Amazon's Fire TV is here but how does it compare to the Apple TV?
Fire TV is Amazon's answer to the Apple TV, and to other options like the Roku 3 and the Google Chromecast. Fire TV brings Amazon Instant Video, Showtime Anytime, and tons of games to your big screen TV. Of course it won't play iTunes content, which means anything you've bought on your iPhone or iPad is of no help to you. If you're not big on iTunes, or if you just want to try something new, could the Fire TV be a better choice?
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Hardware design and initial setup
When I first unboxed the Fire TV I was surprised by the small size and the sleek form factor. It's slightly larger than the Apple TV but it's thinner. There's no denying it's a nice looking streaming box. The small size also means that it won't take up very much room at all in your media cabinet. Just plug in the power cord and an HDMI cable and you're ready to go. The setup process and experience is exactly the same with the Apple TV. Plug in two cables and you're done.
Both boxes are extremely easy to set up and take up next to no space in your entertainment center.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Remote control
How you navigate around a streaming box is extremely important and for most of people, that will be done with the remote control that's in the box. I personally detest the Apple TV remote as it manages to slide its way into every couch cushion or blanket it can find. The results are a living room turned upside down. At the end of the day though, it's simple to use. There are also tons of remote shortcuts to be had on the Apple TV that are useful and help you navigate around quickly. We also can't forget about the Remote app, which makes text entry and gesture navigation a breeze.
On the flip side, the Amazon Fire TV remote is thicker than the Apple TV remote, which I find to be a welcome change. Not only does it not slide into couch cushions as easily, it's a lot more comfortable to hold. The flagship feature of the Fire TV remote is no doubt the voice control feature that lets you simply speak what you're looking for. Amazon then beams your request to the cloud and returns in just seconds with relevant results. You can say the name of a show, a movie, an actor, and much more. Want to view all movies with Christian Bale in them? No problem, just say his name and everything the Fire TV can serve up populates. The only down side is that it can't currently pull up anything not within the Amazon network. That means even if you're signed into Netflix and Hulu Plus, voice search won't populate results for them, you'll still have to search for those manually within each respective app.
Both remotes are easy to learn and use, but the Fire TV remote has more options out of the box without needing an additional app, although one would be appreciated for faster text entry.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Interface and design
The Apple TV functions as a list of app icons that you can customize within settings. The top row of of icons stays static and contains quick access to iTunes rentals and purchases for both television and movies, iTunes Radio, and music and media from any networked computers in your home, through iTunes of course. Any of the other icons can be moved around to any position you'd like or hidden. Anyone familiar with iOS will be familiar with the Apple TV interface.
The Fire TV uses a vertical menu with sections of featured content off to the right. You can quickly search for things with voice control or type in queries. Scrolling up and down brings up content in each section. The interface is simple and always keeps content as your main focus. The quad-core processor really lets you fly through menus quickly. Sometimes while navigating on my Apple TV I've experienced lag. The Fire TV keeps pace nicely which is an extremely welcome change.
The Apple TV is due for an update in the software department. For me, the Fire TV was a welcome breath of fresh air.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Movies and TV
Both iTunes and Amazon have a huge selection of television and movies to choose from. Which one is best suited for you really depends on what content you watch and what ecosystem you want to commit yourself to. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, you may find that Amazon typically has movies available before iTunes does. I've been pleasantly surprised to find new titles available to stream for free on Amazon Instant.
On the flip side, if you've been buying content from iTunes for years, the Apple TV is the only place you're going to have access to iTunes in the Cloud. All your purchased content is right at your fingertips. If you have iPhones, iPads, and Macs in your home, everything is available everywhere.
Both systems serve up movies and tv like champs, it really just depends on what merchant you want to buy into, Amazon Prime or iTunes.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Music
The Apple TV offers access to iTunes Radio and all your iTunes Match content. You can also listen to hundreds of radio stations. If you own an iPhone or iPad, you can also AirPlay content right to your Apple TV from virtually any service on the planet.
The Fire TV offers integration with Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, VEVO, and more right out of the gate. Considering the Fire TV has only just launched, I can imagine more streaming services are most likely soon to follow. Until that time though, it's hard to beat iTunes integration. I'm scratching my head a little that Amazon's own music service isn't integrated right off the bat.
Due to native iTunes integration and AirPlay support, the Apple TV supports the most amount of services as a whole.
Winner: Apple TV.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Apps
The Apple TV has what apps Apple gives you out of the box. Sporadically Apple will form new partnerships and new apps and stations appear what feels like overnight. While the list has gotten quite extensive, the Amazon Fire TV is putting up a pretty good fight. At launch there are hundreds of apps already available with Amazon promising even more in the near future. Fire TV apps are essentially Android apps that are scaled to fit your tv, but in any case, they look and work great in our experience thus far.
We also can't forget about Amazon Coins, which can earn you free content based on past purchases. Certain apps and games you purchase will earn you Amazon Coins. You can then use them towards the purchase of other apps and games. It's actually a pretty awesome way to earn legitimately free stuff. And who doesn't like that?
Apple may win the app war on mobile devices, but Amazon's currently winning it on streaming media boxes.
Winner: Amazon Fire TV.
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Gaming
The Amazon Fire TV launched alongside a dedicated gaming controller. There's quite a few games to choose from right at launch with more to come. All of them don't need the gaming controller either and can be played using the regular remote that comes with the Fire TV. I don't think Amazon is going to give Xbox a run for its money any day soon, but if you're a casual gamer, the Fire TV is a very realistic option.
The Apple TV — rumors of an app/game SDK aside — doesn't offer any games out of the box. However, if you own an iPhone or iPad, any game you want to play on the big screen is only a few AirPlay away.
If we're talking out of the box support with no additional hardware needed, the Fire TV is a better bet. However, if you own a ton of iOS games already, AirPlay lets you effortlessly take advantage of your television's screen real estate through your Apple TV.
Winner: Amazon. (But, AirPlay.)
Fire TV vs. Apple TV: Accessibility
The Apple TV has great accessibility options. One of the best is VoiceOver and for the most part, it's unmatched on virtually every platform, streaming box or not. You can enable a remote shortcut so it can easily be toggled on and off in just two taps. Each menu is audibly spoken while VoiceOver is enabled. It makes the Apple TV completely useable by someone with severe visual impairments.
The Amazon Fire TV didn't have any advanced accessibility options I could find. While both boxes provide closed captioning where provided, I couldn't find anything that would cater to visually impaired individuals. If that's an issue, the Amazon Fire TV isn't currently a great choice.
Winner: Apple TV.
Who should buy an Apple TV?
The Apple TV is due for an update soon but that doesn't mean it isn't still relevant in the world of streaming boxes. Anyone who is heavily tied into the Apple ecosystem will no doubt prefer many of its features over the competition. iTunes Match, iTunes Radio, and iTunes in the Cloud are readily available on the Apple TV. AirPlay fans that own iPhones and iPads will most likely prefer it as well since virtually anything can be mirrored to it. It's also the best option for anyone with visual impairments due to extensive VoiceOver support.
If you already own tons of other Apple products and regularly purchase or subscribe to iTunes services, the Apple TV will be the most welcome choice in your home.
- $99 - Buy Now
Who should buy an Amazon Fire TV?
Anyone who subscribes to Amazon Prime, owns a Kindle Fire or other Amazon handheld device will no doubt love the Amazon Fire TV. For the new kid on the block, it has a lot to offer. Amazon has managed to get a lot of content together for launch and promises more apps and games are coming soon. If you aren't hooked into the Apple ecosystem and value fresh, new content over iTunes integration, the Amazon Fire TV will be a great addition to your entertainment system.
Who should buy both?
At only $99, buying both boxes isn't out of the question for a lot of households. If you can afford it, having the best of both worlds is always the best option. Perhaps you buy content in iTunes but also subscribe to Amazon Prime for deals on shipping. That means you've already got access to Amazon Instant Video. If you're a bargain shopper and want to pay the lowest prices on movies and tv shows, having both enables you to always do just that.
What did you choose? Apple TV, Fire TV, or something else?
The Apple TV and Fire TV are certainly not alone in the world of streaming boxes. We can't forget about the Google Chromecast, Roku 3, and many others. If you've picked up a streaming box, which one did you go with and why? Let me know in the comments!