the Fire tablets with a slightly chunkier look and the bevelled plastic back of its siblings. The new Kindle is perhaps not as svelte as previous iterations, it’s still light at 191 g. Reviewing the exterior, there’s not much to talk about – 6″ 800 x 600 Pearl e-paper screen, micro USB socket, power button and reset hole. That’s it, but that’s all you need. There’s no backlight on this model, so no reading in the dark.

Kindle Bottom

Speaking of what you need, potential purchasers should note that there’s only a charging cable in the box and there’s no charger. This has been the case with Kindles for some time now but I thought I’d mention it to avoid an unpleasant surprise.

Getting started with the Kindle is easy. Hook up to a wi-fi connection (b/g/n) and then enter Amazon credentials to see all the literature on the account. 3G is no longer an option but given the ubiquitous nature of wif-fi, I doubt anyone will miss it. As with the Fire tablets, there’s a clear distinction between content on device and content in the cloud but it’s a simple tap to switch views. There’s 4 GB of storage standing by for holiday reading and for ordinary novels, 4 GB goes a very long way.

Without the buttons, how does one navigate? At the “home” level, it’s a case of tapping on icons as if it were a full-blown tablet. Once in a book, it’s tap on the right to go forward, tap on the left to go back and tap at the top to get the menu bar up. From here you can leave the book or adjust settings. While taps are reliably recorded, the response time isn’t quite up there with a tablet but it’s still quick enough and it’s not unsurprising given the limitations of e-paper. The presentation of the books can be adjusted with six different typefaces, eight text sizes, three line spaces and three margin settings.

In addition to books, the Kindle brings into the hand much of the Amazon experience. It’s easy to shop for new books, especially now with the touch screen, and features such as Kindle for Kids and Household registration will be familiar to users of the Amazon Fire. X-Ray is present too, providing a ready reckoner for characters, plot points and referenced terms: it’s handy, especially when reading a new genre of book or hitting a series midway through. Kindle FreeTime helps parents set reading targets for children and rewards the children with badges when they hit their goals.

Shop Kindle

As with all previous Kindles, the e-reader is designed to work with ebooks bought from Amazon. Books from other on-line stores can’t usually be loaded unless they’re DRM-free and there’s no Overdrive app for library books.

Overall, the new Kindle is a satisfactory evolution of the entry level model and the touchscreen makes the e-reader easier to use, especially when browsing for books. Currently priced with a £10 discount for Mother’s Day, the Kindle is priced at GB£49 with special offers and £59 without ads. Even without the £10 offer, it’s a great value product.

Thanks to Amazon for the Kindle review unit.


Amazon Fire HD 7 Review



fire_hd7

Back in February 2014, I reviewed the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and I was impressed with Amazon’s top-of-the range tablet. Amazon has continued to push their Fire tablet range and the fourth generation of the Fire tablets came out in September 2014. Not only did Amazon bump the spec with the refresh, they bumped the Kindle moniker too, reserving that for the ereaders. On review here, is the Fire HD 7 tablet, Amazon’s offering in the 7″ market. Let’s take a look.

HD Fire 7

In the box there’s the tablet, a travel charger and a USB charging cable. This review unit (courtesy of Amazon) came with a US charger but I imagine that chargers will be supplied according to local requirements.

From the very start the Fire HD 7 is a little bit different from the average tablet with a choice of five different colours – black, white, cobalt, magenta and citron – and obviously this is the white version. I think it would be fair to call the Fire HD 7 as chunky – it’s a little over a 1 cm thick and weighs in at 337g, which specs it very closely to the Nexus 7 2012 but it looks a bit bigger – there’s a bit of trickery going on in that Google devices have narrow chrome bands with curved backs which make them look thinner than they are. Setting the figures to one side, the HD7 feels….fun.

Fire HD 7

Giving the HD 7 a once over, there’s not much to poke at. The front has the main screen and a front-facing camera, on the top side there’s the power button, micro-USB port and the headphone port, and on the left there’s a volume rocker. Round the back, there’s the rear camera and stereo speakers. The rear camera is 2 MP and the front camera is VGA, which seems a bit under-specced for a 2014 tablet but it does record HD video. There’s also a large Amazon logo emblazoned in the middle of the back and not everyone will like the plastic back, though it’s largely a matter of personal taste. Even though the back cover does have a matte texture, it’s not that grippy, so I’d be investing in some kind of case.

Fire HD 7 back

Geek Bench 3Performance-wise, the Fire HD 7 has a 1.5 GHz quad-core processor, with two 1.5 GHz cores and two 1.2 GHz cores. As a result, it scores 766 in single core and 1483 for multicore in Geek Bench 3, putting its performance close to the 2013 Nexus 7 (and much better than the 2012 one). Regardless of what the benchmarks say, the HD 7’s performance in the hand was great.

On powering up, Fire OS looks as good as ever, even on the 7″ display. The screen is 1280 x 800 pixels, giving 216 ppi, which might not be as detailed as some, but the display is good and bright with rich colours that aren’t over-saturated. The carousel style interface works well with apps and media all mixed in together. As before, there are some great touches to the interface with the soft buttons moved to the right-hand side, conveniently under the hand in landscape view but still at the bottom when held in portrait. It’s tempting to review Fire OS but given this is the fourth generation of the tablet, it’s probably unnecessary.

FIre OS Screenshot

However, it’s still all about the apps though, and it’s good to see that the range of apps available in the Amazon Store has increased in the year since I reviewed the HDX. For example, Zinio is now available (though it didn’t want to load on the HD 7) and Mailbox has been released as well, so there’s a great email client too. For the average user, it’s hard to see app availability as an issue.

More than apps, Amazon is about content and as with all Amazon devices, the Fire delivers well. Signing into the Fire HD 7 with your Amazon credentials instantly accesses all your books, music and video content. It’s easy to switch between content that’s on the device and content that’s still in the cloud – there’s a simple toggle on the top right – so managing storage is less of an issue, even on 8 MB devices. Audio playback is good and background noise is minimal, even when listening with earbuds in quiet environments. The rear speakers are one of the highlights of the Fire HD 7, giving surprisingly good sound and add to the atmosphere when watching video.

Amazon Music

For films and TV on demand, Amazon offers its Instant Video – playback of movies is as smooth as you’d expect. I reviewed much of GNC’s CES coverage on the HD 7 and it handled all the video I threw at it.

Amazon Instant Video

As with other Fire tablets, Amazon offers FreeTime, a parental controls app that lets Mum and Dad add apps and content to a child’s profile. Access to the web browser and social networking apps is restricted and the amount of play time can be controlled as well. It’s well done and increases the appeal of Amazon Fire tablets to families.

Turning to price, the base cost is GB £119 for the 8 GB wi-fi version with “Special Offers” aka adverts. Taking the memory to 16 GB ups the cost to £139. Removing the adverts costs an additional £10 in both configurations.

I’ve been using the Fire HD 7 for over a month now and I like it a great deal. It’s fun, robust, inexpensive and with the parental controls, makes a good choice for a family tablet. The screen might not have the highest resolution but if I hadn’t read the spec sheet, I wouldn’t know or care as it looks great. I enjoyed having the HD 7 around and there were plenty of times when I picked up the HD 7 in preference to my Nexus 9. If you are into the Amazon ecosystem, this would appear to be a no-brainer buy…….

….but the Fire HDX 7 is currently reduced by £50 to £149 for the 16 GB versions albeit with ads. This has a 2.2 GHz CPU and 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi) screen, so personally, I think this is the one to get. Tell you what, buy the HDX for yourself and the HD for the kids. Perfect.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Fire HD 7 tablet.


Amazon Fire TV Review



Amazon Fire TVAmazon has been building the Fire brand over the past few years, starting with tablets, moving to media players and streaming sticks, before most recently producing a smartphone. The Fire TV media player has been on-sale in the US for some time, but only came to the UK back in October. I’ve been playing with Fire…..TV for the past couple of weeks. Let’s take a look.

Amazon FireTV Top

The Fire TV unit is an exercise in minimalism, not straying far from the sharp black box look, apart from the Amazon logo on the top and a white LED on the front fascia. Round the back there are five ports for power, HDMI, optical audio, ethernet and USB. Only the PSU is supplied in the box with the Fire TV and an HDMI cable will need to be bought if needed. Although not needing a port, the Fire TV has built-in 802.11n wireless to connect up when ethernet isn’t available.

Amazon Fire TV Rear

To control the Fire TV there is a stick-style remote control in the box along with batteries. The minimalist aesthetic continues with an Apple-esque control wheel and a small number of buttons, all in black with white labels. The picture makes the remote look longer than it is, which is only 5″ or 12.5 cm. The remote uses Bluetooth to connect to the FireTV and comes pre-paired.

Amazon Fire TV remote

Getting going is straightforward – connect the Fire TV to the HDTV via (not supplied) HDMI, insert power, turn on and follow the prompts. To make it as easy as possible, the Fire TV is preprogrammed with the Amazon account of the purchaser but if connected wirelessly, the main setup step is to choose the wifi SSID and enter the password. There’s a short introductory slideshow which introduces the features of the Fire TV include the voice search, which will be covered later.

There’s no easy way of taking screenshots on the Fire TV, so I’m afraid that the pictures below are taken from the TV itself. Sorry.

The overall view is of key areas listed down the left with content on the right. Home, Prime Video, Movies, TV, Watchlist, Music Library, Games, Apps, Photos and so on. On the whole it’s easy to navigate; select the main content area from the left and then move down through subsections on the right until the desired content or app is visible. The interface is lovely and smooth, especially when scrolling and I never saw any stuttering or glitches. I guess that’s the quad-core processor earning its keep.

Not entirely unexpectedly, the content is heavily Amazon-media centric focussing on Amazon Prime and Instant Video, though it’s not a closed shop, with Netflix and Spotify available for other subscription services, and catch up TV is provided by UK-centric apps for iPlayer and Demand 5, though 4oD and ITV Player are noticeable in their absence. Strangely, STV Player is available which caters for the Scottish part of ITV, so with a Scottish post code much of ITV’s most popular programming can be viewed. There’s a Flixster app for those with UltraViolet DVDs and Blurays.

Home Screen

Video playback was good and clear, especially in HD, whether from Amazon or other apps, such as Netflix or iPlayer. However, the Fire TV does have a trick up its sleeve where it starts to download the video stream in anticipation of playback so the programme starts much faster with far less initial buffering. It only works with Amazon Prime and Instant Video but it’s a neat feature and makes the Fire TV experience more like switching channels on a TV.

Music-wise, the Fire TV offers all the albums and tracks purchased via Amazon, sorted by artist, album, genre etc. The album art is visually attractive and the optical audio out can be used to keep the sound quality as high as possible when connecting to an audio amplifier.

Disappointingly, the Spotify app only offers Spotify Connect functionality which means that a tablet or smartphone is needed to choose what music is to be played. Opinions may differ but I think that’s a bit rubbish and I’d rather see a proper Spotify player which works with the Fire TV on its own.

I tried plugging in a USB stick with some MP3s but I couldn’t figure out how play them so I’ve no idea if it’s possible to play from physical media. There is a Plex client available for those wanting to stream from a PC or NAS, though I didn’t try it out as I don’t have a Plex server.

Fire TV Albums

For folk who upload pictures and photos to Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, naturally the Fire TV can show the snaps on the HDTV and it can also handle personal videos. There’s a nice screensaver that kicks in when the FireTV isn’t in busy and it’s easy to set the screensaver to show photos from the collection.

So far the Fire TV ticks all the boxes for a streaming media player. Movies – check, music – check, photos – check. Where the Fire TV goes to the next level is with apps and games, especially games. The Fire TV can download apps as if it was a smartphone or tablet, but the apps have to be specially prepared by the author for the Fire TV as the user interface is different without a touchscreen. At time of writing, there are over 850 apps for the Fire TV and these can be reviewed on Amazon. There’s approx 8 GB of storage available for apps, though some is already used up by the Fire OS.

Apps and Games

For games, the Fire TV has its own Fire Game Controller for serious gaming action which is purchased separately for a penny under £35. It’s comparably priced to wireless controllers for the PS4 or Xbox but it feels a little overpriced: something closer to £25 would be more in-line with expectations. Purchasers do get a free game, Sev Zero, which is worth £4.99 to sweeten the deal.

Fire TV Games Controller

The Fire Game Controller has the expected collection of analogue sticks, D-pads and shoulder buttons in the standard configuration, with a few extra Fire TV specific buttons. The controller needs to be paired with the Fire TV on first use but after that the game controller can be used alongside the normal remote to control the Fire TV user interface as well as games.

The games selection includes thinking games such as Quell and Machinarium, arcade games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Sonic the Hedgehog and first person action games like GTA and flagship title Sev Zero, which is given free to purchasers of the game controller. Here’s a long-term favourite, Quell, and this can be played with the standard FireTV remote.

Quell

For arcade racers, there’s Asphalt 8: Airborne. It’s fun but the Fire Game Controller is required.

Asphalt 8

Finally, the Fire TV has one innovation that isn’t usually seen on on media players and that’s Voice Search. Simply press the microphone button on the remote, say what you are looking for, confirm the recognition and the Fire TV will look for content. Here I look for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Kids, ask your parents.

Voice Search

It’s both brilliant yet flawed. It’s brilliant because the voice recognition works surprisingly well but it’s flawed because the search only indexes Amazon’s content. Press the Voice Search button and say, “Despicable Me” and it’ll show me all the variants of the film – the original, the sequel, theatrical shorts – all available on Amazon Prime and Instant Video. But what it won’t show me is the Ultraviolet copy I have in Flixster. It would be truly brilliant if all loaded apps could contribute into the search, even the catchup TV services like iPlayer and Demand 5.

That’s it. Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.

Thanks to Amazon for the review Fire TV and Game Controller.