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Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Review

Verdict

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An excellent streamer and the best Fire TV Stick yet, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers plenty of entertainment options, the super-helpful Alexa companion and terrific streaming performance – although Prime customers are best placed to reap the best performance.

Pros

  • Excellent streaming performance
  • UI speed improved over older models
  • Bundle of entertainment apps
  • Supports all major HDR formats
  • Wi-Fi 6 compatible

Cons

  • Prime customers best served to get the most from it
  • Some might not dig the amount of ads
  • No High-res audio support
  • £5 more expensive than standard Fire TV 4K

Availability

  • UKRRP: £54.99
  • USARRP: $54.99
  • EuropeRRP: €64.99
  • CanadaRRP: CA$74.99
  • AustraliaRRP: AU$99.00

Key Features

  • HDRSupports Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG
  • Alexa Voice remoteAsk Alexa to find content
  • Wi-FiSupports next-gen Wi-Fi 6

Introduction

Look up the definition of the word “max” and it’s described as “a maximum amount or setting”. Rifle through associated synonyms and “ultimate”, “apex”, and “unsurpassable” crop up.

Adding the word “max” to a product name suggests it’s the best you can get, something that will fulfil your every need. With so many products adding “max” to their names, consumers should be feeling quite fulfilled now. At least you’d think so…

Amazon slapping the “Max” designation onto its latest 4K Fire TV Stick gives the impression we’ve hit the apex of its streaming sticks. Is the Fire TV Stick 4K Max the latest and greatest streaming offering then?

Design

  • Bigger than before
  • Still anonymous looking
  • Updated 2021 Alexa remote

At first glance the Fire TV Stick 4K Max resembles every other recent Fire TV Stick. It’s black, rectangular in shape, with the Amazon logo stamped on it and a HDMI port. I can understand the lack of visual appeal given it will spend its time behind your TV; why bother with colour if no-one will see it?

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max plugged in

It’s a bit chunkier than previous Fire TV Sticks, but the added girth isn’t an issue since the HDMI extender extricates it from any cabling issues. I’d also say keep an extension cable close by for power unless you want to use a USB port. Most don’t have the juice to power the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.

The Alexa remote comes with more buttons and a dash of colour. There’s the standard circular D-pad for navigation, volume and playback buttons, and the Alexa voice button sports more obvious branding. There’s also the addition of Prime Video (of course), Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Music hot keys.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max hot keys remote

And since this is the more advanced Alexa remote, it’s possible to control a TV’s power and volume or any connected sound system. Or you could use your TV’s own remote to control the Fire TV Stick 4K Max instead.

The addition of a button for accessing live TV does make for a busier layout than before, but I do like how the remote feels in the hand. It’s lightweight, and the snappy button presses and layout makes for a simplistic experience.

Interface and Apps

  • Nippy interface
  • Focus on Amazon content ahead of others
  • Watch List inexplicably hidden away (but will likely change in forthcoming update)

The Fire TV 4K Max has the all-new Fire TV Experience that launched in 2020. Some will bemoan the degree of Amazon-centric content – and they’d be right to do so; the carousel can be very Prime Video or (the terribly named) Freevee-centric, but there is a nod to other apps to help highlight/promote recent content.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Home screen

There are more than a few rows to slink down before recommendations for iPlayer and Netflix appear, although their placement seems to shift with regularity. As a revamp of the previous interface, it’s more visually interesting – if broken up with more ads – but a benefit of the reorder is that access to apps is quicker than before.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Netflix recommends

Dive to the top of the UI to the group of squares with a “+” sign and it’s from there that you can customise the app row that appears on the Home screen, view other downloaded apps, or find more in the App store. Select the apps you want in one of the bundle sections and you can conveniently download them all at once.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max itv hub

There’s a huge number of apps with Netflix, Disney+, Now, discovery+, Apple TV+, Starz Play and YouTube for video, along with the main UK catch-up/on-demand apps. Sport offers BT Sport, UFC, NFL, Eurosport, Box Nation, F1 TV and WWE, while for music there’s Spotify, Tidal, BBC Sounds, Deezer and ROXi. Whatever angle you come at the Fire TV – news, fitness, kids – there’s plenty to fill up on.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max apps

Other icons towards the top of the Home screen includes your Profile (Fire TV allows for up to six) and Find – which shows a breakdown of the categories and genres, with lists of recommendations and trending content. Most of the recommendations look terrible. I’ve no interest in watching Mrs Brown’s Boys D’ Movie, do you?

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max search

Before this review went up, Amazon tweaked the UI again. Previously, the Library (your Watch List titles) was buried in the Find tab, which made it more difficult to find titles you had highlighted. It’s been brought back to the home page with My Stuff (a bookmark logo). However, this change hadn’t surfaced on the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, but it had filtered through on the Fire TV Cube. Like Sky’s Playlist, Google’s Watchlist or Roku’s Save list, you can add content from other apps by searching for the title first and adding it.

The Live tab is an EPG in the vein of Samsung’s TV Plus, although there are a fewer number of live and on-demand channels. There’s the Red Bull Channel, My5, 5USA, 5Star, 5Action, 5USA, with the option of adding Prime Video channels such as the Eurosport player. Despite the appearance of iPlayer, All 4 and ITV Hub apps, they’re not directly integrated into the EPG.

If, like me, you’re frequently surprised when you land on a title and a trailer unexpectedly plays, the auto-play feature can be turned off in the settings. Other Amazon-centred features include Live Picture-in-Picture where you can check your smart camera without stopping what you are watching (the first Fire TV Stick to get this feature); integration with Ring doorbell, Echo speakers and Hive thermostat.

Performance

  • Great audio/visual performance
  • Slick streaming
  • No high-res support

Streaming sticks don’t necessarily add much to proceedings, but through various means they can make things slightly worse. The Fire TV 4K Max, like any other streaming stick, is as good as the equipment you have. Better TV, sound system and Wi-Fi will mean better performance. Not so good TV, sound system and Wi-Fi; then expect it to be not so great.

Like the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, Amazon’s stick has Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG to ensure the Fire TV Stick 4K Max allows your TV the best chance of optimising what you’re watching.

And video streaming looks flawless, much like its Roku rival. West Side Story in Dolby Vision on Disney+ looked fantastically colourful, with good detail and strong blacks on a 65-inch Sony OLED (although for sharpness and overall detail, the 4K Blu-ray wins out).

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max West Wide Story Disney

The early dance hall sequence between the Jets and Sharks dazzles with the array of colours, the Dolby Vision enhancement accentuates the colours for a richer performance and precise brightness. The Queens tennis tournament in 4K HLG on iPlayer was a big step up from the HD stream, with punchier whites and, not surprisingly, greener grass. If you have a capable TV, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max certainly makes the most of it.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Tennis iPlayer

An HD stream of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix, performance was seamless, with no buffering issues, slowdown or any noticeable visual artefacts watching the show. Scanning through an episode and pressing play, the 4K Max loaded and buffered the stream swiftly, and visual fidelity looked spot-on in terms of colours and detail.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Black levels hold up well in some of the darker scenes in series three of Mr Robot (Prime Video) and The Witch (Netflix), which is better than the Strong Leap-S1 streamer managed. However, the Fire TV Stick wasn’t flawless: there’s some compression of blacks in the background of an interrogation scene. The Fire TV Cube boasted a better performance in this respect.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Mr Robot

On the audio front the Fire TV Stick 4K Max delivers a better performance than the Roku Streaming Stick 4K. Amazon’s stick produced a more nuanced, detailed performance, and doesn’t go as big on the bass – which I preferred; with the Roku, the bass started to dominate proceedings. In my opinion, the Fire TV Cube offers the best bass performance of the lot.

With music, too, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max edges ahead of the Roku, finding more clarity at the top-end when listening to Tidal for a more dynamic performance (you also get Atmos and Tidal Master support for Tidal music). A disappointment is that this Fire TV Stick is only capable of playing up to 16-bit/192kHz (same as the Fire TV Cube), which means it can’t natively play the 24-bit content from Amazon Music’s Ultra HD tracks. In most cases, Ultra HD tracks play in lossless 16-bit FLAC.

The big upgrade over previous sticks is the speed of the UI. The Fire TV 4K Max’s extra processing capabilities are put to good effect with navigation through the Alexa remote the streaming equivalent of the Enterprise charting the final frontier at warp speed. It makes the HD Fire TV Stick operation sluggish by comparison.

And then there’s Alexa, who can understand even your most hushed queries and mumbles. Like other Fire TV Sticks, if you’re know what you’re looking for then it’s often quicker and more convenient to ask her than find your way through the menus. The Fire TV interface is always prompting with potential queries, likely because it wants to gobble up more information about your search habits.

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Should you buy it?

If you’re a Prime customer This is an obvious choice for Prime customers, bringing plenty of entertainment options to the tip of your fingers, or at the beck and call of your voice with Alexa integration.

If you’re not a Prime customer Unless you’re interested in becoming a Prime customer to get the most out of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max, similar level of performance on offer from Roku – as well as fewer ads.

Final Thoughts

The best Fire TV Stick yet? Absolutely, the difference between it and the Fire TV Stick 4K is not huge, but for an extra £5 there’s Wi-Fi 6, a slightly faster processor, more storage and the Live Picture-in-Picture feature, which may be enough for some to plump the premium stick.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a slick, well-featured streamer with excellent search capabilities in Alexa, and what feels like more entertainment apps than any other stick. If we’re talking performance, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max edges the Roku Streaming Stick 4K, especially with audio. In terms of the interface, the Roku is more platform agnostic whereas Amazon is, well, about Amazon – and quite a few ads, too.

If you’re a Prime customer then there’s no other streamer worth considering. If you’re not a Prime customer, you’ll want to have a think before you dive in.

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FAQs

Do I need a Wi-Fi 6 router for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max?

No, you don’t need a Wi-Fi 6 router for the Fire TV Stick 4K Max; but if you do have a Wi-Fi 6 router then you’ll get faster streaming performance.

What’s the difference between the Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Stick 4K Max?

It’s a £5 price difference and the Fire TV Stick 4K Max supports Wi-Fi 6.

Full specs

UK RRP
USA RRP
EU RRP
CA RRP
AUD RRP
Manufacturer
Size (Dimensions)
Weight
ASIN
Operating System
Release Date
Resolution
HDR
Ports
Connectivity
Colours
Audio Formats
Remote Control
Smart assistants

Jargon buster

Alexa

Amazon's smart voice assistant

HDR

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and refers to contrast (or difference) between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. HDR content preserves details in the darkest and brightest areas of a picture, details that are often lost in old imaging standards. HDR10 is mandated to be included on all HDR TVs. It’s also supported by 4K projectors.

4K Ultra HD TV

4K (or Ultra HD) refers to the resolution of a TV’s display, which equates to the number of horizontal and vertical pixels that it can display. 4K TVs have a resolution of 3840 x 2160 (8.3 million pixels), which is four times that of a Full HD TV. With more pixels, you get a sharper, clearer picture than is possible from an equivalent sized 1080p display.

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