Wi-Fi 6 is capable of higher speeds and better performance than the Wi-Fi 5 we’re used to, especially in crowded network environments, and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the first media streamer under $100 we’ve seen to support the standard (the $180 Apple TV 4K also uses it). The $54.99 Fire TV Stick 4K Max is just like the $49.99 Fire TV Stick 4K, but with a Wi-Fi 6 radio and a slightly faster processor. For just $5 more, it certainly seems like a good deal, but 4K video can only be improved by bandwidth to a certain extent, and Wi-Fi 5 already exceeds that. So unless you have a Wi-Fi 6 router, an incredibly fast internet connection, and optimal wireless conditions, the standard Fire TV Stick 4K will suit you just fine and remains our Editors’ Choice winner.
The Same Stick
Physically, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is identical to the Fire TV Stick 4K. It’s a plain, rectangular black stick measuring 3.9 by 1.2 by 0.6 inches (LWD), with an HDMI plug sticking out of one end. The side of the stick holds a micro USB port, just like the Fire TV Stick 4K. A newer USB-C port would have been nice as it’s easier to plug in, but since it’s only used for power, it’s understandable why Amazon didn’t bother to even change the stick’s plastic casing to accommodate a different port. There are no other connections on the device, and no indicator lights or controls.
While it doesn’t feel any different, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has some small upgrades over the Fire TV Stick 4K on the inside. A Wi-Fi 6 radio (801.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax) is the most obvious addition, but it’s a bit more powerful as well. It features a 1.8GHz CPU and a 750MHz GPU compared with the Fire TV Stick 4K’s 1.7GHz CPU and 650MHz GPU, and has half a gigabyte more memory, for a total of 2GB. For comparison, the $119.99 Fire TV Cube, which offers hands-free Alexa voice control, has dual CPU cores (2.2GHz and 1.9GHz) and a 800MHz GPU.
(Photo: Will Greenwald)
The stick is intended to be powered with the included USB-to-micro USB cable and wall adapter; Amazon doesn’t recommend trying to run it off of your TV’s USB ports, which might be underpowered. Aside from the power cable and adapter, the stick includes a short HDMI extender, in case the ports on your TV are too tightly packed.
The included remote is standard Fire TV fare, a flat black wand with a prominent circular navigation pad near the top. Power and Alexa buttons sit above the pad, along with a pinhole microphone. Menu, playback, and TV volume controls can be found below it, with dedicated service buttons for Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix farther down. The remote can directly control your TV’s audio over HDMI-CEC.
Fire TV Functionality
As a Fire TV device, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is loaded with apps and features, built around a friendly but visually dense tile-based interface. All of the major video streaming services are here, including Amazon Prime Video (of course), Apple TV, Disney+, HBOMax, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount Plus, Peacock, Twitch, and YouTube. If you use your TV’s audio or any speakers connected to it, most big music streaming services are also available, including Amazon Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal, and YouTube Music. There are also thousands of additional, smaller apps and services spanning many different interests and regions. Some games are available as well, and you can pair a Bluetooth controller with the stick. If you really want to play games on the device, though, you should consider getting an Amazon Luna Controller and the Amazon Luna game streaming service for much better options than the overwhelming number of simpler, adapted-from-mobile games in the Fire TV store.
(Photo: Will Greenwald)
The home screen’s content recommendations are predictably Amazon-centric, with an occasional row of suggestions from HBO Max and other services thrown in as you scroll down. Fortunately, content searches aggregate multiple services outside of Amazon, so you can probably find whatever movie or TV show you want to watch if you ask Alexa for it. And if an app is on the Recent Apps bar on the home screen, content suggestions will appear below it if you move the cursor over its icon. The Live menu on the home screen and the program guide accessible through it shows free live streaming channels with movies and TV shows, along with news and sports feeds. You can also add live TV services such as Hulu, Sling TV, and YouTube TV to the guide, and customize your listings with your favorite channels.
Like all Fire TV devices, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max lets you use the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. Just press and hold the blue Alexa button on the remote and talk into it, and Alexa will answer your question or fulfill your command. Alexa can provide information like weather reports and sports scores, search for content, and control compatible smart home devices. It can even pull up live feeds of Alexa-compatible security cameras and video doorbells, which illustrates a small edge the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has over the Fire TV Stick 4K: live picture-in-picture viewing. You can bring up a live feed of a networked camera without interrupting what you’re watching. It’s a very minor benefit, as you can still check your cameras with other Fire TV devices without picture-in-picture.
(Photo: Will Greenwald)
For screen mirroring, Fire TV is the weakest smart TV platform available. You can mirror your mobile device or Windows PC screen with Miracast or WiDi, but that’s it. There’s no Google Cast like on Android TV and Google TV, and no Apple AirPlay like on Apple TV and Roku. This means iOS devices can’t mirror to the Fire stick at all, and newer Android devices will probably require a third-party Miracast app to work.
Wi-Fi 6: Does It Improve Anything?
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max can stream 4K video with support for high dynamic range (HDR) content in HDR10 and Dolby Vision. It also supports Dolby Atmos for audio. These capabilities are identical to those of the Fire TV Stick 4K and the Fire TV Cube.
The faster CPU and GPU and increased RAM of the Fire TV Stick 4K Max are nice upgrades on paper, but their effects aren’t readily apparent in real-world usage. Menus are quick to navigate and content loads quickly, but this all applies to the regular Fire TV Stick 4K as well. I didn’t notice a difference in performance between the two devices.
Of course, Wi-Fi speed is more important for streaming media than processing power, and this is where the Fire TV Stick 4K Max has an advantage…again, on paper. It supports Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), which can potentially get more than three times faster than Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac). It also uses Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) modulation, which lets up to 30 devices share a single channel, improving performance in congested networks. It’s a better Wi-Fi standard across the board.
Everything included with the Fire TV Stick 4K Max
There’s a big caveat to Wi-Fi 6, though. To take advantage of it, you need a Wi-Fi 6 router like the TP-Link Archer AX50 or Amazon’s own Eero 6 Pro mesh Wi-Fi system. If you got your router more than a year ago, or if you’re using one supplied by your internet company, you probably don’t have Wi-Fi 6.
You also need an internet connection fast enough to make Wi-Fi 6 worthwhile. Consumer-level fiber connections generally top off at gigabit speeds, and even then subscribers won’t regularly see their speeds reach gigabit rates. Wi-Fi 5 has a maximum speed (with a 5GHz connection) of nearly 3.5Gbps with four simultaneous data streams (twice that for eight, the current maximum on the standard). That’s more than enough to handle your gigabit fiber connection. Wi-Fi 6 can reach up to 10Gbps under the same conditions. On one hand, that’s almost three times faster. On the other hand, both are far faster than gigabit to begin with.
Wi-Fi environments are usually far less than ideal, with multiple networks crowding the same area and factors like distance and architecture affecting signal strength. Wi-Fi 6 can theoretically improve performance with network congestion, so it’s something to consider if you’re surrounded by other heavy Wi-Fi users. However, I’ve maintained consistent connections and fast speeds over Wi-Fi 5 both in my apartment building in Brooklyn and in PC Labs in Manhattan.
If the Fire TV Stick 4K Max was a computer or a mobile device, we could run extensive tests on…
Read More:Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max Review