Amazon Fire TV Cube (2019) review: improvements on all sides

Amazon's first Fire TV Cube was really three products in one: a Fire TV streaming device, an Alexa smart speaker and a universal remote control for other devices connected to your TV. It offered the same streaming experience as the other Amazon Fire TVs, but the built-in microphones allowed the Cube to be fully hands-free through voice commands. You could also control cable boxes, sound bars and A / V receivers with the help of integrated IR blasters. But the original Cube lacked Dolby Vision HDR, and finally Amazon launched a cheaper Fire TV Stick 4K than had Dolby Vision for less money, leaving the Cube to do everything in an awkward place.

So, by 2019, Amazon has updated the Fire TV Cube to make it the flagship of the line. It has the same exact design as before, but now it has Dolby Vision, a more powerful processor and faster response times. Amazon is trying to reduce dependence on the Cube in the cloud, with a new "local voice control" function that processes basic commands on the device. And the new Fire TV Cube can still control the components of your home theater system and dim the smart lights when you sit for movie night, all with just your voice.

The Fire TV Cube looks completely unchanged on the outside. It has the same controls as an Echo speaker on the top (with a matte texture) with eight small microphone holes, and is bright everywhere. I understand that Amazon chose this design for the maximum IR signal step, but the thing is still a great dust magnet.

On the back is an HDMI output, power, an input for the included IR extender and a Micro USB port for the Ethernet adapter (also in the box) if you need it. You should use the thin IR extension cable if some of the components of your home theater system are out of sight or inside a cabinet. Unfortunately, Amazon does not yet include an HDMI cable with the $ 120 Fire TV Cube.

Amazon recommends that you place the Cube at least one foot away from any speaker. Even with the loud sound of a Sonos Beam, I discovered that microphones are good enough to capture my voice and the keyword "Alexa" at a normal speech volume.

amazon fire tv cube 2019 review improvements on all sides

Dolby Vision and HDR10 + are new to the second generation Fire TV Cube; The first model only had basic HDR10 support. The HDR transfer worked well on my TCL TV, with the screen automatically recognizing when Dolby Vision or HDR10 content was playing and applying the correct color and expanded brightness settings. With all the main formats now supported, you have many options to stream 4K between Netflix, Prime Video, Vudu and other applications. Like Fire TV, this year's Cube is objectively superior to the original.

But it is still as regular as a universal remote control. Fire TV Cube can control most televisions, receivers and sound bars, in addition to some cable decoders. You are asked to choose your devices during setup, after which Alexa will know the ins and outs of your team. In general, the IR transmitter works well to transmit commands to the components of your home theater system and turn everything on in sync. But for other hardware such as game consoles or Blu-ray players, Alexa can't do much. The Cube will change to the correct HDMI input, but you will be alone. That's all you can really expect from IR issuers, but companies like Caavo are trying to do more with machine learning on the screen.

Still, Alexa feels more receptive this time. Local voice control results in certain basic voice commands running up to four times faster than before, because Cube handles them directly and does not need any help from Amazon servers. The awkward pause after a voice command disappears, but only sometimes.

Local control works for its common functions, such as navigating the UX. You are literally telling Alexa what way to scroll or choose a number to open the application or the content you want to see ("Alexa, play number 5"). Applications like Netflix and Hulu have been optimized for hands-free voice control with these numbers on the screen next to the selections, but that is not true for many other streaming applications. In those cases, it is still better to use Alexa's physical remote. And the Cube will still need to verify with the cloud many commands, even if the basics are now considerably faster.

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Fire TV Cube includes Alexa Voice Remote for when you don't feel like doing everything with your voice.

As for its secondary function as a smart speaker, Fire TV Cube has become a better Alexa speaker thanks to continuous software updates. Now it supports calls, voice messages and the Drop In function, so it is basically on equal terms with an Echo. You can also add the Cube to a multi-room music setup with other Alexa devices. Remember that the Cube always plays music requests through its soundbar or TV speakers; The built-in speaker is fine for Alexa voice responses, but not suitable for much more.

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Amazon says that the Cube now has a hexa-core processor, and the Fire TV interface has felt agile in my time using it so far. But some owners of the original device discovered that it got stuck over time and exhibited an irritating amount of delay, and I haven't had enough time to rule out that possibility. However, Amazon is convinced that Fire TV Cube is now its fastest Fire TV, while Fire TV Stick 4K set the tone before. Then should be more consistent and capable of running Kodi, Plex and other applications without problems.

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The software experience largely coincides with that of other Fire TV devices. All the apps you want are there, and Amazon has finally repaired the YouTube hole that existed last year. YouTube TV is now also available, although Sony's PlayStation Vue receives the preferred treatment among TV streaming services and is integrated directly into Amazon's live guide. , and also directs customers to Prime Channel subscriptions for HBO, Starz, Epix and other networks. But when you search for a specific genre or movie or program, the platform does a good job of showing you everywhere that it can be transmitted. And seeing visual answers for Alexa inquiries (like asking about the weather or looking for nearby restaurants) is a nice touch. But these features are not exclusive to the Cube; They are now part of the Fire TV operating system as a whole.

I think Fire TV Cube makes more sense for people who are just beginning with the Amazon ecosystem. If you already have an Echo Dot in your living room, the Fire TV Stick 4K makes more sense. It offers the same Dolby and HDR support and costs only $ 50. In addition, the Alexa voice remote control included with that device is also capable of controlling your TV and soundbar. Really will want the hands-free powers of the Cube, and its ability to do double work as an Alexa speaker when the TV screen is off, so that the $ 120 is worth it.

Photograph by Chris Welch / The Verge

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