John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Amazon Fire TV mini review

I last reviewed a dual core MyGica android media player. It was good but not good enough. It was slow to scan new content within XBMC, had occasional hiccups on playback etc. Well this time around my friend Johannes who also loaned me the MyGica offered me a chance to play with his Amazon Fire TV. They are not available in Canada right now (hopefully they will eventually be) but you can slip over the border and pick them up for $99.


Physically speaking this is a simple elegant design. Small enough to be not even noticed. On the front there is but one LED. Nothing on either sides. On the back are the HDMI, USB, barrel power plug, wired network plug can optical output. That’s it.
The device is sealed and completely silent. No fans at all. And on playback it really does not get warm at all.

My focus for this device (and this review) is XBMC. I took a brief look at the rest of the Fire TV and it has apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc I didn’t spend time with them. I did notice a lack of a web browser but I’m sure you could side load one.

Since I had this device for only a short time and did not set it up you will need to look elsewhere to see how to load XBMC etc. That was all done when I got it.

The device is fast to power up with a simple display on the screen while it loads. I attached a Logitech wireless Keyboard and it worked perfectly. The keyboard came in handy for setting up my lan shares that all content was played off of. I used the wired network but there is wireless built in as well.

The remote has a nice solid feel in the hand and is very responsive. And looks simple and elegant. The connection for the remote is bluetooth so you don’t need line of sight for the remote to work. Meaning you could completely and easily hide the FireTV. It has a good quality feel. Thus comes the first hiccup of this device. The small number of buttons on the remote. It has a voice search button that is useful only within the FireTV. I did play with it a bit and it worked quite well. Making the lack of a keyboard less painful. The circle gives you the four buttons and the center ok button you need to primarily navigate around XBMC. Back button also becomes quite needed moving around XBMC. The home button is just plain irritating within XBMC because it keeps taking you back to FireTV menus. And to get back takes a few clicks. So every time in the dark that you hit the wrong button (and the remote’s keys are not backlit) it takes a bit to get back where you last left off before you stupidly pressed the wrong key. The menu key allows easy access to delete content once watched (once enabled within XBMC) as well as finding out movie information, or episode information. And the last three forward, back play/pause. That’s it. What is sadly missing is volume controls. To me this is a HUGE over sight. It means you pretty much have to have two remotes. One for your TV/Audio receiver and the FireTVs. And since the remote is Bluetooth (and no IR) you won’t be remapping a Logitech Harmony to work with the FireTV. Amazon have locked down bluetooth to only there own remotes and game controllers so this isn`t an option either. USB remotes might work if you can find one that the fire support.

Navigating with this remote (qualms aside) is smooth and painless within XBMC. The quad core processor in this puppy really shine through. I was shocked how smooth it was.

Initial scan of my 1TB movie collection took about half an hour but I interrupted it and it restarted so in reality less than that. On my core i5 that takes about 12 mins, and took over 2 hours on the MyGica. So the quad core process really does make a BIG difference (the MyGica as you may recall is a dual core).

Initial Scan of my 252GB of tv shows took about 5 mins. That takes 2.5 mins on my Core i5 and about 5 mins on the MyGica.

Cleaning of the database was a little slow as well but all in all this is acceptable to me. You rarely do a full rescan.

The FireTV outputs to both HDMI and optical all the time making it easy to switch between possible audio outputs.

The power adapter is reasonably small and connects to the fire with a round power cord. The adapter says 16W on it and in the fine print it says it is 6.25V/2.5A. For reference the MyGica was 18W and my Core I5 sucks back about 65 watts. So this device is quite low power and you can see why it does not need a fan to keep it cool!

Movie playback was very good on XBMC 13. I could see nothing to complain about. No hiccups, audio was also perfect. This is a device I could live with for sure.

Once setup there was absolutely no need for a keyboard or mouse within XBMC.

I tried plugging in a Windows media center remote, my personal fav, and sadly it was completely ignored.

Power management of the FireTV itself worked fine, coming in and out of standby quickly, but for some reason my HDMI monitor did not go into low power mode. It just stayed on. Perhaps there might have been a setting to fix that. I ran out of time. The way XBMC had been loaded every time the FireTV came out of low power I manually had to restart XBMC which was clumsy. Oddly there is no power switch on the FireTV, no power button on the remote or any menu item to power off or put the FireTV into standby. Odd. But given the low amount of power it consumes not the end of the day.

Under the covers FireTV is Android. And this device, hands down is the best Android XBMC experience I have seen. With some work to better integrate XBMC and if you could remap that silly home button I could very happily live on this media player and retire my PC as a playback device. All in all for the price this is a VERY impressive device.

June 20, 2014 - Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews

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