Fire TV Stick 4K Max Review: Worth The Wait

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Fire TV fans have been waiting a while for a successor to the three-year-old Fire TV Stick 4K. But the wait is finally over: Amazon’s latest streamer is here and it’s called the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.

We wanted to try out the company’s newest streaming device, so Amazon sent over a Max for free. That said, we’re under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Our opinions remain 100% our own.

In any case, the outside of the new Max looks broadly similar to the previous Fire TV Stick 4K. But Amazon’s promising some significant improvements under the hood.

There’s also a slight price increase over the previous Fire TV Stick 4K: $54.99, up from the $49.99 of the older 4K. So let’s see if the new Max is worth the upgrade.

(Editor’s Note: This review is based on our full video review, which you can check out at the embedded link below.)

Hardware and Features

On the hardware front, the Max offers up some notable internal changes, including an upgraded CPU and GPU — both of which are running at higher clock speeds compared to the Fire TV Stick 4K. You also get an increase in RAM, from 1.5GB to a full 2GB in the Max.

As for connectivity, there’s support for the newer WiFi 6 standard, also known as 802.11ax on board. Meanwhile, the older Fire TV Stick models, including the 1080p Fire TV Stick and Fire TV Stick Lite, are still packing the older WiFi 5, or 802.11ac, standard.

A chart of hardware specs for Fire TV Stick devices.

WiFi 6 offers potentially faster connection speeds and more bandwidth, which could be handy in homes with a lot of networked devices. It’s worth noting, though, you’ll need a WiFi 6-compatible router to make the most of the new tech.

Compared to some of the most well-known competitors in the $50-or-so market, the new Max holds up well. In addition to that WiFi 6 support, Amazon’s latest also offers Dolby Atmos processing, where other streaming devices in this price bracket often only offer support via HDMI pass-through.

Setup and Performance

A Fire TV Stick family portrait

The packaging for the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max certainly maintains the line’s overall look. Though there is a distinct bit of black trim up top to help Amazon’s top-end Fire TV Stick stand out.

Inside, you’ll find a slide-out, paper tray housing all the components in various compartments. The Max itself is up top, along with a USB power cord and an Alexa Voice remote. Over on the side is the charger and batteries for the remote. 

The package also includes some compact setup instructions and an HDMI extension cable, which can be useful if you need a little bit more room when installing your device.

As for that installation, it’s a streamlined process similar to other stick-style or dongle-style streaming devices. With the HDMI connection built right in, all you’ll need to do is insert the Max in an available input on your TV, connect the power cable, and off you go to software setup.

The software side of setup is straightforward as well. After you pair the included remote and select an available WiFi network, the Max will check for available updates and install any it comes across. And then, after a restart, you can continue with the setup process.

You’ll be presented with options like importing settings from a previous Fire TV device or enabling parental controls. And you’ll also see offers for services like Amazon’s Kids+, or the option to install a variety of streaming apps. Thankfully, you skip past all those and head into using your Max for the first time.

For those of you unfamiliar with the current Fire TV interface, here’s a quick recap. The main navigation bar starts in the middle, with content tiles for various categories and suggestions below it. If you navigate downward, those tiles take up more of the screen, letting you see more of what’s available. 

Above that menu bar, you’ll see featured suggested content, teasers, and perhaps ads for Amazon’s streaming gear.

In everyday use, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max excels. Amazon revamped its user interface late last year and the update rolled out to various devices throughout early 2021. (And you can check out our earlier video for a quick refresher on the user experience.)

Scrolling through menus is generally smooth and navigating to different sections of the platform is responsive overall. It’s not exactly lightning fast, but it is impressive considering the $54.99 price tag. We scrolled through live streaming grids like the one in the Pluto TV app and the Max didn’t complain.

However, after pressing the home button to move from Pluto TV back to the home menu, it did take a little while to fully load those Fire OS content tiles back up and for the audio from the Pluto TV app to cut out. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but it does serve as a reminder that we’re still dealing with a midrange streaming device — at least from a pricing standpoint.

Over the course of our testing, we tried out a variety of content, including 4K Dolby Vision titles and the device performed without a hitch.

Unfortunately, we don’t have access to a WiFi 6 router at the moment to test the Max’s support of the latest wireless standards, but it worked with our WiFi 5-era setup just fine, even from across the house.

From loading apps to sorting through the various tile- and content-heavy menus, the new Max felt more responsive than the 2018-era Fire TV Stick 4K. Overall, then, it’s safe to say the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max makes the act of using the Fire TV platform a more pleasant experience.

Performance Benchmarks

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max certainly feels smoother in everyday use compared to the Fire TV Stick 4K, but what about some cold, hard numbers? That’s where our performance benchmarks come in. We loaded up a series of popular streaming apps and timed how long it took the Max to get those apps up and running. 

And with Amazon boasting that its new hardware is 40 percent more powerful than the Fire TV Stick 4K, we definitely looked forward to putting those claims to the test.

We also tested the older Fire TV Stick 4K for comparison, and came away with a score of 142.01 seconds. For our 10-stage test, that’s not exactly setting any speed records.

Meanwhile, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max turned in an overall time of 99.42, with better app-loading performance in almost every stage. We’re not sure exactly how Amazon came up with its 40 percent figure, but we are seeing notable improvement here. The last stage of our test involves loading Netflix a second time to see if a device can get it up and running any faster after juggling other apps. And here, the new Max handily outperformed the older 4K, likely thanks (in part) to the increase in RAM.

So if you’re a Fire TV Stick 4K user who’s been waiting for a worthy successor, the new Max offers a clear and significant upgrade.

Wrapping It All Up…

Yes, it took a little longer than some of us might have expected, but Amazon’s finally upgraded its top-end Fire TV Stick. And for $54.99, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max offers up some welcome performance improvements over its predecessor. For the 4K users out there who feel their current device is a tad sluggish, the new Max could be worth the purchase. And that upgraded WiFi could come in handy as well, though you’ll need a compatible router to take full advantage.

Plus, the inclusion of more modern features like WiFi 6 should help keep the new Max competitive in the years to come, which could be good news if this new Max stays on top of the Fire TV Stick heap as long as its predecessor did.

Regardless, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a long overdue, but worthy upgrade. At $54.99, you get a solid improvement over the 4K and it’s a strong contender in the competitive field of $50-or-so streaming devices.

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