Gizmos

Amazon’s Fire TV Cube Has Everything but Curves

It lets you control your TV with your voice. It might start a design trend too.

Amazon Fire TV Cube
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Amazon.

Not content to let Sonos own the living room, Amazon, on Thursday, introduced a new Alexa-touting set-top box. The Fire TV Cube features about everything you’ve come to expect from a television companion. It has access to thousands of apps and channels, including Netflix, Hulu, Playstation Vue, and Amazon Prime Video. It streams 4K HD video at up to 60 frames per second as well as HDR, along with Dolby Atmos for high-quality audio. It can control other AV devices such as your TV, cable box, and surround-sound speaker setup. And of course, it can be used hands-free via voice control, with a full Alexa assistant baked in that can pull up visuals on your TV when appropriate. There’s only one thing this device doesn’t seem to have: curves.

The Fire TV Cube, with its shiny black glass sides, is a sharp departure for Amazon—and most other connected home products—stylistically. If you walk through the company’s Echo line, you’ll notice it’s dominated by statuesque cylinders, circular pucks, and spheroidal blobs. Other smart home speakers tend toward similar shapes. The HomePod is another cylinder, and the Apple TV looks a lot like a hockey puck. The Google Home Mini is a softer-looking puck, while the Google Home itself is shaped like a small vase. And the Google Home Max, while more rectangular, still shuns corners in favor of rounded vertices. Some other Amazon products, such as the Cloud Cam and Echo Look, also favor circular silhouettes.

Of course, many of these products are speakers. And while the Amazon Fire TV Cube essentially includes an Echo inside, it’s not an Echo. It’s a TV and living-room companion and part of the Fire TV product line. Most of Amazon’s recent products feature curves, but its previous-generation Fire TV devices have been more boxy in nature. The Fire TV Cube builds on that aesthetic instead. Even so, the fact that it’s a cube and not a rectangle, like many other cable boxes and TV accessories, is curious. It feels like a throwback to the ’90s and early 2000s, when the Borg cube graced TV screens on Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Nintendo GameCube was the console du jour. For whatever reason—aesthetics, engineering challenges, practicality—cubes haven’t been a popular form factor for home electronics over the years.

Perhaps Amazon’s Fire TV Cube will change that and hardware makers will reinstate the corners they’ve been shaving off for years. Or maybe they’ll view the Cube as an abomination, a threat to our safe and sharp edge–free way of life. Regardless, the Fire TV Cube’s shape sets it apart from its set-top competitors, which either plug into a TV’s HDMI port (like Google’s Chromecast) or are rounded rectangular pucks (like the Apple TV or Roku). And with a blue LED strip along its top edge, the device still has a visual tie to its Echo cousins, even if it doesn’t share their shape.

At $119.99, the Fire TV Cube comes in at a reasonable price point and ships June 21. At less than half the price and a fraction of the footprint of Sonos’ Alexa-imbued Beam sound bar, the Cube isn’t going to improve your TV’s audio (or visual) performance. For those without a smart TV, or those with an older set-top box, it will stream higher-quality content from a wide number of apps, stations, and services, perhaps enabling you to ditch a cable or satellite subscription. It also brings voice control to your TV experience, which can be useful in discovering new shows to watch, adjusting settings such as closed captioning, or discovering information about what’s happening on screen. Amazon Prime subscribers can preorder the device through Friday at a discounted price of $89.99. If you don’t order one online, don’t worry—you’ll be able to grab one at your local Whole Foods soon enough.