Amazon Fire TV Cube The Amazon Fire TV Cube sports a microphone array up top for hands-free voice control. ($119 at Amazon)

Perhaps Amazon is a victim of the ol' "They were so busy wondering if they could, they never stopped to ask if they should" ethos.

The Amazon Fire TV Echo Cube Dot Edition takes the best of what Amazon does with hardware — that is, the Amazon Fire devices, and Amazon Echo devices — and combines them into something that's trying to do too much, and for the wrong reasons.

The problem isn't that having one streaming box to control all of your home media is a bad thing. It's a laudable goal, given the disjointed and too-often-incompatible nature of hardware. (Just try explaining HDMI 2.2, or ARC, or CEC to someone who doesn't live and breathe TV specs.)

No, the problem from the start — and as I'd argue it's been for quite some time — is that hands-free TV ultimately is not a good idea.

Read our full Amazon Fire TV Cube review

Part of that comes from the fact that I'm a serial channel-flipper. If I'm watching live and a commercial comes on, I flip somewhere else for those three-odd minutes. Then flip back. Rinse, repeat. (And drive your family crazy in the process.)

The underlying factor, though, is that what I want more than "hands-free" control is "distraction-free" control. And that's where tactile response comes in.

A good remote control is one that doesn't get in the way. One that you can use by feel. So you know exactly where the channel and volume are. Where the D-pad is within reach. Where you can control every aspect of your viewing experience — from the time you turn the TV on to the time you turn it off — without having to take your eyes of what is being watched.

A good remote control can be used without thinking about it — and without disturbing everyone watching the movie.

That's why phones make poor remote controls. They're too precise, and you absolutely can't use them by feel.

And that's why voice control is an awful way to command your living room (or, worse, bedroom) viewing experience. First, it's too slow. The act of speaking and the pause for recognition before finally executing the command adds more steps both cognitively as well as practically. It's easier to move your thumb to a button and then press than it is to think, speak, then wait.

But the bigger issue is that speaking is, by design, distracting. If I want to increase the volume a bit, I want to do so without interrupting the entire experience in the process. If I want to change the channel, I just want to change the channel. I don't want to have a conversation about it.

That's not to say voice control is all bad. Turning off the TV by shouting at it as you go out the door is great. The ability to tune to a specific channel — and quite possibly change inputs in the process — is great.

But those aren't the things I do the most. The everyday tasks, if you will, that are still simpler with a simple remote control. Changing channels. Changing volume. Inputting numbers, if you're still watching through a cable or satellite box.

Voice control may seem seamless. But it's anything but.

Amazon Fire TV


Fire TV Cube
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