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Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen Review (vs 1st Gen): An Excellent but Minor Streaming Upgrade

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On September 20, 2023, Amazon announced the latest Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen to be available by the end of the month. I was quite excited about it, pre-ordered immediately, and got mine on the first day. This brief review is from my month-long experience with the new streaming device.

Here's the bottom line: In most cases, as a streaming device, it's virtually the same as the previous version, which has been among the best. The "Ambient Experience" extras are mostly gimmicks, at least for now.

So, if you're in the market for a 4K streaming stick to add to your 4K-capable but "dumb" or not-smart-enough TV, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen is an easy recommendation, even at the comparatively high cost of $59.99. (You can expect discounts during the holidays). Already rocking the previous version? There's no need to upgrade.

Dong's note: I first published this post on September 20, 2023, as a preview and updated it to an in-depth review on October 28 after an extensive real-world trial.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen includes everything to run any TV smart
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen includes everything to turn any TV extra smart right out of the box. Note that it shares the same power adapter as the 4K Max 1st Gen. You can also use most standard USB adapters for the job.

Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen (2023): Topping the top is a challenge

Two years ago, the original Fire TV Stick 4K Max was quite phenomenal. It proved to be the best representative of Amazon's Fire TV platform by adding the "smart" notion to any TV that's not already a Fire TV. (And Fire TV's only worthy rival is Google TV, represented by the Chrome Cast.)

I bought a few over the subsequent years, and all of them have been great. They allow for a consistent experience across our TVs of different brands, and we had one to bring on our trips to quickly turn any TV at destinations into our own.

So, the original 4K Max (1st Gen) has been an excellent experience. Now, the new 4K Max 2nd Gen is entirely new hardware. It's something you won't get simply by updating the previous Max to the latest firmware. But generally, it's hard to improve upon something already great. As a streaming device, the new and more powerful hardware doesn't have much more than the previous version, if any.

The table below shows the differences between the two generations in hardware specs.

Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2023) vs Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2021): Hardware specifications

Fire TV Stick 4K Max
2nd Gen
(2023)
Fire TV Stick 4K Max
1st Gen
(2021)
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen 2023 Fire TV Stick 4K Max
ResolutionUp to 4K UHD at 60 fpsUp to 4K UHD at 60 fps
Processor
(CPU)
4x ARM Cortex - A55 up to 2.0 GHzMediatek MT8696 + MT7921LS
Quad-Core 1.8 GHz
Graphic Processor
(GPU)
GE9215 up to 850 MHzIMG GE9215 750MHz
Architecture32-bit32-bit
Memory (RAM)2GB DDR42GB DDR4
Flash
(internal storage)
16GB8GB
Operating SystemFire OS 8
(Android 11)
Fire OS 7
(Android 9)
Wi-Fi StandardWi-Fi 6E
802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Wi-Fi 6
802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax
Dimensions3.9 x 1.18 x 0.55 inches
(9.9 x 3 mm x 1.4 cm)
4.25 x 1.18 x 0.55 inches
(10.8 x 3 x 1.4 cm)
ColorsBlackBlack
Audio SupportDolby MAT transcoding, 
AC3 (Dolby Digital),
EAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus),
Atmos (DDP+JOC)
AC4 (Atmos),
Dolby TrueHD (Atmos) passthrough,
DTS passthrough,
DTS-HD passthrough,
MPEG-H passthrough,
AAC Profile (AAC LC),
MPEG-4 HE AAC Profile (AAC+),
MPEG-4 HE AACv2 Profile (enhanced AAC+),
AAC ELD (enhanced low delay AAC),
xHE-AAC (enhanced HE-AAC),
FLAC,
MIDI,
MP3,
Vorbis,
PCM/Wave,
AMR-NB,
Opus
Dolby Atmos (EC3_JOC),
AC3 (Dolby Digital),
eAC3 (Dolby Digital Plus),
AAC-LC,
HE-AACv1 (AAC+),
HE-AACv2 (enhanced AAC+),
FLAC,
MIDI,
MP3,
Vorbis,
PCM/Wave,
AMR-NB,
Opus
Video DecodingDolby Vision,
H.265 (HEVC),
H.264,
H.263,
VP8,
VP9,
MPEG-2,
MPEG-4,
AV1
Dolby Vision,
H.265 (HEVC),
H.264,
H.263,
VP8,
VP9,
MPEG-2,
MPEG-4,
AV1
HDR VideoHDR10
HDR10+
HLG
Dolby Vision
HDR10
HDR10+
HLG
Dolby Vision
DMRPlayReady 3.3,
WideVine V16.3 L1 & L3,
Fairplay V5.9.21
PlayReady 3.3,
WideVine L1 V14.1.2,
HDCP 2.2,
Fairplay
BluetoothBluetooth 5.2 + BLEBluetooth 5.0
Ethernet10/100 Mbps with external dongle
(not included)
10/100 Mbps with external dongle
(not included)
Wi-FiTri-band 2x2 Wi-Fi 6E
(802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax/axe)
Dual-band 2x2 Wi-Fi 6
(802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax)
Max OpenGL versionOpenGL ES 3.2OpenGL ES 1.1/2.0/3.0/3.2
RemoteAlexa Voice Remote
(3rd Gen with Live TV + App buttons)
Alexa Voice Remote
(3rd Gen with Live TV + App buttons)
Voice Command for Dialog InputyesYes
USB PoweredYes
Micro USB
Yes
Micro USB
Live View Picture-in-PictureYesYes
Release DateOctober 7, 2021September 29021
Suggested Price
(at launch)
$59.99$55
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen vs Fire TV Stick 4K Max 1st Gen: Hardware specifications
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen vs the 1st Gen (right)
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen vs the 1st Gen (right): The former is slightly shorter and now with rounded corners. Their remotes are largely the same except for the re-arrangement of the volume rocker, which requires a bit of getting used to.

Fire TV Stick 4K Max (2023): A very similar streaming stick, but still no USB-C

As you can note from the table above, the most significant difference -- in terms of real-world usage -- the new 4K Max has from the previous version is the doubled internal storage space. That means it can store more apps and app-related data. The rest of the improvements are rather minor.

For example, the support for Wi-Fi 6E won't add anything since Wi-Fi 6 is already more than fast enough. The stick won't need more than 100Mbps anyway -- its Ethernet adapter uses the legacy 10/100Mbps Fast Ethernet standard.

Secondly, while a faster CPU will only help, the device uses a higher version of the OS, which is more demanding and cancels out the extra processing power. Most importantly, it still uses the 32-bit architecture, meaning it'll be stuck at 2GB of RAM -- it can't run lots of apps at once.

But, as a streaming stick, it has little use for multitasking. The fact is, there's only so much you can and want to do with it.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen has one USB port for power, and, to my disappointment, it still uses a legacy Micro USB port instead of the now-universally supported USB-C. While I understand why -- Amazon wants the user to reuse their existing dongle, such as the Ethernet adapter -- the lack of USB-C support means you will need a second cable type around.

The streamer includes a micro USB cable, and you should use it. Other cables of the same standard might not work. By the way, similar to the case of the previous version, the new streamer can power from a TV's USB port, despite the fact it might nag you to use the included power adapter.

The new 4K Max's remote is largely the same as the one of the predecessor. Amazon says the new Alexa voice command is now improved -- you can speak to it more naturally than giving a "command" in a specific syntax. However, with the latest firmware, you can do the same with the old 4K Max or any voice-activated Fire TV stick.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen is compact with rounded corner The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen uses Micro USB port
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen has a slightly new and curvy look, but it still uses the legacy micro USB port.

So, to add novelty to the new hardware, Amazon introduces a new feature entirely, the Ambient Experience, which has little to do with the stick's primary function as a media streamer.

Ambient Experience: Cool, but gimmicky, at least for now

Previously available exclusively on the Fire TV Omni QLED Series, Ambient Experience is a feature that makes use of the TV screen when you, well, don't need to use it. It's like a screensaver for a computer. Specifically, you can use the screen to display other stuff.

Amazon has a lot of ambition with the new features and promises that users will someday be able to use it to create AI-based images via voice commands. For example, you can say, "Alexa, create an image of that notoriously handsome Dong Ngo from Dong Knows Tech," and then watch with great anticipation how the masterpiece is being completed in real-time on the screen. But that won't happen until the end of this year or even early next -- or at all if you know how truly handsome Dong Ngo is -- but you catch my drift.

For now, you can use the feature to display different background images -- similar to the Netgear Meural without a subscription -- and motion graphics, such as a moving ocean with looping waves or a pod of dolphins frolicking around under the water.

Additionally, there are also widgets for different tasks, for now, including:

  • Alexa Weather
  • Calendar and Reminders
  • Cookpad Recipe of the Day
  • Live TV
  • Music and Audio
  • Smart Home Favorites
  • Sticky Notes
  • What Should I Watch
  • What to Eat
  • Your Amazon Deliveries (of course!)

Depending on the widgets, you can display up to seven on the screen at a time and move between them using the remote. Or you can call up a particular one via voice commands.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen has a new Ambient Experience featureFire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen's new Ambient Experience feature in action
You can activate the Ambient Experience via voice command or the setting button on the remote. While the motion graphics backgrounds are cool, the widgets are limited in what they can do.

I tried Ambient Experience and found it a bit unnecessary. The motion graphics were quite fun and great, but it got old fast, and the widgets were very limited in their functionalities.

For example, you can quickly create a sticky note via voice command, but it's impossible to edit it -- if you want to edit a word in the middle of the message, you can't get to that word without erasing all the text after it. Additionally, there's no way to maximize a widget to the entire screen. So, if you want to work on something, the motion graphics in the background become incredibly distracting.

This new feature is still in its infancy, and there's no doubt things will change -- likely for the better -- via firmware updates.

Still, in all, the Ambient Experience is simply an alternative to turning your TV off, which may be what you should do anyway unless you have a store or a place where media streaming is not the primary need. In that case, note that the streaming stick doesn't have deep control over a TV's power -- no more than turning it on or off. As a result, when the Ambient Experience is running, and you set your TV to automatically turn itself off after idling for a period, it will turn off anyway.

Responsive performance, excellent third-party app support, the same experience

Like the case of the previous version, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen has excellent responsiveness -- especially with the latest firmware.

In my testing, things moved along quickly, and most apps generally took less than a second to start. Some apps took a bit longer. YouTube TV, which is notoriously slow, took 3 seconds to start from cold, but it, too, launched instantly when already loaded in the background. Similar things can be said about Netflix and other streaming apps.

Speaking of apps, the Fire TV platform is among the best in supporting third-party apps. If you have a NAS server, you can install many apps to stream directly from them, such as Plex or VLC.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen has the common Fire TV interfaceThe Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen features Wi Fi 6E with the new 6GHz band support
The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen shares the same user interface as other Fire TV Stick, and its support for Wi-Fi 6E makes no difference in performance.

Wi-Fi 6E makes no difference

As mentioned, the new streaming stick supports Wi-Fi 6E and can connect to a Wi-Fi network via the 6GHz band. I tested this out, and it made no difference. The device connected at around 450Mbps of sustained speeds at best from my 10Gbps fiber-optic line, hosted by a 10Gbps-cable Wi-Fi 7 router.

And when I connected it to a 5GHz network, the performance remained the same. But that's to be expected. As a media streamer, the device never needs more than 100Mbps bandwidth. Most of the time, it only uses less than half of that, even when handling 4K content.

I talked more about Internet speeds in this post, but the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is a single-task device when it comes to bandwidth usage, and generally, content only needs the following when streaming:

  • 3 Megabits per second for DVD quality.
  • 5 Mbps for HD quality.
  • 25 Mbps for Blu-ray (4K) quality.
  • 80 Mbps for 8K video.

While it doesn't hurt to support the latest and greatest in Wi-Fi, that doesn't bring in any improvement, either. So don't get the new stick just because of the support for the 6GHz Wi-Fi band.

The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen in action The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max in action
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen vs the 1st Gen (right): The streaming sticks can work by drawing power from a TV's USB port -- applicable to most, not all, TVs -- despite how the interface might nag you to use the included power adapter, which remains the same for both.

Before publishing this review, I used the new 4K Max 2nd Gen every day for a month and was happy with it. I proved to be an excellent add-on media streaming stick.

However, other than having to fumble around a bit with the remote control -- it has a slightly different button layout than that of the 1st Gen -- I saw no difference compared to the previous version, which I also used during the time. If it wasn't for the remote, I wouldn't have known which I was using at the time.

Again, unless you have use for the Embient Experience features, there's literally nothing about the new stick that stands out from its predecessor. Eventually, though, chances are Amazon will phase out the 4K Max 1st Gen. They are so similar there's no reason to maintain both. And hardware-wise, this 2nd Gen has more to keep going further into the streaming future.

The Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen's remote
Here's the Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen's remote. It has a different layout from that of the 1st Gen.

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen's Rating

8.1 out of 10
Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen Box Content
Performance
8.5 out of 10
Features
8.5 out of 10
Design and Setup
8 out of 10
Value
7.5 out of 10

Pros

Compact design, responsive interface, well-design remote, fast app launching, and switching

Excellent support for third-party apps and local streaming

Stellar voice control, including dictation for dialogs

Wi-Fi 6E and Ambient Experience

Cons

No USB-C

Ambient Experience is limited and gimmicky (at launch)

No 8K support

Conclusion

As a standalone media streamer, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen is excellent, one of the best, and worthy of its $60 full price, though it never hurts to get it with a discount during Amazon's special sale events -- that's a sure thing.

So, get it if you need a new media streaming stick today. It'll also make an easy gift for the holidays.

However, compared to the previous version, it's not a must-upgrade. That's because its "improvements," namely the support for Wi-Fi 6E, faster CPU, and more storage, make little difference in real-world usage if any at all.

And the supposedly new Ambient Experience proved to be more of a gimmick than anything for most homes. It's better to give your eyes some rest and turn that TV off!

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6 thoughts on “Fire TV Stick 4K Max 2nd Gen Review (vs 1st Gen): An Excellent but Minor Streaming Upgrade”

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  1. The additional audio features seem like a pretty big change no?
    Dolby MAT transcoding means it should be able to play lossless audio without any data loss, right?
    And the new Bluetooth profiles, namely AAC-ELD should mean zero latency when watching shows using AirPods.

    Reply
    • Yes better hardware for sure, but if you look at it from the perspective of a typical home user, it’s the same as the 1st Gen, at least for now.

      Reply
    • Yes, I took the plunge primarily for the upgraded audio capabilities and storage. These can be pretty significant if using a receiver that has audio processing and can take advantage of the capabilities.

      On a non-related note, I was very confused why the new remote had two power buttons and only realized it was a watermark for the site when noticing the last picture of the remote that didn’t have two. Very glad that it wasn’t some Amazon tomfoolery.

      Reply

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