Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max review 2022

The tech industry sure has put a lot of hype behind descriptors like “max” over the last few years. So when Amazon announced the $54.99 Fire TV Stick 4K Max last month, I couldn’t help but cringe at the idea of a streaming device picking up that kind of branding. What could max possibly mean in this context? It’s got nothing to do with the physical design; the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is visually indistinguishable from the existing Fire TV Stick 4K. And the two products go tit for tat in their core video and audio streaming features despite the older model often being discounted; at the time of this review, the regular Fire TV Stick 4K is on sale for $33.99.

In this case, “max” is actually about the smaller things. The new stick is 40 percent more powerful than the standard version, which results in apps launching faster and navigation that feels noticeably more fluid and free of stutters or lag. There’s more RAM inside so you don’t have to wait for apps to completely reload as often. Amazon has upgraded the Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi 6 for better wireless streaming performance — assuming you’ve got a router that can take advantage of it. And you also get a newer Alexa voice remote in the box with app shortcuts and a handy shortcut to live TV programming.

Price and release date

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max dropped on October 7, 2021 and is retailing for $55 / £55 / AU$99. That’s just a few bucks more than the older Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, and you’re getting a big boost in performance as well as the Wi-Fi 6 antenna.

Price and release date
Price and release date

Speaking of Roku and Google, it’s worth noting that there are rival devices to the 4K Max that offer a lot of the same functionality – namely, the Chromecast with Google TV and new Roku Streaming Stick 4K (2021). Both support Dolby Vision HDR and many of the same services, however neither has access to Luna. All three are great for different types of customers, so it’s worth visiting all three reviews before you make a decision.

One-minute review

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max pushes the streaming stick form factor to its apex, offering faster performance and support for the latest Wi-Fi standards.

That said, while a lot of work has clearly been done under the hood, the user interface for Amazon’s latest streamer remains the same as in previous years and focuses broadly on Amazon’s key streaming service, Amazon Prime Video. That last bit makes it a great streaming stick for Amazon Prime members, but a rather lousy one if you don’t want to shell out for Amazon’s all-in-one subscription service.

One-minute review
One-minute review

The good news is that video streaming is only half of what a Fire Stick can do. It’s also able to keep track of your smart home devices and supports Amazon’s Luna game streaming service – making it a great rival to Google’s excellent Chromecast with Google TV. TikTok is now available on Amazon’s Fire Sticks, too, if scrolling through endless dance content is your thing.

It’s not absolutely flawless and the limited advertising might annoy some folks, but for anyone who loves Alexa, shops with Prime and is interested in Amazon’s experiment in game streaming, the affordable Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a triple threat.

A speed boost

Amazon touts the processor speed upgrade as one of the big reasons why this streaming stick warrants the “Max” name. And in using the device over the past few days, I can report that it is, indeed, really fast.

A speed boost
A speed boost

Opening and switching between apps were among the quickest I’ve ever encountered on a streaming stick. It’s not always instantaneous, particularly if you haven’t opened an app in a few hours, but for the most part, everything from Netflix and Prime Video to Disney Plus, HBO Max and YouTube TV opened quickly.

There were a few instances where the screen would go black for longer than I expected, however. And using Alexa to bounce back into YouTube TV sometimes required grabbing the remote and restarting the stream.

Speed and picture quality

One of the most noticeable differences between the 4K Max and the 4K stick is speed: Amazon claims that the former is “40 times more powerful” than the latter “with faster app starts and more fluid navigation.” The 4K Max stick is adept at switching between apps, such as Netflix to Hulu, Apple TV+ to Disney+; it was practically seamless when I used voice control with Alexa. The Amazon voice assistant also worked fast when I asked it to play a show on Netflix or a movie on Prime Video.

Speed and picture quality
Speed and picture quality

The 4K Max stick’s streaming quality provides crisp, stellar definition within seconds of loading a new show. With episodes or movies that start with production credits, I barely noticed any blurry pixels or dull colors while it was rendering. The streamer automatically adjusts to support Dolby Vision and Atmos content where available, so you’re getting the best picture and sound quality possible, too. I streamed Chef’s Table and Hawkeye, and both were crystal clear. It was especially enjoyable to watch a show like Chef’s Table, which features both shots lit by natural, soft lighting and close-ups that show the rich, vibrant colors of the fresh ingredients in the kitchen.

Voice control

Another enticing feature to the Fire TV stick family is its ability to connect to Alexa and use voice control, and by most measures, that performance carries over to the 4K Max. It’s fast and quickly caught on to my demands without a long loading period. I asked Alexa to play Ted Lasso, and it automatically pulled up the Apple TV+ app right to the show’s page. Yet if you want Alexa to play something that isn’t available on streaming services and requires you to rent or buy it, it’ll automatically take you to Prime Video’s shopping page instead of a platform where you potentially have rented or purchased a movie or TV show. (For example, I had already rented Spider-Man: Far From Home from the Apple iTunes store separately and, therefore, the movie was available on Apple TV+ for me.)

Voice control
Voice control

Alexa also fell short in answering my questions when playing movies and shows. Although the Amazon Prime Video X-Ray feature that shows you cast and crew information, trivia, and scene secrets is a fun bonus for viewers, it’s less accurate when you ask Alexa about them. When I first set up my Fire TV stick, the device prompted me to ask, “Who’s that actor” while I was watching Spider-Man: Far From Home. Instead of telling me Tom Holland, Alexa pulled up a nonsensical answer I’d expect to get if I searched “Who’s that actor?” on Google with no context. Even when I tested it further and asked, “Alexa, who’s the director of this movie?” while streaming When Harry Met Sally on Prime Video, Alexa told me instead that “according to Wikipedia, Us is directed by Jordan Peele” — completely misinterpreting the question.

Maximum 4K HDR format, Wi-Fi support

The Max works with just about every major audio and video format out there. TV shows and movies available in 4K and/or Dolby Vision played back with no issues on my TCL 6-Series TV. Since that TV lacks HDR10+ support, and my Sonos Beam soundbar similarly does not include Dolby Atmos, I was unable to test either of those features. As we’ve written in the past, while it’s nice that Amazon supports all of these formats we don’t consider Dolby Vision or HDR10+ a must-have, in part because it’s not a major image quality upgrade over standard HDR.

Maximum 4K HDR format, Wi-Fi support
Maximum 4K HDR format, Wi-Fi support

Annoyingly, Amazon sticks a 4K icon on seemingly anything that is available in 4K, even if you have to pay for it. For example, scrolling through the home screen I saw a 4K icon next to Despicable Me 2. The animated film is available in the higher resolution, but only if you are willing to rent it or buy it from Amazon. Streaming for free through Amazon’s IMDb TV will be in HD.

For those in a more crowded household, Wi-Fi 6 support could be nice if you have already upgraded or are planning to update your Wi-Fi router in the near future. The limited space in my New York apartment did not provide a great venue for testing the bandwidth improvements, but I experienced no problems streaming from an older Eero router in the same room.

As with most streaming sticks, you can power the device using either the included wall adapter or (if your TV supports it) plugging the USB power cable directly into your television. Whereas some devices, including the Fire TV Stick 4K, flash warnings when using USB power, I had no issues running the device from the USB port on my TV.

Features

Once you’ve found either a USB port with enough power output to charge the device or a wall outlet to plug the Fire TV 4K Max into, you’ll boot it up to find a familiar log-in screen asking you for your Amazon account information and a preference on which apps you’d like installed. So long as you have that information handy, setup should just take a few minutes.

Features
Features

Once it’s complete you’ll see the main user interface for Fire TV that’s separated into three tabs – Home, Find and Live – with a revolving top row of featured shows and movies curated by Amazon as well as some ads. Having ads on the home screen is annoying, especially considering the first row of apps under the Home section are also sponsored picks.

Performance

So how well does it work? Pretty darn well. Out of the box, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers 4K HDR streaming – plus Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and Dolby Atmos support. That’s pretty much every cutting-edge format we know about today minus a few of the outliers, giving you a crisp, colorful experience.

Performance
Performance

To test out what 4K HDR content looked like, we watched a few episodes of the newly released All or Nothing season following the Toronto Maple Leafs. Contrast looked exceptional on our 75-inch Hisense test TV with good highlights and black levels, as did color saturation and sharpness. Admittedly, it did take a few seconds to reach maximum resolution after playback started, but when it got there it was as good as we’ve seen Amazon Prime Video look on a 4K TV.

In fact the only annoying part of the experience doesn’t occur when you go to play content – it happens when you’re previewing it on the home screen. There, in the upper-right corner of the screen, is a very low-resolution sample of the content you’re about to watch. Seeing that on a 4K streamer is a little disconcerting, especially one packing as much power as the 4K Max.

Verdict

You could argue that the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is only worth buying if you need the specific features it offers over the older 4K version. But you’re not really saving much money and the extra performance is well worth having even if you don’t care about Wi-Fi 6, getting Dolby Atmos from Netflix or the support for AV1.

Ultimately, it’s a great streaming device which gives you access to all the streaming services you would want at a decent price – and one that’s much less than a Fire TV Cube.

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