By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, August 18 2021: For some years now, Amazon has had two distinct streams of hardware products:
First, the Echo range of smart speakers, featuring the Alexa voice assistant. Over five years the range now spans price points from the Rs 2999 Echo FlexPlug, to the top-of-the-line screen-based Echo Show for Rs 24,999.
Second, the TV Fire Stick which makes television sets smart – that is capable of displaying Internet-based content. There are 3 models from the entry level Rs 2999 FireStick lite to the Rs 5999 4K Firestick.
These were two distinct product streams, along parallel, but separate development trajectories – until now.
Like a grand sangam, the Ganga of Alexa speakers and the Jamuna of TV Fire sticks have merged to create the Fire TV Cube – a smart television plug-in that also incorporates an Alexa-enabled speaker in chunky 8.5 cms (3 ½ inch), cube-shaped device that weighs just under half a kg and sits next to your TV.
In effect it morphs the functions of TV stick and Alexa voice control, making the entire job of controlling the TV a hands-free operation. Once plugged in to the mains and connected to the HDMI port of the TV, you can ‘talk’ to the Cube with instructions like ‘Turn on TV’, ‘Dim the lights’ ( if your light bulbs are smart), ‘Go to YouTube’, ‘Turn on soundbar volume’ … You can switch from your subscription channels like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar or TataSky all with voice while seated comfortably 10 feet away from the TV. (Surprisingly a HDMI cable is not provided: you have to buy one separately. I call that bad marketing, considering the asking price of the Fire TV Cube.)
The smart speaker part of the Cube’s DNA means that even if the TV is turned off, you can still talk to it and get information like, ‘What is the weather’ or ‘Which is the nearest chemist’ much as you would with an Echo device.
Is it worth the extra functionality? Let me put it this way: If you were anyway planning to buy an Echo speaker and planned to smarten your TV to latch on to your WiFi hotspot for receiving a lot more content, the Fire TV Cube makes a lot of sense by neatly doing two jobs. And just in case there were situations when you wanted to control the TV the usual (silent) way, they do throw in the wireless remote which comes with all Firesticks.
As a stand-alone device, the Cube comes with a good 1.6 inch speaker and 16 GB of internal storage space. It is enabled for the current 802.11ac WiFi standard. In its TV avatar it can handle 2160p, that is 4K content. Spec-wise, it’s top of the line today. Available here for Rs 12999.