Comparing Fire TV to Android TV

Having recently played with Amazon and Google’s TV devices, I believe both work great and complement each other well. There’s overlap, but also a lot of unique and useful features of both makes a good case for going with both devices if you want access to a wide catalogue. Here’s a quick run-down.

Caveats:

  • The Android TV was a Google IO giveaway, I think basically a Nexus Player, but may be some slight differences.
  • The Amazon device is a Fire TV Stick. You might say a fairer comparison is the “Fire TV”, i.e. the console and not the HDMI stick, the latter of which seems more like a Chromecast unit. But in reality, the Fire TV Stick is more like a full-blown console in a stick. It’s less gruntier than its console counterpart, which may impact on some games, and the remote doesn’t do voice. But the core features are basically the same afaict.
  • I’m focusing on video apps here and leaving aside games, audio, etc.

Both:

  • Make video on TV easy. It’s hugely convenient to browse directly on the TV and just hit play. (There are some interesting pros and cons of built-in TV apps compared to the Chromecast model, but I’ll ignore those here.)
  • Run third-party apps including, most importantly, Netflix, as well as some other video apps on both. The apps on both are limited so far to specific partners, but both have some good apps for audio, photo slideshows, utilities, and so on.
  • Ship with good, dedicated, remote controls. This is nicer than having to use your phone or a big keyboard. (I never understood how Google TV thought the keyboard remove was a good idea outside of a lab.)
  • Have nice, fast, UI. They boot quickly (not Chromebook-quickly, but not PC-slow) and respond to remote control interactions without visible lag.
  • Let you move between phone and TV, with native Android and iOS apps available for video streaming. (Amazon access on Android devices has been a problem in the past, but I found since joining Prime and installing Amazon app, I can play video fine on a Kitkat device.)

Unique features/benefits (relative to Amazon Fire) of Android TV:

  • Cards interface and search unify content and recommendations across apps. The recommendations are actually valid.
  • Sideload APKs. I haven’t experimented with this, but it’s possible to send apps to Android TV using Play’s web interface and some messing around. Some supposedly work well so you can use them even if there’s no dedicated TV app.
  • YouTube app works well and it’s really the first time I’ve spent any time “surfing” YouTube or bothering to setup subscriptions and so on. Note that YouTube is also available on Fire, though it’s a specialised web UI. The UI is surprisingly-well optimised for the big-screen experience and remote but still not as slick or performant as the native Android TV app.
  • Acts as a Chromecast, opening up the TV to a lot more apps.
  • Access to Play TV and Movies catalogue.

Unique features/benefits (relative to Android TV) of Amazon Fire:

  • Amazon Prime. This is the standout feature and makes the content an all-you-can-eat rental plans along the lines of Netflix. The actual content (in UK) I’ve found to be good too, fairly comparable to Netflix and with a lot of shows not available there. (Some of those shows may be available on Netflix US, but not Netflix UK, e.g. Mad Men.)
  • Access to Amazon’s streaming movie and TV catalogue. This is a separate point to Prime as it’s also possible to buy some titles that are not in Prime. On-demand rentals and purchases is the best of both worlds – the all-you-can-eat model of Netflix with the purchase model of Google Play.
  • Cheap! The Fire TV Stick is just $39 compared to $95 for the Nexus Player.
  • Portable. Similar to Chromecast, being a stick means it takes up less space and it’s easy to travel with one for instant hotel entertainment.

Overall I’m happy with both devices and looking forward to their next round of updates later this year. After a series of false starts, TV is finally possible online without fiddling on a keyboard in the living room and running cables to the PC.

Did I miss anything? Please post comments here.

Fatty watching himself on TV

(CC image by Cloudzilla)

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