What Is a Fire Stick? A 2021 Guide to Amazon’s Streaming Device

What is a Fire Stick? Well, if you’ve ever wanted to have all the functionality of a smart TV but didn’t want to have to pay for a completely new television, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a great way to upgrade your existing TV.

Brian Murray
By Brian Murray (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-09-13T11:21:24+00:00

If you’ve ever been streaming something on your phone or computer and wished you could watch it on your TV, you’re certainly not alone. Today, a number of smart TV options on the market offer just that, but there’s a way to turn any TV into a versatile smart TV: with a streaming device called a Fire TV Stick. If you’ve never heard of this and are wondering, “what is a Fire Stick?” then read on to learn more.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a great way to turn almost any TV into a smart TV that can stream content from almost any platform. 
  • The Fire TV Stick 4K can stream 4K HDR video and is compatible with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
  • All Fire TV Sticks currently on the market come with an Alexa-enabled voice control remote. 

The Amazon Fire TV Stick is a simple dongle that plugs into the back of any TV with an HDMI port and turns it into a powerful smart TV with hundreds of apps for a huge variety of streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. The relatively inexpensive device makes a great upgrade to almost any TV by adding voice command functionality, Dolby Vision and more. 

  • While the Fire TV Stick itself does not incur any monthly fees, you will probably want to have some accounts for streaming services in order to get the most out of the device.

  • Your access to channels and streaming services is limited only by the apps you install and subscriptions you have. You can check if your favorite channel or streaming service has a Fire TV Stick app available by looking on Amazon’s app store.

  • While value is very subjective, having the ability to stream 4K HDR content right to your existing TV from hundreds of streaming apps is well worth $40 to many people.

  • Yes, in order to stream content or even use the Fire Stick voice remote, you will have to have an internet connection.

What Is a Fire Stick?

The Amazon Fire TV Stick is similar to other streaming devices, including Roku and Google Chromecast (see how it compares in our Roku vs Firestick article). When you plug in the device to your TV, the available apps allow you to access channels with TV and movie options.

The Fire Stick is a small plastic rectangle that measures about three-and-a-half inches in length and just over an inch wide. The visible housing of the device is very simple, with an Amazon smile logo imprinted on one side and an HDMI port sticking out of one end of the device. There’s also a small port for plugging in the included power source. 

Fire TV Stick Hardware

Contained within this unassuming dongle is the hardware to turn pretty much any TV into a highly functional smart TV. Depending on the exact model and generation of Fire TV Stick you have, the specs will vary somewhat. However, most of the Fire TV Sticks sold today have a surprisingly powerful quad-core processor paired with either 1GB or 1.5GB of RAM.

firetv hdmi
The Fire TV Stick can be added to any TV with an HDMI port, and in most cases is completely concealed behind the TV. 

This is an impressive feat, considering the unit has no cooling fans and requires very little power. This processor allows the Firestick to handle 4K video, HDR, Dolby Atmos and more with ease. 

To access content from the device, simply connect it to your WiFi and sign in to your favorite streaming services from the corresponding app on the Fire TV interface. You can use your Amazon account to watch Amazon Prime content, or you can watch Hulu, Netflix, YouTube TV and more, all from this single device. 

How Does the Firestick Work?

Within its minimalist plastic frame, the Amazon Fire TV Stick has all the necessary hardware to function as a streaming device, much like your phone or computer would. It has a WiFi receiver, a processor and an HDMI output. The only thing it’s missing is a screen, which comes in the form of any TV with an HDMI port to plug it into.

Fundamentally, the Amazon Firestick operates on all the same principles as a computer or phone that you’re using for streaming. In fact, the Fire OS that Amazon uses on its Fire TV Sticks and other devices is built on Google’s open-source Android OS. 

From this operating system, you can launch apps that allow you to stream content from almost anywhere, including Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu or even live TV channels if you have the necessary apps and subscriptions. 

firetv os
Fire OS is built on Google’s Android operating system and uses an easy-to-navigate layout to give you quick access to all your apps. 

How Do You Set up an Amazon Fire TV Stick?

The Fire TV Stick setup process is quick and easy. All you need to do is plug the included power adapter into a wall outlet, attach the included USB cable to the Fire TV Stick’s micro USB port on one end and the power adapter at the other, and plug the Firestick into your TV’s HDMI port.

firetv setup
Amazon seems to have put a good amount of effort into ensuring a smooth customer experience and the setup process reflects this. 

Once this is done, select the appropriate input source on your TV and follow the on-screen instructions. 

What Is the Firestick For?

The Amazon Fire Stick is a great way to improve the functionality of an existing TV in a number of ways. The most obvious way is by turning it into a smart TV, so you can stream content from practically any platform right to your TV.

Whether you’re trying to watch Apple TV, Pluto TV, HBO Max or almost any streaming service you can think of, there’s most likely an app for it among the hundreds of apps for the Fire TV Stick.

Voice Commands for Your TV

The second major way that the Amazon Fire TV Stick improves an existing TV is with the included remote control. All Fire TV Sticks currently on the market come with an Alexa voice remote that lets you control your TV with voice commands.

firetv remote
All Fire TV Sticks on the market include an Alexa voice remote. 

To use the Alexa voice control, simply hold down the microphone button on the remote and say what you want. This can be anything from changing the volume or input on the TV to looking for a particular type of content. For example, you can say “show me action movies” and Alexa will pull up a list of relevant movies from whatever streaming service you’re logged in to.

Video & Audio Quality

Finally, depending on your current television setup and the model of Fire TV Stick you choose, the Fire TV Stick can actually improve the quality of your sound and picture. The Fire TV Stick 4K can handle 4K HDR as well as Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.

HDR and Dolby Vision improve upon the ultra-HD sharpness of 4K by boosting color clarity and depth over normal 4K video, while Dolby Atmos creates a spatial surround sound experience by using object-based sound rather than encoded channels like traditional surround sound. 

These features, when supported by your TV and streaming service, can offer an improved viewing experience. Netflix, for example, produces all of its original content in HDR, and much of it also has Dolby Vision. Fire TV Sticks also support the more traditional 5.1 surround sound format.

Amazon Fire TV Stick Pricing

There are several models of the Amazon Fire TV Stick available, and the features of the model you choose will affect the price. The Fire TV Stick Lite is the least expensive model Amazon sells, and it’s usually available for $29.99. This model is limited to 1080p resolution with some HDR compatibility.

Fire TV Stick Lite with Alexa Voice Remote Lite (no TV controls) | HD streaming device

$ 29.99$ 21.99Save $ 8.00 (27 %)

The next tier up is simply called the Fire TV Stick, which typically sells for $39.99 and improves upon the Fire TV Stick lite in a few ways. First, the included remote can now control your TV, which the Fire TV Stick Lite’s remote cannot. Additionally, the Fire TV Stick can use Dolby Atmos sound, which again, the Lite version cannot.

Fire TV Stick (3rd Gen) with Alexa Voice Remote (includes TV controls) | HD streaming device

$ 39.99$ 27.99Save $ 12.00 (30 %)

The next step up is the Fire TV Stick 4K, which operates in full 4K with HDR and Dolby Vision support as well as Dolby Atmos sound. This model of the device costs around $39.99

Fire TV Stick 4K streaming device with Alexa Voice Remote (includes TV controls) | Dolby Vision

$ 49.99$ 34.99Save $ 15.00 (30 %)

Finally, there’s the Fire TV Cube. This device supports 4K HDR with all the bells and whistles of the Fire TV Stick 4K. The major difference between the Amazon Fire TV Cube and the other models we’ve looked at is that it is much larger and does not tuck neatly behind your TV. Rather, the cube model combines the functionality of an Amazon Alexa virtual assistant unit with that of a Fire TV.

Fire TV Cube | Hands-free streaming device with Alexa | 4K Ultra HD | 2019 release

$ 119.99$ 94.99Save $ 25.00 (21 %)

This means you can use the device hands-free for any number of Alexa or TV-related needs without having to hold down the button on the Alexa voice remote. You’ll pay $119.99 for this feature — much more than the Fire TV Stick 4K or the other models. You can read more about all these devices and their features in our full Amazon Fire TV Stick pricing guide.

Amazon Fire TV Stick vs Fire TV

Fire TV is sometimes used as a blanket term for the family of devices that use Fire OS, including the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Cube. However, there are also TVs that come with Fire OS and Fire TV hardware already built into them.

All-New Insignia NS-42F201NA22 42-inch F20 Series Smart Full HD 1080p Fire TV, Released 2021

$ 289.99$ 219.99Save $ 70.00 (24 %)

These televisions boast all the functionality of the Fire TV Stick right out of the box and are a solid smart TV option if you’re looking for a complete TV upgrade. Insignia offers a wide range of these Fire TVs on Amazon. 

Final Thoughts: Amazon Fire TV Stick

If you’re looking for a way to upgrade a TV you already have or want to find the easiest way to stream content from almost any platform right to your TV, then the Amazon Fire TV Stick is a great option. 

With hundreds of streaming apps to choose from and models of Fire TV Stick powerful enough to output beautiful 4K Dolby Vision with Atmos audio, it offers some of the best home viewing experiences possible. 

Have you used the Amazon Fire TV Stick or another streaming dongle before? Did it meet your expectations, or did it leave you wanting more? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.