Toshiba Amazon Fire TV Edition: Alexa voice comes to cheap TVs

If you’re getting a budget TV for a bedroom or secondary room, you should be looking for something with a good “smart TV” system built in. It’s more convenient to get your streaming shows and movies from the TV itself rather than bother with a separate stick or other device.

Two smart TV systems today stand above the rest: Roku TV and Amazon’s Fire TV. Both deliver more apps, better search and more options than competitors from traditional TV brands like Samsung, LG and Vizio.

Between the two I favor Roku TV. It’s simpler and puts every app and service on a level playing field. Fire TV, on the other hand, naturally favors Amazon, and it seemed like Amazon Prime Video was everywhere I looked on these TVs, relegating Netflix, Hulu, HBO and the rest to also-rans. That’s why, for most people, a Roku TV like the TCL S425 or S325 is a better choice than one of these Fire TV Edition sets from Insignia or Toshiba.

There’s one exception to that rule: You’ll love these sets if you love Alexa. Unlike those Roku sets, every Fire TV Edition television includes a voice remote with Alexa. And if you have an Alexa speaker like an Echo Dot, you can turn on the TV, switch inputs, perform searches and do a bunch of other stuff hands-free, no remote required.

In terms of image quality, neither these Fire TV sets nor the TCL S325 and S425 Roku models are any great shakes, but I liked the TCLs a bit better. If you want a home theater-worthy image in a budget set, start with the Vizio E series — just keep in mind that it’s not available in sizes under 43 inches.

Insignia and Toshiba Amazon Fire TV sizes, models

There are a lot of different models of Fire TV Edition sets, so before we get into it, here’s a breakdown.

Fire TV Edition TVs

Brand Size Model Resolution
Insignia 24-inch NS-24DF310NA19 720p
Insignia 32-inch NS-32DF310NA19 720p
Insignia 39-inch NS-39DF510NA19 1080p
Insignia 43-inch NS-43DF710NA19 4K
Insignia 50-inch NS-50DF710NA19 4K
Insignia 55-inch NS-55DF710NA19 4K
Toshiba 32-inch 32LF221U19 720p
Toshiba 43-inch 43LF421U19 1080p
Toshiba 43-inch 43LF621U19 4K
Toshiba 49-inch 49LF421U19 1080p
Toshiba 50-inch 50LF621U19 4K
Toshiba 55-inch 55LF621U19 4K

Despite the fact that some of these TVs are branded Insignia and some are branded Toshiba, I reviewed them at the same time. According to my tests, both brands have similar (not great) image quality and the only other differences are cosmetic.

The same goes for the 4K and 1080p or 720p versions of each brand. The less-expensive Fire TV models have 720p resolution in the 24- and 32-inch size, and 1080p resolution (aka full HD) in the 39- and (some of the) 43-inch sizes. They can’t do high dynamic range (HDR). Meanwhile the models at 43 inches and larger have 4K resolution and HDR capability.

Most people choose a TV size first, then worry about everything else. In the 43-inch class, however, you have a choice. If the 4K version costs extra when you read this, save your money and get the 1080p version. I saw almost no improvement in image quality when feeding these TVs 4K HDR video. See the picture quality section for more.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Standard TV design, fancy Alexa remote

Between the two brands the main cosmetic difference is the stand legs. The Toshiba’s legs are a bit closer together and angled more sharply, while the Insignia’s are further apart and more squared-off. Both have the same remote, menu system and connectivity:

  • Three HDMI connections
  • Composite AV
  • USB
  • Headphone jack
  • RF antenna
  • Optical digital audio
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Sarah Tew/CNET

TCL’s cheaper Roku TVs such as the S325 and S425 lack the microphone and voice buttons found on every Amazon Fire TV remote. You can talk into the remote after pressing a button, and stuff happens. Normal TV commands such as, “Launch Netflix,” “Show me sci-fi movies,” “Play Black Mirror” (which launches the Netflix app and starts an episode), and “Skip ahead 30 minutes” worked as I expected. Many popular apps, including Hulu, HBO Now and Movies Anywhere, support voice commands. YouTube doesn’t, however.

Fire TV also lets you do everything Alexa does. It can control smart-home devices, get a weather report and answer questions, complete with on-screen results. Alexa’s voice also talks back through the TV’s speakers.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Fire TV also works with Alexa speakers for the same voice commands, hands-free. Using a paired Echo Dot I said, “Alexa, turn on the TV,” Alexa, launch Hulu,” “Alexa, play Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alexa, play Westworld,” “Alexa, go Home,” “Alexa, pause,” and they worked as expected. I also appreciated not having to use cumbersome phrasing like adding “…on Fire TV” to the end of most commands. Here’s Amazon’s list of voice controls.

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