Review follow-up: Gaming on Amazon's Fire TV and Fire Controller

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited June 2014
When Amazon launched its Fire TV earlier this month, the company positioned casual gaming as one of the set-top streamer's "bonus" features. In this review follow-up, AppleInsider picks up the controller to find out if mobile gaming is ready for the living room.



As mentioned in our initial Fire TV review, it comes as no surprise that Amazon wants to differentiate its set-top box from the competition. Apple TV and Roku already have a substantial lead in large installed user bases, while Google's latest Chromecast offering comes at a hard-to-beat price point.

Not marketed as a "killer feature," Fire TV's ability to throw made-for-mobile games up on the big screen promises to bring a new dynamic to the streaming media player space. And in spite of downplaying the feature -- it's shoehorned between "Easy to Use" and "Made for Music" on Fire TV's product page -- Amazon thinks so too.

The company built Amazon Game Studio which released its first-ever title alongside the box. With a quad-core 1.7GHz Qualcomm Krait 300 SoC with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 320 GPU, Fire TV is a machine more than capable of playing casual, bite-sized games, including Amazon's ambitious Sev Zero project.



If that isn't enough to illustrate Amazon's new found zeal for gaming, Fire TV has only one first-party hardware accessory add-on: a game controller.

At $40, the Fire Game Controller comes in at nearly half the price of Fire TV. On the surface, it looks good, with a layout identical to that of Microsoft's Xbox controller (even down to the X, Y, B, A action buttons). Aside from components meant for pure gaming, Amazon borrowed buttons from the voice-activated remote that comes with the Fire TV, including Home, Return, Menu and video transport controls.


Microsoft's Xbox One game controller (top) and Amazon's Fire Controller.


Two AA batteries power the device, while Bluetooth is used for data transport. This makes setup easy and allows for expansion to other Fire-branded portables down the line (something hinted at in certain games with a "connect your device to..." message).

Basically, on paper the controller sounds good and we expected usability would be somewhat high considering the price tag.

Amazon appears to have put some thought into the design and materials used. Chassis build quality is good, with zero flex and a matte finish that feels robust. Ergonomics are fair, though the grips are not what we would consider comfortable. For users with small hands, the handles may be too thick to reach the right joystick with ease.



Inclusion of Fire TV's system buttons was also a good move and we found ourselves reaching for the controller more often than the included remote. It should be noted that Amazon has incorporated a dedicated button for GameCircle, the company's gaming hub where users can earn achievements, compete on leaderboards and connect with friends.

Setup is quick and painless, largely thanks to Bluetooth. Fire TV discovered our controller immediately and we were off and running within seconds. Around back near the left bumper is a bank of four LEDs for player number identification. The lights will cycle and blink as the controller searches for Fire TV and will glow steadily once connected.



Unfortunately, internal hardware like button actuators and joystick springs, failed to impress. As the only interface between user and game, a good controller needs to be comfortable, fast and intuitive. Amazon's take is adequate in some areas, but falls flat in those that count.

Our main gripe with the Fire Controller is that it constantly makes you aware of its presence. For example, in Amazon's third-person shooter Sev Zero we had to compensate for joysticks that lacked proper sensitivity (made more apparent by the fact that one side was much looser than the other). The shoulder bumpers were also difficult to actuate and trigger pull is far too shallow. We found the input buttons, as well as the D-pad, to be mushy and unresponsive.


From top: Controllers for Xbox One, Amazon Fire and PlayStation 4.


In short, the device is not designed well enough to be transparent in the gaming experience. To be fair, designing a gaming controller is an incredibly difficult task. Even console heavyweights Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have been tweaking their products for years with each successive generation in search of controller nirvana.

Game selection is another shortcoming for Fire TV. Although a number of titles were ported at launch, it remains unclear how many mobile-first games can translate over to light console-like play. The games that are offered look great on a large HDTV, which at the very least proves Amazon has the technical know-how to get the job done right. Now it needs content.



As expected, Fire TV gaming is nowhere near console levels, but that was never the goal. Amazon wants to target casual gamers with pick-up-and-play mid-tier titles. And for that, Fire TV is fairly successful. The two things holding the company back from delivering a truly great quick-fix gaming experience are a gussied up "parts bin" controller and lack of enticing original titles.

Amazon has given itself a nice push out of the gate in the race to extend mobile into the living room, but solid game-centric peripherals would make Fire TV a far more compelling platform. Unfortunately, without a proper controller the games category feels more like a slick experiment than a full-blown feature; we can understand why Amazon is loath to market it more aggressively.

For those who don't mind mediocre hardware or are just looking to get in a few headshots between episodes of "Mad Men," the Amazon Fire Controller is available for $39.99. As of this writing, the device is backordered for an entire month, with shipments resuming in mid-May.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 62
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member

    Can’t do anything but copy, can they…

  • Reply 2 of 62
    andysolandysol Posts: 2,506member
    Can’t do anything but copy, can they…
    I thought the same thing. How is this any different than samsung copying the iPhone? That thing is a mirror of the Xbox controller.
  • Reply 3 of 62
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,980member
    andysol wrote: »
    I thought the same thing. How is this any different than samsung copying the iPhone? That thing is a mirror of the Xbox controller.

    You do realize that Apple's guidelines for a controller are very Xbox-esque
  • Reply 4 of 62
    Great job burying the lead. Difficult article to read.

    You write for a full seven paragraphs about the controller before you mention it's terrible at actually being a responsive game controller. For god's sake you talk about double-A batteries and the chassis before you mention you can't play a flagship game properly because the controller isn't responsive enough. Who cares about AA batteries and the chassis when the thing doesn't work?!?!

    Lesson 0 in making a controller- it needs to be reliably responsive.
    Lesson 0 in reviewing a controller- if it fails at being a controller, don't laud the easy setup before you mention it fails at being a controller.
  • Reply 5 of 62
    undefined
  • Reply 6 of 62
    Can’t do anything but copy, can they…
  • Reply 7 of 62
    iobserve wrote: »
    Great job burying the lead. Difficult article to read.

    You write for a full seven paragraphs about the controller before you mention it's terrible at actually being a responsive game controller. For god's sake you talk about double-A batteries and the chassis before you mention you can't play a flagship game properly because the controller isn't responsive enough. Who cares about AA batteries and the chassis when the thing doesn't work?!?!

    Lesson 0 in making a controller- it needs to be reliably responsive.
    Lesson 0 in reviewing a controller- if it fails at being a controller, don't laud the easy setup before you mention it fails at being a controller.

    First off, this isn't a review. Secondly, nowhere in the article does it say the controller is a failure. It is a so-so product compared to console counterparts and detracts from the gaming experience, but it works. You may not be in the market, but those who are may care about setup and design.
  • Reply 8 of 62
    [quote name="Future Man" url="/t/178259/review-follow-up-gaming-on-amazons-fire-tv-and-fire-controller#post_2515347"]
    [/quote

    Copying seems to work for other tech firms maybe this is not Nobel but it seems to work for the likes of SAMSUNG
  • Reply 9 of 62
    Some counterpoints.

    1. Lots of people are bashing the controller as mediocre but comparing it to console controllers is unfair. Amazons controller is much better than the other mobile gaming type controllers, which are horrible. It is also about the same as PC controllers. What is most important is that Fire TV is compatible with any Bluetooth controller so there will be better controller options from third parties soon. The controller interoperability issue is why Amazon chose Bluetooth for its remotes and controllers over WI fi like Roku.

    2. Amazon will have hundreds of games available in May. Some of them will not be mobile games but mini console games developed by their own game studio.

    3. Fire TV is not a mature platform or product yet. It was redesigned several times because the execs did not like early versions and then released too early to get ahead of other product launches. The device doesn't even support Amazon cloud player yet but will in an is update next month. The USB port on the device will ultimately provide more storage space for games and media but the OS does not support it yet. It basically is the same OS that is on the Fire HDX with a few extra stuff.

    The device will get better with more OS updates but unless you already are a prime customer or already have Kindle Fire HDX it would be better to wait for the second iteration of the device. I considered waiting but am already a prime member and plan to get a Kindle phone so I went ahead. I will upgrade to the next version of the device when it comes out.
  • Reply 10 of 62
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Mikeycampbell81 View Post





    First off, this isn't a review. Secondly, nowhere in the article does it say the controller is a failure. It is a so-so product compared to console counterparts and detracts from the gaming experience, but it works. You may not be in the market, but those who are may care about setup and design.

    Um.  Doesn't this kind of indicate that it is?  "Review follow-up: Gaming on Amazon's Fire TV and Fire Controller"  It's the headline of the article.

  • Reply 11 of 62
    andysolandysol Posts: 2,506member
    dasanman69 wrote: »
    You do realize that Apple's guidelines for a controller are very Xbox-esque

    You're kidding, right? It's nowhere near the same. In what world is having a 4" touchscreen in the middle of your controls the same as an xbox controller?

    Your posts have been so off target lately it's starting to get annoying.
  • Reply 12 of 62

    also undefined

  • Reply 13 of 62
    Oh yes and what is with the mediocre hardware slam? Compared to what? An X Box, playstation or Wii U which are entirely other types of devices? By that standard the I Pod has inferior hardware to the I Pad which is itself inferior to the MacBook. But when comparing it to other similar systems it has the best hardware. Better than Roku. Better than Chromecast. Better than Apple TV. Not some theoretical Apple TV that may exist in the future but the one that exists today. Which makes bashing the Fire controller particularly ridiculous. As compared to what? The controller that currently does not exist for Apple TV or I Pod or I Phone or I Pad AT ALL?

    The main issue with Fire TV right now is that the software is not fully ready yet. But it has by far the best hardware of any set box or of any mini gaming system. Comparing apples to oranges just to slam a competitor is unethical. Wait till the new Apple TV comes out to slam the hardware as inferior because that is when it will actually be true.

    You want to know what is actually inferior gaming hardware for a set top box? The Roku 3. You have to play games with their slow difficult to use combo motion sensor WiFi remote. It stinks and has not caught on. Or Chromecast which hasn't even gotten mirroring games from android devices right. Ugh
  • Reply 14 of 62
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,980member
    andysol wrote: »
    You're kidding, right? It's nowhere near the same. In what world is having a 4" touchscreen in the middle of your controls the same as an xbox controller?

    Your posts have been so off target lately it's starting to get annoying.

    No I'm not kidding. Did you miss this? Have you not seen a plethora of controllers released in the last several months, and reviewed right here on AI?

    http://toucharcade.com/2013/06/10/wwdc-2013-more-details-emerge-on-official-ios-game-controllers/
  • Reply 15 of 62
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    The entire thing, completely half baked from start to finish....like all Amazon hardware & services.

    Meant only for those who don't know any better. Hence Gary Busey as the spokesman.
  • Reply 16 of 62
    dasanman69 wrote: »
    No I'm not kidding. Did you miss this? Have you not seen a plethora of controllers released in the last several months, and reviewed right here on AI?

    http://toucharcade.com/2013/06/10/wwdc-2013-more-details-emerge-on-official-ios-game-controllers/

    None of the images in your linked article look remotely like an Xbox controller. Did you link the wrong thing?
  • Reply 17 of 62
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,980member
    None of the images in your linked article look remotely like an Xbox controller. Did you link the wrong thing?

    The only difference is the left side joystick/D pad configuration and the L2/R2 buttons aren't triggers.

    400

    Take into account that the drawing is just a guideline. The actual controllers being made look a lot like the Xbox controller.

    http://forums.appleinsider.com/t/161477/signal-announces-rp-one-full-size-bluetooth-game-controller-for-apples-ios-devices

    http://forums.appleinsider.com/t/161638/review-steelseries-stratus-portable-wireless-gaming-controller-for-iphone-ipad
  • Reply 18 of 62
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 20,757member
    None of the images in your linked article look remotely like an Xbox controller. Did you link the wrong thing?

    He may have been thinking of this one, certainly not a design pushed by Apple AFAIK.
    http://www.idownloadblog.com/2014/02/23/madcatz-xbox-ios-7-controller/

    EDIT: I see the Dasanman clarification now. I guess the basic array might be similar to Apple's suggestions.
  • Reply 19 of 62
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Originally Posted by dasanman69 View Post

    The only difference is the left side joystick/D pad configuration and the L2/R2 buttons aren't triggers.

     

    Which makes it completely different, both in usability and in form.

  • Reply 20 of 62
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 12,980member
    Which makes it completely different, both in usability and in form.

    Using that logic Samsung phones are 'completely' different. So then what's the problem? If small variations make a product completely different than it should be all the time not some of the time.
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