How to Use the Amazon Fire TV Stick [November 2019]
This is the age of streaming media. No matter where you look, it seems like every company is eager to take advantage of the new era we’ve found ourselves in. From the giant corporations that started the media revolution, like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, to companies trying to get in with their own future plans, including AT&T, Apple, and Disney, consumers in the United States and throughout the broader globe have found themselves hurtling towards a streaming ecosystem that looks a lot like the cable monopolies of the late 90s and 2000s, where each “must-watch” original show is on a different channel with a different monthly fee attached to the bottom line. It can be a lot to navigate, especially if you’re just looking to ignore the noise coming from the media industry and just want to actually watch some quality entertainment.
At TechJunkie, our main goal is to help you move past the confusion that can often come with technology, and that includes streaming services. If you’re looking for the easiest way to watch new media platforms like Netflix or Hulu, the Amazon Fire TV line of devices is a great place to start, and though there are several different devices to choose from, it’s the Fire Stick that many users are choosing to watch movies and TV shows. The Fire Stick is easy to use, but if you just got one, you probably haven’t unlocked the full power of your device. Whether you’re a beginner who just unboxed their Fire Stick, or you’re ready to take your streaming options to the next level, here’s our guide to using the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
What Can You Do With an Amazon Fire TV Stick?
- What Can You Do With an Amazon Fire TV Stick?
- Which Model Do I Choose?
- What is the Difference Between the Fire Stick and the Fire TV Cube?
- Setting up the Amazon Fire TV
- Do you need an Amazon account to use Fire TV Stick?
- Can I Control it from My Phone?
- How Do I Use It?
- What Can It Do?
- Can I Install Apps From Outside the Amazon Appstore?
- How Can I Secure My Fire Stick?
- What Else Should I Know About my Fire Stick?
The Amazon Fire TV Stick, known colloquially as a “Fire Stick,” is a small streaming device manufactured by Amazon that allows you to watch videos streamed over your internet connection to your television. Though it wasn’t the first Amazon Fire TV device, it’s by far the most popular, and competes directly with the likes of Roku and Google Chromecast in the budget streaming device market. The device plugs into the back of your television through HDMI (either with the stick itself or using the bundled adapter for tight connections), and connects to your home WiFi connection in order to deliver media straight to your television using apps, just like your smartphone. It’s powered through the included microUSB cable, plugged into the back of your television or into an AC adapter, and it takes up very little space behind your television. The remote was recently updated, and can now control your television’s power and volume, in addition to the typical play/pause and navigation options on the remote.
Which Model Do I Choose?
Though there are four different models of Fire TV units, most users choose between the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick 4K. Both devices are relatively similar, now including the same remote that allows you to control your television. Two major differences separate the Fire Stick and Fire Stick 4K: the output resolution and the processor power. For $39, the Fire Stick is great for older 1080p televisions, and includes a 1.3GHz MediaTek processor that’s powerful enough for most of the content you could throw at the stick. Meanwhile, the $49 Fire Stick 4K upgrades the resolution to 2160p, perfect for 4K televisions, and increases the processor speed to 1.7GHz, mostly to push the extra pixels to your television.
In terms of which you should buy, both devices are equally good for their use cases. If you have a 4K television however, or you plan on getting one in the near future, you should absolutely consider getting the 4K model for only $10 more—it’ll save you having to spend extra money to upgrade your unit sooner. However, if you plan to stick with your current 1080p television for at least a few more years, the $39 Fire Stick is a great choice, especially now that it includes the newer remote. It should be said that this model routinely goes on sale, especially during the summer (typically for Prime Day, and exclusively for Prime customers) and the holiday season. The 4K model has only been around for a few months, but even that saw a price drop on Cyber Monday to $34.99. If you don’t have a Fire Stick and can afford to wait for a sale, we recommend it.
What is the Difference Between the Fire Stick and the Fire TV Cube?
The Fire Stick is a small, three-inch long dongle that plugs into an HDMI port on your TV. The Fire TV Cube is a set-top box with improved processing power and, of course, Alexa built right into the device instead of the app. The biggest difference between the two devices comes down to price: while the Fire Stick starts at just $39.99 (or $49.99 for the 4K model), the Fire TV Cube costs $119.99 upfront. If you don’t need the built-in smart speaker, you’re much better off getting the Fire Stick.
If you’re wondering about the actual specs of the device, it really depends on your model. The Fire Stick and the Fire Stick 4K are close in terms of feature parity, but as you might imagine, the 4K version has a much more powerful processor capable of really powering the video output of the device. Both devices have processors from MediaTek, an upgrade from the original Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 powering the first-gen Fire Stick, but the 4K model features two additional A53 cores rated at a higher clock speed. Likewise, the GPU in the 4K Fire Stick is entirely different, and much more powerful than we’ve seen in the second-gen device. That said, both devices are fairly similar otherwise: both are 64-bit, feature either 2GB of DDR3 RAM or 1.5GB of DDR4 RAM, support Bluetooth and WiFi (both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks). Generally speaking, if you’re still looking to buy one, you should just grab whichever one supports your television’s resolution.
Setting up the Amazon Fire TV
To use Amazon’s Fire Stick, you’ll need to make sure you’re ready to power your device. Obviously, you’ll need a relatively modern HDTV with an open HDMI port to use your new Fire Stick, along with a WiFi connection with internet speeds fast enough to stream video online. You’ll also need a power adapter to plug the Fire Stick in. If you’re using the basic 1080p model, you can use the included USB port on your television to power the unit. If you’ve chosen to upgrade to the 4K model, you’ll need to plug your device into a wall outlet; a USB port isn’t powerful enough for that device.
Once you’ve unboxed your device, it’s time to set up your brand-new Fire Stick.
(Note that, while the images are from a first-gen Fire Stick and an older version of Fire OS, both the second-gen 1080p model and the 4K model feature similar setup imagery and should follow the same basic steps.)
- Plug the Amazon Fire TV Stick into an available HDMI port on your television. Plug it directly into the HDMI port or use the included HDMI extender cable in tight spaces.
- Connect the Micro USB power adapter to the Fire TV Stick and plug it into a wall outlet, or into your television’s USB plug.
- Turn your TV on and navigate to the one the Amazon Fire TV Stick’s plugged into.
- Next, you’ll see the Fire TV Stick displayed on your TV.
- The Fire TV Stick searches for the Fire TV Stick remote, prompting you to hold the home button down for ten seconds to connect.
- Now you’ll press the Play/Pause button to proceed.
- On the screen that appears next, you’ll select your language.
- In the next screen on your TV, you’ll select your Wi-Fi network and get that set up to stream.
- Once the connection is successful, updates are downloaded and installed to the Fire TV Stick.
- Register your Amazon Fire TV Stick with your Amazon account, or create an Amazon account if you don’t already have one.
- Then, you’ll be greeted by the name you have associated with your Amazon account and can proceed or select a different Amazon account if you have more than one.
- Loading video shows on the next screen.
- You can enable parental controls, if needed, on the next screen.
- The Amazon Fire Stick lets you know that it has added your videos to the main menu, and the final intro screen alerts you that Amazon Alexa is now available on Fire TV.
- Amazon Fire TV Stick set-up is now complete and you’ll be on the Home screen of Amazon Fire TV.
You’ll be able to navigate between the Home screen, Your Videos, TV Shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music, Photos and Settings. You can use the Amazon Fire TV Stick remote or download the Amazon Fire TV Remote app from the Apple App Store or Google Play for your mobile device.
Do you need an Amazon account to use Fire TV Stick?
Yes. However, you don’t have to use your Amazon account. if you want to keep some privacy from the Bezos empire, there are ways to use a throwaway Amazon account to register your Fire TV Stick.
Can I Control it from My Phone?
Yes you can, and in fact, you should—at least at first. When you first begin setting up your Fire Stick, you’ll be typing in a lot of passwords. Signing into Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other apps can take some serious time, and the on-screen keyboard on your Fire Stick can be agonizing for any kind of serious text entry. You can also use the smartphone app (available for both Android and iOS) to control your Fire Stick, which makes it a great replacement for a lost remote.
How Do I Use It?
After it’s been setup, using it is pretty straightforward. You use the included remote to navigate around the page, moving the highlighted cursor around the home screen to select your options and clicking on the center button of the remove to open the application you’ve selected. A number of applications come preinstalled on the unit that you can use to automatically start watching media. Likewise, you can install apps from the Amazon Appstore by using the Apps panel on your homepage, or by searching for the name of the application using the built-in Alexa voice search on your remote.
Wait, Alexa’s in the Remote?
Yep! If you look on the remote that is included with your Fire Stick, you’ll see that, near the top of the remote, there’s a small microphone button at the top of the remote. Pressing and holding the button at the top of the remote allows you to ask a voice command, prompt, question, and much more. It makes it easy to search for your favorite shows and movies, though using it to perform basic actions like pausing the show you’re watching is typically much slower than, say, just using the playback controls on the remote.
If you have an Echo device in your house, you can also use your Echo’s microphones and smart speakers to control your Fire Stick, regardless of whether the remote is in your hand. It’s a handy trick, and it makes buying into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem a whole lot smarter.
What Can It Do?
A lot of things, actually. Most major streaming applications are here, though there is a pretty major exception that we’ll get to in a moment. But for most people, if there’s a service you want to watch on your Fire Stick, it’s probably here. From streaming Netflix originals to using your Fire Stick as an unofficial cable box, here are just a handful of the applications that you can get through the Amazon Appstore for your Fire Stick:
You probably already have a Netflix subscription plugged into your Fire Stick. The app comes preinstalled on your device, and the service is almost universally beloved for leading the trend of streaming services that we now live in today. Netflix has spent the last few years moving away from gathering as much content as possible for your streaming pleasure, and now serves as home to a ton of exclusive content. Though much of their programming comes in the form of television series, Netflix has made some serious moves into acquiring all sorts of films. From major blockbusters like Bright, Bird Box, and The Cloverfield Paradox, to more indie, down-to-Earth fare like The Meyerowitz Stories, Roma, and Private Life, there’s plenty of time-worthy content on Netflix that makes it worth your monthly subscription.
If you need to be sold further, Netflix has a major 2019 on the horizon for films. New films from Noah Baumbach, the Duplass brothers, Adam Sandler, and two new films from Steven Soderbergh promises that 2019 will become the best year for exclusive programming on Netflix yet. Our pick for the most exciting film in 2019 on Netflix, however, is The Irishman, the new Martin Scorsese film that sees the acclaimed filmmaker reteaming with Robert De Niro, bringing Joe Pesci out of retirement for his first film role in twenty years, and the director’s first time working with Al Pacino.
Not to be outdone, Hulu has done a great job in expanding from a service primarily made for watching television to a service where you can pretty consistently watch some excellent films. Though Hulu no longer carries the Criterion Collection (a major loss, in our opinion), the platform still gets some excellent films that never seem to approach the more exclusive-minded Netflix, including new releases you may have missed in theaters. As we write this, acclaimed films like Annihilation, Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls—all of which came out in 2018—Beetlejuice, Arrival, Winter’s Bone, and so many more. Hulu is also cheaper than Netflix by $6 per month, making it an easy choice for anyone looking for a solid premium streaming service at a low cost.
You own a Fire Stick, so it only makes sense to get Amazon Prime Video to go along with your streaming device. Amazon Prime is somewhere in the middle between Hulu and Netflix, offering original television and films and a pretty solid amount of streaming movies, though the options you get are lesser than what you might see from Hulu or Netflix. Prime Video is included with an Amazon Prime subscription, though you can get it on its own for $8.99 per month if you’d rather skip the other Prime benefits. Films like You Were Never Really Here, The Big Sick, The Lost City of Z, and Manchester by the Sea are all Amazon productions, and they’ve been praised by critics for being groundbreaking works of art from the last several years.
HBO is one of those companies that, even if you don’t subscribe to the service through cable or through their Now streaming service, you’ve likely heard of most of their shows just through cultural osmosis. From mega-hits currently airing on the channel, like the recently-finished Game of Thrones or Westworld, to their classic library of series like The Sopranos, Deadwood, and The Wire, there’s plenty of content on HBO Now to be worth grabbing the app. While HBO is definitely known for their television series, there’s plenty of exclusive and original film content on their platform as well, making it a must-have app for anyone who wants to watch original works of art like The Tale, Paterno, or the upcoming Deadwood film.
Don’t let the PlayStation branding fool you into thinking Vue has anything to do with gaming. Vue is an online cable replacement, similar to Hulu with Live TV or DirecTV Now. The service allows you to stream your favorite channels online from $45 to $80 per month, depending on which lineup of channels you want to add to your subscription, making it easy to watch your favorite channels on your Fire Stick with ease. Obviously, Vue is more television-oriented than other services on this list, but higher tier plans like Ultra include movie channels like HBO, Sundance TV, and Epix.
How could we start off this list without including the ultimate Fire Stick application, Kodi? Originally known as XBMC, Kodi is an open-source home theater suite that allows you to completely replace your normal Fire Stick interface within the application. Kodi is a powerful piece of software on its own, and entirely legal when used properly. Of course, and much to the detriment of the development team behind Kodi, plenty of users do not stick to the usual options for Kodi services. Instead, using add-ons and builds, Kodi can become a powerful piece of piracy software, using applications designed to automatically stream movies, television shows, and basically any other media you could possibly imagine.
Whatever you choose to use Kodi for, there’s plenty of opportunities to make your Fire Stick work the way you want. Whether you’re just looking to stream content over your local network (similar to Plex, originally a XMBC add-on that we’ll discuss below) or you want to go all out on installing add-ons, builds, and plenty of additional content through Kodi’s file browser, Kodi is basically a must-have utility for any media consumption device. Check out our favorite add-ons and builds for Kodi by following those links!
Crackle is currently one of the only studio-backed free streaming services left standing, ever since Hulu left their free tier behind to focus on their paid content. Crackle is owned by Sony Pictures, which means you’ll mostly see Sony-released films with a few other offerings alongside them. In our tests, Crackle had one of the better libraries of both original and non-original content available for free. Everything did include ads, unfortunately, but the inclusion of those pesky ads also meant that everything was above the board and completely legal. Crackle, like any other streaming service, changes their library every so often, so just because something is on there now doesn’t mean it will be there permanently. You’ll find content on the platform that is worth watching, like Alien and Aliens, A Few Good Men, and Superbad, next to content you can probably skip, like Spike Lee’s remake of Oldboy, Man of the Year, and That’s My Boy.
Plex began its life as a spin-off, closed-source program that rivals Kodi in nearly every way, designed to stream your media over your home network or to computers across the internet around the world. Both Kodi and Plex are excellent ways to consume and stream media, and each have their advantages. If you’re looking to use Kodi to install add-ons and builds in order to stream content from around the world, Plex won’t do you much good. But if you’ve built a strong collection of digital media on your own library, you might want to consider using Plex to stream to your litany of devices, including your Fire Stick. Plex is a fairly simple program that allows you to stream your locally-hosted content to any Plex-enabled device. While you’ll need to run and manage the server on your own, it’s well worth using if you’re willing to put in the work (or if you have a friend build a server for you).
There are plenty of other choices to pick from here too, including but not limited to:
- The CW
- Fox Now
- Pluto TV
- Cartoon Network
These apps all help to make sure you properly round out your video streaming options on your Fire Stick.
Can I Install Apps From Outside the Amazon Appstore?
You sure can! It involves a process known as sideloading, a complicated term that really just means stepping around the Appstore on your device. The term comes from Android, where you can install any installation file on your device without having to mod or root your phone. This is a major difference between Android and its main rival, iOS, which can install applications outside the App Store but requires the difficult task of jailbreaking your device, which often gets patched out in future updates surrounding the platform. On Android, installing files from unknown sources is technically turned off by default, but it’s really easy to turn on in your security settings, and once it’s on, installing APK files (the file extension for Android apps; think of them as the mobile version of .exe files on Windows or .pkg files on Mac OS) is ridiculous fast and easy.
So why would you want to sideload on Fire OS? Well, unlike Google, Amazon takes a more Apple-like approach with their app market, only allowing in certain applications once they’ve been approved for use. While you’ll find some apps like Kodi readily available on the Google Play Store, it’s nowhere to be found on Amazon’s platform, having been removed back in 2015 for concerns surrounding piracy. But, like we’ve seen with most of Amazon’s products, it’s easy to use their Android basis as a method against them. Since Android allows for applications to be installed outside of the app store, getting apps like Kodi, YouTube, or Tea TV is quick and easy on the Fire Stick.
The thing to remember about sideloading is that, in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. If you happen to install a malicious APK, you could find yourself running software that can steal your personal data or take over your device. Even on a streaming box like the Fire Stick, it’s just important to remember to be careful when installing apps from shady sites. Using resources like Reddit communities to ensure you have a safe version of an app is the best idea we can recommend. The chances of any user installing an unsafe APK file is low, but it’s still always important to be careful.
What Does Sideloading Mean for My Device?
As much or as little as you want it to. The Fire Stick is perfectly usable without ever delving into the world of sideloading, but sideloading is one of the biggest reasons the application is so popular. Don’t take our word for it though: almost any search you conduct online to read about the Fire Stick will mention the ability to sideload and use unofficial, third-party applications on the device, allowing users to circumvent the typical content (locked behind paywalls) to stream thousands of free movies and TV shows, usually illegally hosted online. For some, sideloading apps onto the Fire Stick is the entire reason for buying the device, since it allows you to expand what’s possible with the unit. For others, sideloading isn’t even on their minds when they set the device up in their house.
What Are the Downsides to Sideloading?
The primary downside is one of security. Not every sideloaded application violates copyright law—to use the YouTube example again, sideloading a YouTube application onto your Fire Stick is perfectly legal. There’s nothing stopping you from legally installing a piece of software on your device, the same way you can install any program of your choice on a Windows device. There’s no law that states you have to stick to the pre-installed Amazon Appstore for your software, in the same way that Mac OS users don’t have to use the Mac App Store and Windows users can turn away from the Windows Store for their applications.
The other side of this equation, of course, comes from the media you’re streaming through the software you sideload. It isn’t about the installation itself, but rather, what you’re watching on your Fire Stick, along with the applicable copyright laws in your country. Most “free movie” applications on the Fire Stick do break some kind of copyright law, so it’s important to secure your device’s streams over your network. We’ll cover that in more detail in just a second.
What Apps Should I Sideload?
We have a whole guide on the best apps to sideload viewable here, but the short answer is simple: it depends on what you want to do with your device. Want to watch unlimited movies, regardless of their copyright statuses? Apps like Tea TV and Showbox exist for that very reason. Want to watch live sports and television right on your Fire Stick? It’s easy to grab an installation file for Mobdro. Want to replace the entire interface for your Fire Stick and use Kodi as your main source of entertainment on the platform? You can do that too, and it only takes a few minutes to set up. Check out our guide on our favorite sideloaded applications, but make sure to come back to this walkthrough to ensure your Fire Stick is secure.
How Can I Secure My Fire Stick?
The best way to secure your Fire Stick when using programs that may contain content that infringes on copyright laws is to use a VPN in the background of the OS. A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network, allows your Fire Stick (or any other device running the program) to connect to another server through a private tunnel secured on both ends of the device. When your VPN is active, instead of using the standard route between your PC or smartphone to access an article, video, or anything else online, the VPN uses the private tunnel to reach its destination. That tunnel is only decrypted at the starting and ending points of the destination, a function known as end-to-end encryption, so your PC and the web page know you’re there, but your ISP can’t view the content your seeing beyond a generic “data” level. With the help of a VPN, your ISP can’t see any of your activity—and therefore, also can’t sell your data to advertisers.
Securing your Fire Stick isn’t necessarily a bad idea, though it’s really only necessary if you plan on using your Fire Stick to stream pirated content. You can also stream pirated content over your network without a VPN enabled on your device, but you’re taking a massive chance and could be liable to a lawsuit from IP holders.
How do VPNs Work on Fire Stick?
It’s really easy to get a VPN up and running on your Fire Stick device. Unlike Google’s Chromecast, which requires setting up your VPN using your router in order to protect your streaming content, the Fire Stick allows for easily-accessible VPNs to run in the background of your device, and for most major VPN companies, you can actually grab their supported application right from the Amazon Appstore. There’s no settings menu to dive into, or difficult options to click from when setting up the VPN to use in the background of your device. Once your VPN of choice is installed on your Fire Stick and you’ve signed into your account with the service, you can allow the VPN to run in the background and watch any media on your television, all with the added benefit of knowing you’ve protected your content.
All three of our picks above, including NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and IPVanish, have apps available for Fire Stick on the Appstore, but they aren’t alone. There are dozens of reputable VPN services on the platform, including:
- Private Internet Access
This is in addition to several smaller VPN companies that also host apps for the Fire Stick, making it easy to get your favorite VPN applications on your device with little to no effort on your end. We recommend choosing one of the above VPNs, since you can easily get the app up and running on your Fire Stick without having to resort to other tricks to use a VPN on your device. Most apps simply allow you to turn your VPN switch on and return to the home screen, making it an easy way to secure your movie streaming while online.
What Else Should I Know About my Fire Stick?
Your Amazon Fire Stick actually can do a few more neat tricks outside of just streaming the newest episodes of This is Us or the latest Netflix hit original. As hinted at by the Alexa integration discussed above, you can also use your Fire Stick as a proto-hub for your Internet-of-Things connected devices. Obviously there are a wide range of connected products you can buy on the market in 2019, but many of them work with Alexa and by association, can also be used with your Amazon Fire Stick.
For example, if you’ve bought into a smart home security camera, you can sync your camera with the Alexa app on your smartphone to add Alexa capabilities to your security camera. After your smart camera has been linked with your Amazon account, you can use either an Echo smart speaker or the Fire Stick remote to ask Alexa to show you your security camera, using commands like “Show me the front door.” Though this trick won’t be for everyone, it’s important to know that, when you’re buying into an Amazon Fire Stick, you aren’t just buying into an entertainment device, but another piece of the smart home puzzle you’re probably already building.
If you really enjoy your Fire TV Stick, you might be interested in the Fire TV Recast, a full-featured DVR that merges the Fire TV functionality with the power of a standalone media server.
At the end of the day, setting up your Fire Stick is as easy as plugging it into the wall, into your television, and following the steps on screen to update your remote, sync with your WiFi, and to install some well-known apps. When it comes to actually using the Fire Stick to watch your favorite movie, television show, or anything else you might be interested in, that’s where the hard work comes in. We’re hopeful our guide to setting up your Fire Stick came in handy, and make sure to check out all our Fire Stick guides here.