Top positive review
Definitely a 1.0 release, but things can only get better (updated 2020-10-19)
Reviewed in Canada on December 12, 2019
I finally upgraded to a "modern" TV on Prime Day, and had to reconfigure the blaster setup. I also upgraded my soundbar to a smart soundbar. Overall, my user experience has improved compared to when I first bought it.
* Because I now have a newer TV (Sony), I can now access all of my TV's inputs with no issue.
* I upgraded from a Bose Solo 5 soundbar to a Bose Soundbar 500 - at first it didn't work when I attempted to add the 500 as a "Soundbar". Turns my new soundbar is considered to be a "Receiver" for the FireTV to find the proper IR profile.
* Everything works perfectly. I can now do everything I want/need using the Amazon FireTV remote and/or Alexa voice commands.
* The device labeling situation still hasn't improved. I can't believe there's still no entry for "Nintendo Switch" or the ability to custom name a device. As mentioned in my last update, if they fix this, I would upgrade my product rating to five stars.
* I think the IR Blaster is perfect for simple use cases (like mine) where you just want to switch inputs (done by voice) and control any other playback devices that only require the buttons available on the FireTV remote. If your requirements are more advanced than that, you will be better off with something like as a Harmony Hub.
Some additional updates a week into usage that merited an upgrade of 1 star (based on how important those features are to me):
* "Alexa, Open Youtube" now launches Youtube instead of showing me search results
* "Alexa, Open Teksavvy" will now open the Teksavvy TV application
* If you have multiple FireTVs, and want to refer to one particular TV as "TV", you can work around it by creating new voice routines "Turn on the TV" and "Turn off the TV" that act as a surrogate for Turn off/on the Living Room TV, for example. For switching inputs, however, you will still need to identify the TV in your Alexa command (e.g., "Alexa, Switch the Living Room TV to Game Console"
* Worth another star to me: If Amazon adds the ability to name the inputs, that would do it for me
Original 3-star review below
I had been getting frustrated with the flakiness of my Harmony hub and its generally bad integration with Alexa, so when I saw that this was being released, I decided to give it a go.
Is it worth buying? It depends on a bunch of things.
It's early days, and because the problems are all software related, things can only get better.
My particular use case: I wanted to be able to use voice to turn the TV on and off, and to switch inputs on the TV using voice. On my nice to-have list was the ability to launch apps on the FireTV by name. I fully expected to have to use a remote for everything else.
The Echo/FireTV/Blaster combination can do most of what I bought it for, but not all. Part of the problem is my older TV, which doesn't appear to have all of its discrete input codes in Amazon's IR profile, but I have been looking at upgrading my TV in the next year anyways.
Am I keeping it? Let me put it this way, I've already disassembled my Harmony Hub setup, even though it's technically more capable than the FireTV Blaster. As the software gets better, I'll update my score accordingly.
The Good Parts
* Voice integration with Alexa is more reliable than using the Logitech Harmony skill (which limits you to one hub), or by using a workaround such as controlling Harmony via SmartThings
* You can use Alexa to switch inputs, and assign those inputs by device
* You can limit control of the blaster to the Echo(s) near your TV -- this is something I really like
* Seems kind of smart in terms of detecting your IR capable devices, but that part is a bit of a black box
* Very nice industrial design is tiny and inobtrusive
* Comes with everything you need, power adapter, cables and an extra IR emitter
* USB powered
* Discovery of your devices with Alexa is fairly easy, so long as you have compatible devices, you are good to go
* I had line-of-sight range issues with the Harmony that I don't have with the FireTV Blaster
Hit or Miss
* You need to be invested in the Echo/Alexa/FireTV ecosystem
* Documentation/instructions aren't that clear
* Some of the commands require specific phrasing. For example, I can't just say "Switch to game console", I have to say "Switch living room tv to game console", even though my two living room echos are set to only control the living room TV. This is annoying, as I had to print out a list of commands that work so my wife could learn what commands work without having to go through trial and error. The only silver lining is that you'll have them memorized after a day or so of using them.
* Setup requires fiddling with the FireTV and Alexa mobile apps PLUS the FireTV itself (prefer this be unified) - having said that, this is still better than the hot garbage that is the Logitech Harmony software
* Requires a compatible FireTV - I don't consider this a problem, since I think the blaster relies on the FireTV as its brains
* Had no issue recognizing and controlling my Bose Solo 5 sound bar
* Lets you add other devices like media players, game consoles, etc. But the names are preset and can't be changed. For example, there's an entry for Xbox and Playstation but I had to use "Game Console" for my Nintendo Switch and couldn't rename it to something more intuitive.
* If you have more than one FireTV (I do), you have to name your TVs uniquely, which isn't a big deal, but you can't name your main one "TV". Alexa would simply return a cryptic response like "Provider is having trouble" or "I can't control the device named device" even though you didn't say the word "device". So your launch command has to be longer, like "Turn on Living Room TV", even if you have only one TV that can be controlled by voice.
* Alexa knows Plex, Amazon Video and Netflix, but when you try to open Youtube, it just gives you search results for Youtube apps even though Youtube is installed. I hope they fix that one sooner than later, since I watch a lot of Youtube.
* Alexa can't launch apps with complicated names, like "Teksavvy TV". You're going to have to use the more for that one.
* Would be nice if you could assign IR functions to the FireTV remote's buttons outside of the FireTV/TV/Soundbar, but not a dealbreaker for me
The Bad Parts
* Recognized my 2008 Sony TV, but could only access 3 or 4 out of the 9 inputs via IR (and of the HDMI connections, only 2 out of 3, which is really unfortunate since I use all 3). I tried fiddling with the infrared settings on the FireTV to no avail. My Harmony had no issue with any of the discrete input codes for all of my TVs. I'm hoping that Amazon can eventually update their library of IR code profiles to fix this, but maybe this is an excuse to update my decade-old TV.
As I said earlier, it's early days. I got mine for launch day, and I fully expected a buggy "1.0" product, and that's what I got.
If you have only one recent vintage TV (made in the last 5 years or so), a FireTV, maybe a couple of devices and a soundbar, and only watch the major streaming services, you'll probably be fine getting one now.
If you have an older TV like me (or multiple FireTVs recognized by Alexa), and a more complicated setup (i.e., using an IPTV app like Teksavvy TV), you will have a less smooth experience.
Having said that, I still like it over anything made by Logitech Harmony. Harmony hardware is perfectly fine, but the user experience with the software has always been incredibly bad, in my opinion. Unfortunately, the competitive landscape for smart remotes is very sparse, so there aren't a lot of reasonably priced options that offer a good setup experience.
Since all of my issues are software related, I fully expect the experience to get better over time, but your mileage will definitely vary depending on your use case.