A major part of Alexa’s roll on the Amazon Fire TV Cube is the voice assistant’s ability to control home theater equipment and serve as a universal remote. While controlling external devices with Alexa is great, Amazon has also added a lot of new voice navigation capabilities to the Fire TV Cube itself to better utilize Alexa. Here’s an overview of the different ways you can use Alexa to navigate around the Fire TV Cube’s interface.
I’ll be writing a separate article diving into what it’s like to control home theater equipment using the Fire TV Cube. I also plan to go in-depth in a separate article on all the improvements Amazon has made to Alexa’s other abilities on the Fire TV Cube. This article focuses only on the new voice navigation options introduced with the Fire TV cube. These voice navigation features can be used either through the hands-free capabilities of the Fire TV Cube or by speaking through the voice remote. Nearly all of these voice navigation capabilities on the Fire TV Cube are new and are not available to people with an Echo device paired to an older Fire TV model.
Alexa can be used to navigate the Fire TV Cube interface by voice in numerous ways that are not available on other Fire TV models. While using the remote is usually faster than navigating by voice, the point of voice navigation is not to replace the remote, but to supplement it as an additional interaction option for when the remote is out of reach or when your hands are full. Voice command suggestions will periodically appear in the lower or upper corners of various screens to teach you what can be used.
Saying “Alexa, go [Home/to My Videos/to Movies/to TV Shows/to Apps/to Settings]” can be used to load one of the main Fire TV interface screens from the main navigation menu. This can be said while doing anything on the Fire TV, not just while on the home screen, to jump directly to one of those screens. You can also say “Alexa, go to My Watchlist” or “Alexa, go to My Video Library” to jump directly to a full-screen view of just those video lists. In almost all scenarios, saying “Alexa, go back” will return you to the screen you were previously viewing, as if you pressed the back button on the remote.
Saying “Alexa, show more” or “Alexa, scroll down” from any of the Fire TV’s main interface screens will transition what you’re viewing to a voice-friendly version. Each row will be numbered so that you can say “Alexa, select number [#]” to dive into the row by voice. Above is what you see when you say this on the main Fire TV Cube home screen.
Selecting a row by voice displays a grid of all the items in that row with numbers by each item to make it easier to select one by voice. Saying “Alexa, show more” or “Alexa, scroll right” will scroll the list to view more items. You can also use the remote to scroll and select items from this interface. At any point, you can select an item from the list by number, even if you’ve already scrolled past it or haven’t yet scrolled to it.
Searching by voice has been a key feature of Fire TV devices long before Alexa was introduced to the world. The standard search interface, seen above, is still available on the Fire TV Cube. It is what you see when you use the voice-remote or on-screen keyboard to search. This interface is handy to keep accessible because it puts all search types on one screen and is the only way to use the Fire TV’s legacy “Search in Apps” functionality for YouTube, Silk Browser, and Amazon Music app searches.
Performing a search using the Fire TV Cube’s hands-free capability, such as saying “Alexa, search for Stargate,” will display results using the same voice-friendly grid interface as is used when diving into specific content rows. From here you can say “Alexa, select number [#]” to view the detail page of the item, or you can say “Alexa, play number [#]” to immediately begin playback.
For hands-free searches, Alexa only displays one type of search result at a time. They can either be movies/shows, apps, or music videos. (Actually, they can also be songs, playlists, and albums, but more on that in a future article.) If you don’t specify what you’re looking for, Alexa does a pretty good job of guessing which type of result is most appropriate for your query. Saying “Alexa, search for Downloader” will, for example, display results for apps matching the query without needing to explicitly ask for apps. You can be explicit with your request, to control what type is searched, by adding “…movies/tv shows/apps/music videos” to the end of a request. Asking “Alexa, search for Stargate apps” will display only apps, as seen above, instead of the content search seen previously when just asking “Alexa, search for Stargate.”
Once you’ve navigated to the detail page of a movie or TV show, whether it was done by voice or using the remote, there are several voice options. As you’d expect, you can say “Alexa, play this” or “Alexa, watch this movie/show” to begin playback. This works regardless of which app the content is available from, so if it’s a movie on Netflix, for example, asking to start playing it will launch the Netflix app and immediately begin playback. If you don’t have access to the content through a subscription, you can also choose to purchase or rent the content using your voice, by saying “Alexa, buy/rent this.” Alexa will ask for confirmation before making the purchase and parental control settings can be used to block voice purchasing or require a PIN for all purchases.
There’s currently no way to get to the “More Ways to Watch” menu by voice, so if the default playback option isn’t the one you want, you’ll need to use the remote. There also appears to be a bug at the moment that prevents “Alexa, play this” from working when the piece of content is available from two services you’re subscribed to simultaneously. If you say “Alexa, play [title],” you will be correctly asked which service you’d like to use, so that’s a good workaround until the bug is fixed.
In addition to starting playback by voice, you can say “Alexa, play the trailer” while on the detail page to start the trailer. Another voice option is to say “Alexa, add this to my watchlist” or “Alexa, remove this from my watchlist” to manage your list. At any point, from any screen, you can say “Alexa, go to my Watchlist” to see only the content in your list.
There are a couple more voice options when viewing the details page of a TV show. Asking to start playback will play the next episode you haven’t seen or resume playing the last episode you stopped watching. If that’s not what you want to watch, you can say “Alexa, show me seasons” to view a voice-friendly list of the available seasons. As you’d expect, the list of seasons can be scrolled and selected by voice.
Selecting a season will dive into a voice-friendly list of the episodes in that season. If you prefer, you can say “Alexa, show me episodes” while on the detail page to go directly into a list of all episodes from all seasons. Unfortunately, there is currently no way by voice to directly request that a specific episode be played, such as by saying something like “Alexa, play episode 2 from season 5.” To get to that specific episode by voice, for example, you’ll need to say “show me seasons” then say “select number 5” and then say “select number 2.”
If the detail page you are viewing is for an app, the voice options are different. If it’s an app that you don’t have installed, you can say “Alexa, download this app” to begin downloading and install the app. Once the app has been installed, you can say “Alexa, launch this” to open the app. Unfortunately, there’s no way to scroll down a detail page by voice, whether it’s an app or video content. This would let you get to screenshots, reviews, and related content, which would be handy.
That’s an overview of the various Alexa voice navigation options that are available on the Fire TV Cube, the vast majority of which are not available on any other Fire TV device, even if you have it paired with an external Echo device. There are a few things missing and I suspect that Amazon will be adding more voice navigation capabilities to the Fire TV Cube overtime, but this is a pretty good start.
As I said earlier, these voice navigation features are not going to completely replace the need for a physical remote, but I don’t think that’s the point. The point, for now, is supplementing the remote with alternate options for when a situation lends itself better to voice controls. As Alexa continues to improve, the situations where voice control makes sense will likely increase, but you’ll always be able to fall back to a trusty remote.