Amazon really wants a spot in your home. It lost with smartphones, but it stumbled onto a hit with the Amazon Echo speaker and its Alexa voice assistant.
Amazon Fire TV remoteJeff Dunn/Business Insider
  • Element is stressing the performance of these TVs. Each model comes with a quad-core chipset, 3 GB of RAM, a Mali GPU, 802.11ac Wi-Fi (i.e., the fastest), and 16 GB of expandable storage. Amazon says this should make them a bit faster than its top-end Fire TV box, which is $89.
  • As someone who has sat through lagging in clicking through the cheaper Roku TVs, I can appreciate that focus on performance. However, comparable Roku TVs from TCL undercut Amazon's TVs on price by a good amount, so you're paying for the apparent speed boost.
  • There's a good number of ports on these things — four HDMI ports, an Ethernet jack, an optical out port, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, and so on. There isn't a headphone jack built into the remote, unlike those of some Roku devices, but you can hook up Bluetooth headphones for private listening.
amazon fire tv 4kNotice how the Fire TV operating system bundles at the top of the main menu everything you last used, whether an app, antenna-based network, or input. Useful! Jeff Dunn/Business Insider
  • As with the newer Fire TV boxes, Alexa support is baked in. You can access the assistant through a microphone button on the remote. This in effect is like having a bigger Echo Show — you can have Alexa tell you the weather, call an Uber, turn down a (compatible) thermostat, or do anything else you'd do with an Echo speaker. Little info cards will appear on the screen. Having the TV anchor the smart home just makes sense. It's the centerpiece of the living room anyway, so putting Alexa in it feels natural.
  • The difference here is that Alexa can also do a few TV-specific things. You can tell it to change inputs ("Alexa, switch to PlayStation"), change channels, search for certain live TV shows, and so on. That's on top of the usual requests with opening apps, controlling playback ("Alexa, next episode"), and the like. How well Alexa will work within non-Amazon apps, though, will likely be hit or miss.
  • Amazon played up the appeal for cord-cutters in my demo. Beyond the obvious — the TV has a media streamer built in — the company has also beefed up how watching live TV over an antenna works. You can pause and rewind it, for one, or use a USB stick or SD card to save up to 60 minutes of a show. (Roku added the pause-and-rewind feature late last year, for what it's worth.) You can also mark your favorite live channels, then make it so you scroll through only those.
  • You'll also see icons for whatever's on those over-the-air networks in the main menu. This isn't groundbreaking, but the way it's implemented helps blur the line between what's live and on-demand. That's a bit of a theme here.
  • If you subscribe to HBO, Showtime, or any other network that streams live programming through Amazon's Channels service, that content will show up in a slick-looking and surprisingly detailed channel grid alongside the live over-the-air content. That's neat. You can't hook up a cable box and have live channels from that input integrate into the guide, though, so it's not an all-in-one solution. That's not Amazon's fault, but it's still a disconnect.
E_frontElement
  • The remote is similar to what you get with a Fire TV box. It's fine — if a bit abstract. It also has Roku-like app shortcuts on it: for Prime Video, Amazon Music, and Netflix. (You can set Spotify as your default music app with Alexa.)
  • Neither the picture quality nor the build quality of the Element TVs wowed me. You can't expect world-beaters at this price, and it should still be fine enough for most, but colors didn't seem to pop in the half-hour or so I spent with the new sets. Again, there aren't many display-boosting extras here — there's no HDR or local dimming. My gut reaction is that most of the value here is in Alexa and the streaming capabilities.

Now it's launching a different Echo every other week, stuffing Alexa into fridges, and beefing up Alexa's compatibility with other internet of things devices you may plant around your house.
But even with the Echo's success, there's still only one gadget that anchors every living room: the TV.
Amazon already made a play for that with its Fire TV boxes and streaming sticks. But now it's baking the software from those devices — Alexa and Amazon Prime Video included — right into the TV itself.
Amazon announced in January that it'd partner with three affordable TV brands — Element, Westinghouse, and Seiki — to do this. On Tuesday, it put the first line of these new TVs up for preorder on its site, ahead of a full release in June.
Those sets come from Element and include four "Fire TV Edition" models: a 43-inch model for $449, a 50-inch model for $549, a 55-inch model for $649, and a 65-inch model for $899.
All four are more or less identical on paper. There's no HDR support, as you'd expect with TVs on the relatively affordable side of the spectrum, but they do come with a sharp 4K resolution. Element says these will be available in Target and Meijer stores to start, with other retailers likely to follow.
I got a brief tour of the new TVs earlier in the month. The short takeaway is that Amazon is emulating what Roku does with its line of Roku TV partnerships. When you turn on one of these new TVs, you're greeted with an interface that's virtually identical to what you see with a Fire TV box.
That means you get rows and rows of icons, most of which are used to get you into content you might like. I generally prefer Roku's approach, which focuses more on getting you to apps than the shows within them, but Amazon makes room for dedicated recommendations for apps like Netflix and HBO Now — though Amazon's services, such as Prime Video, are hard to avoid if you're not a subscriber.
The user interface is busier than Roku's simple grids, but it's not difficult to navigate. Plus, it looks nice. Most of the big-name apps are supported, too, though Google — and thus anofficial YouTube app — is absent.
Some stray tidbits worth noting:
Amazon is entering a crowded field. Aside from Roku TV's successes, Sony and Vizio have hitched up with Google's Android TV and Chromecast platforms, while Samsung and LG continue to use their own software.
Of those, Amazon is mainly targeting Roku by partnering with lower-cost brands. Some Roku TVs are cheaper, though, so Amazon is banking on the strong internal tech and, notably, the more robust voice controls through Alexa to win out. It genuinely is easier to get around when you can tell your remote to do it for you.
I'll have to test further before I can say whether that makes the Fire TVs worth the plunge, but at first blush, there's plenty to like. Either way, it seems destined to be the next step in Amazon's takeover of your home.