Something that greatly differentiates the Amazon Fire TV Cube from the Fire TV 3 is the Cube’s Micro USB port and the official support for expandability that comes with it. I’m sure most Fire TV Cube reviews will quickly dismiss the port as simply where you connect the included Ethernet adapter, but, if you’re reading this, you probably already know better. Come with me on a magical voyage as I explain in excruciating detail how wonderful the Fire TV Cube’s micro USB port is and how it shows that Amazon is listening to our feedback.
First and foremost, yes, the Fire TV Cube’s expandability options through its micro USB port are not as ideal as the built-in Ethernet port, standard USB port, and micro SD card slot found on the Fire TV 2. However, all functionality that those built-in ports on the Fire TV 2 provide is available through the Fire TV Cube’s micro USB port. This is not true for the micro USB OTG capabilities of the Fire TV 3, so it’s a good indication that Amazon has heard our complaints and put in the effort to address them.
At the most basic level, the Fire TV Cube’s micro USB port can be used to connect the included Ethernet adapter to achieve a wired network connection. This is the exact same Amazon Ethernet adapter that is sold separately for $14.99 for use with the Fire TV 3 and the Fire TV Stick 2, so it is interchangeable among those 3 devices.
Even though the Ethernet adapter has a micro USB port on it, you do not need to connect USB power to the Ethernet adapter when it is used with the Fire TV Cube. That port serves no purpose for the Fire TV Cube and is only used to provide pass-through power to the Fire TV 3 and Fire TV Stick 2. If you do connect power to the Ethernet adapter while being used with the Fire TV Cube, it will not damage the Fire TV Cube, nor will it power the Fire TV Cube in place of the main power adapter. (Yes, I did actually risk damaging my Fire TV Cube to test this first hand, so, you’re welcome.)
The micro USB port on the Amazon Ethernet adapter also cannot be used to daisy-chain other USB devices to achieve both Ethernet and other expansion/peripherals. Connecting Ethernet and other USB devices to the Fire TV Cube simultaneously is possible, just not with the included Amazon Ethernet adapter. Not having this extra functionality out of the box is my only complaint with the Amazon Ethernet adapter, but I suspect it was probably necessary to ensure that the same Ethernet adapter works with the Fire TV 3 and Fire TV Stick.
Now that you know what the Amazon Ethernet adapter can and can’t do, let’s move on to other options. For that, you’ll need an OTG adapter. See this article for a list of great options. Whether you just want to connect one thing, a few things, or everything all at once, there’s an OTG adapter that fits each scenario. Among the accessories are USB hubs with built-in Ethernet ports, like this Smays USB Hub + Ethernet adapter, that allows you to easily connect USB devices to the Fire TV Cube while retaining Ethernet connectivity.
Something a lot of people will want to do is connect a USB drive to the Fire TV Cube. This can be a flash/thumb drive, a spinning external hard drive, an external SSD, or a memory card in a card reader. It makes no difference which you connect, as they’ll all be treated the same by the Fire TV Cube.
If you connect a USB drive formatted with FAT32, the Fire TV Cube will immediately mount the drive and display a message in the lower right saying “Limited Drive Access.” I’ll explain the message shortly, but the FAT32 drive is now mounted and accessible by any app, including media player apps like Kodi.
Mounting and making the USB drive universally accessible by all apps on the Fire TV Cube is very different from the behavior of the Fire TV 3. That device does not mount external drives in a way that all apps can access files on the drive. An app must be capable of mounting the drive itself on the Fire TV 3 to access data on the drive. ES File Explorer and Total Commander with a plugin are the only two apps I know of that can do this, which makes external drives nearly useless with the Fire TV 3.
This new behavior, or rather, the return of this old behavior for USB drive mounting that was available on the Fire TV 2 is a good indication that Amazon is listening to our feedback and bringing back functionality with the Fire TV Cube that was lost with the Fire TV 3.
Just as with all past Fire TV models, USB drives must be formatted with FAT32 for them to be read by the Fire TV Cube. Plugging in a drive with any other file system format will result in the above message being displayed, which asks you to select one of two formatting options in order to use the drive with the Fire TV Cube.
Selecting the “External Storage” option will simply format the USB drive to FAT32 and mount it in the same manner as I just described, so that all apps can read and write to the drive. Selecting the “Device Storage” option will prepare the drive so that it can be used to store Fire TV apps. This will format the entire drive with a file system that is unreadable by most computers. The drive will essentially be dedicated for app storage use and nothing else.
Configuring a drive for Device Storage will allow you to move apps from the Fire TV Cube’s internal storage to the USB drive to clear up internal space. The “Limited Drive Access” message displayed when connecting a FAT32 drive simply refers to the fact that the FAT32 USB drive cannot be used to store apps. If you wish, you can press the menu button when that message appears, or go to the Fire TV Cube’s Settings > Device > USB Drive menu to convert the drive from FAT32 to the app storage format.
So the Fire TV Cube supports both standard external storage and expandable storage for apps, which is something that hasn’t been possible with a new Fire TV device since the Fire TV 2. What’s even better is that it supports both simultaneously. If you connect two drives through a USB hub, one that’s FAT32 and one that is set up for app storage, both will be mounted and work correctly. The Fire TV Cube doesn’t officially support more than one drive, because only one drive will ever appear under the settings area, so there may be issues with multiple drives, but both drives were mounted in my initial testing, so it seems to work. I was even able to connect two FAT32 drives and a drive for app storage with all three mounted simultaneously. That’s something even the Fire TV 2 can’t do, since it only mounts one drive for each purpose.
Beyond USB drives and Ethernet, the micro USB port on the Fire TV Cube also supports USB peripherals. You can connect things like USB mice, keyboards, and game controllers. The highly recommended Logitech K400 Keyboard with Touchpad works perfectly on the Fire TV Cube. You can connect USB peripherals simultaneously with USB drives without any issues. Other USB devices, like the FLIRC IR Receiver also work perfectly with the Fire TV Cube.
While more built-in ports for the Amazon Fire TV Cube would have been ideal, it’s great to see that the device officially supports all the expandability features of past Fire TV models at launch. Amazon could have very easily repeated what they did with the Fire TV 3 and just supported their ethernet adapter, but thankfully they’ve made the Fire TV Cube much more of an enthusiast device by supporting numerous expansion options.