Element Amazon Fire TV Edition Review: As Middling As It Gets
The Fire TV integration is solid, but the quality of the display is just okay at best. The Fire TV part makes this TV woefully overpriced and not worth buying.
When a new TV hits the market, the first thing everyone talks about is how mind-blowing the picture is. When the first OLED screens started releasing, every raved about the color depth, clear 4K, and HDR.
The TV we’re going to look at today is a bit less interested in that. Instead, Amazon Fire TV Edition Element 4K LED TV is all about the interface. Let’s be honest here: Element is not a brand anyone associated with high-end flat panel displays, but rather, it’s a company known for offering reasonably priced TVs, especially around Black Friday season. But Fire TV — that’s a brand that’s all about delivering your media with a solid, clean interface. It trades off high-end picture quality for a really solid user experience (it’s more or less identical to a Fire TV or Fire Stick).
Obviously, it’d be impossible to list off every single entry-level TV out there, but the closest competitor is the TCL 4K Ultra HD Roku Smart LED TV or the almost identical Insignia model from Best Buy. We reviewed a 43-inch Fire TV Edition, and it sells for $449.99. The Roku-equipped TCL and Insignia sells for $349.99, which makes it a much better value. They’re all 4K, none have HDR , and they’re all just decent in terms of overall picture quality.
So does Amazon Fire TV Edition Element LED TV make up for the higher price tag with a better OS? Does it stand ahead of the other TVs in the picture quality department? Let’s find out – and at the end of this review, we’re giving ours away to one lucky reader.
Element Fire TV Edition Features and Specifications
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first — the numbers.
Let’s take a look at display specs:
- 4 HDMI ports (1 with ARC support), SD card slot, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, component port, optical audio, RF antenna, and an Ethernet port
- Dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 4K resolution
- 60Hz refresh rate
- Available in 43, 50, 55, and 65-inch models
- Dimensions with stand: 38” x 24” x 10.1”
Now, let’s run down the numbers on the Fire TV portion:
- 1.1 GHz quad-core CPU
- 3GB RAM
- 16GB internal memory (supports up to 128GB SD card)
- Fire TV OS installed out of the box
- Ability to sideload apps
Do I still have your attention, or did the number talk put you to sleep? Don’t worry, we’ve reached the end of this part and it’s time to really dig in and look at the good stuff.
Element 4K LED TV Picture Quality
I’m going to make it simple: the picture quality is underwhelming at best. For some perspective, I used the TV in my bedroom and I put aside my 46-inch Samsung 6 Series from 2009, and I immediately felt like I was downgrading. Yeah, my eight-year-old 1080p Samsung LCD looks better.
The best way for me to describe the picture quality is to say that looks like there’s a film over the screen blocking the colors from coming through. They’re just a little flat, and regardless of the adjustments I made, I just couldn’t get the vibrancy I’d like from a TV in 2017.
That being said, none of this is surprising. Element makes cheap TVs, and there’s nothing wrong with putting out a device at a budget price point. Not everyone needs an expensive TV. A lot of users won’t even notice whether the picture quality of this particular screen is subpar.
In the grand scheme of budget TVs, this one is about average in terms of picture. When you spend a couple hundred dollars on a TV, you should go in with a certain expectation. The problem is that this TV doesn’t cost a couple of hundred dollars. The 43-inch model sells for $450. We’re going to dig into the value proposition soon, but this TV is about $200 overpriced from a pure image quality perspective.
Does the Fire TV integration make up for it? Spoiler alert: a Fire Stick retails for $40 and a full Fire TV sells for $90…
Fire TV Interface
The standout feature from this TV is the Fire integration. In fact, you could argue that it’s the only reason to buy it at all. Smart TVs are notorious for terrible operating systems. They’re slow, hard to find what you need, and clearly made as an afterthought by the TV companies.
Amazon delivers a solid interface that’s easy to navigate. It’s simple to search, browse, and even play some basic games. It’s without question the best smart TV interface I’ve ever used.
That said, many reports indicate that TCL Roku models have a more pleasant interface, and while I haven’t used on myself, it does bring me to my major issue with this TV (and Fire devices in general): Amazon really wants you to listen to, read, play, and watch Amazon’s stuff. While there is a Netflix button on the remote are there are also two different Amazon services.
The home page looks great, but almost everything there is either a Prime video or something you can buy or rent from Amazon. The Roku is much more agnostic, and it’s not pushing anything on you (other than trying to get you to buy a Roku initially). If you’re into Amazon’s stuff, the interface is great and you’ll be able to get to a wide range of content quickly and easily.
The good looking OS isn’t without its quirks, though. In my testing, I ran into a few issues and annoyances. Once, I switched inputs and the prompt that told me I’d moved to HDMI 3 wouldn’t go away. I turned the TV off, switched to other inputs, and of course did the obligatory yell at it in frustration, and it persisted. Ultimately, I had to unplug the TV to get rid of it.
Another annoyance I have with the interface is that, by default, when you turn the TV off and then go back to watch later, it defaults to the Amazon Fire home screen. If you have a cable box hooked up and you want to go back to it, you’ll need to hold down Home and select the input each time. It sounds like a minor gripe, but considering the main reason you’re paying extra for this TV is the interface, it’s the kind of annoyance that shouldn’t be there.
Speaking of cable boxes, while the Fire TV adds nice support for over-the-air channels via an antenna (not included in the package), cable is separate, so you’ll need to use the aforementioned HDMI inputs. That means no voice control for your traditional TV and DVR.
The menu for tweaking settings is solid and works as expected. It feels like a blend of a standard TV menu and an Android device menu because that’s what it is. The included voice remote makes getting to settings easy, and finding them without voice is as easy as holding down the Home button. You can change the backlight, contrast, auto-motion, and everything, but as I mentioned before, changing all that doesn’t actually make the picture look good.
All in all, the Fire TV interface is good. If you’ve ever used another device from Amazon’s TV box line, then you know what you’re getting. But does a nice interface (with some kinks, as we’ve mentioned) make this worth getting in spite of the mediocre picture quality? That’s what we’re going to find out in the next section…
How’s The Value?
I have some pretty serious issues with this TV and the biggest of which is that buyers will see the Fire TV name and overpay. You can head to your local Target and get a 43-inch Element TV with 4K, the same 60Hz refresh rate, and three HDMI inputs (the Fire version has four), for around $200. From there, you can buy a Fire Stick for $40, and get everything you get with this TV, minus one HDMI port for $240. Compare that to the $450 this one sells for, and the value proposition is all out of whack.
But what if, for some reason, you just refuse to hook a device to the TV and you only want what’s built-in. Well, in that case, you can get a less restrictive TCL Roku TV for $349 — a full $100 cheaper.
No matter how you spin it, there are just far better ways to spend your money in the budget TV world, and one of them is even offered in the form of Amazon’s own cheap Fire Stick. From a money point of view, this just isn’t a good deal.
In a vacuum, this TV is pretty cool. It has a nice interface and a picture quality that’s on par with other budget TVs. But we don’t live in a vacuum and I just can’t recommend this TV to anyone know that you can get an almost identical 4K experience with the same interface for over $200 cheaper. Amazon and Element are charging a premium for the Fire TV OS, but their own devices separately are just better value.