Reviewing a remote control isn’t exactly an in-depth or comprehensive task. Is it comfortable to hold? Do those ergonomics hold up over time? Are there enough buttons — or perhaps too many? Is it possible to remap any of them as shortcuts for your favorite streaming services? How easy is the remote to find when it inevitably goes missing?
Amazon’s new $34.99 Alexa Voice Remote Pro goes on sale beginning today, and while its design largely takes after the remotes that come bundled with Fire TV devices, the “flagship” clicker (if that term is even applicable here) adds nice-to-have features like customizable buttons, backlighting, and a remote finder trick.
Bizarrely, the Voice Remote Pro isn’t being included with any Fire TV hardware. Not the just refreshed Fire TV Cube, which costs $140. And not even the new Fire TV Omni QLED 4K TVs — you know, actual televisions that aren’t exactly cheap. I can’t imagine many people are going to be so gung ho about these minor new conveniences that they’ll seek out the remote as a standalone purchase. Hopefully Amazon will eventually pair it with a streamer. Until then, it could make a decent stocking stuffer for someone that already has a compatible Fire TV.
The Voice Remote Pro looks very similar to the standard Voice Remote, though it’s a bit shorter at 5.8 inches compared to 6.2. Amazon has eliminated some of the unused space at the bottom, but the difference isn’t obvious when you’re holding it: both remotes are comfortable and have a relatively intuitive button layout. The Voice Remote Pro is slightly busier since it relocates the settings button (and eliminates the recent apps button) to make way for two customizable buttons. But if you’ve used any of Amazon’s remotes, this one will instantly feel familiar.
The two programmable buttons can be mapped to any app installed on your Fire TV. Netflix, Prime Video (of course), Disney Plus, and Hulu are covered by the hard-coded branded buttons, so I set my two customizable options to launch HBO Max and Sling TV. But the buttons aren’t limited to just that task. You can also assign them any Alexa phrase you want, after which pressing the button will trigger the specified command.
So if you’ve got an Alexa movie night Routine that dims the smart home lights in your living room, one of the buttons can handle that. If you frequently tune to a certain channel on a cable box connected to your Fire TV Cube (or on a supported TV streaming service), same thing. Program that action to one of the buttons, and from then on, you won’t have to say it every time. Want to pull up a Ring camera feed with a single button press? That’s doable, too. Maybe you really like keeping tabs on the weather and want to assign that to one of the buttons. There are a lot of possibilities. When you hold down either of the remappable buttons, your recent Alexa commands are shown on-screen, and you just select which to assign to that button.
Amazon could have taken the obvious extra step and given the remote hands-free voice controls for even deeper Alexa support, but it didn’t go that route. To access Alexa, you still need to press and hold the designated button and then speak. The remote’s built-in mics aren’t activated otherwise. Roku offers a choice with its pro remote: there’s a physical toggle on its pro remote that, in one position, enables hands-free “Hey Roku” hotword recognition and, in the other, mutes the mics for that purpose. Apparently Amazon didn’t want to make things quite so involved, so it opted for the same press-and-hold approach as other Alexa remotes. I’ll take the privacy win in this case.
Another new button is located at the upper-right corner of the remote. There’s a headphones icon on it, but pushing the button actually brings up your Fire TV’s on-screen Bluetooth menu. That’s where you can quickly pair a set of Bluetooth headphones or earbuds. All of this is happening between the Fire TV and your chosen headphones; the remote button just gets you to that menu faster.
Everywhere else, the Voice Remote Pro shares the same buttons as the standard Alexa Voice Remote. There’s a live TV button for quickly hopping into that section of Fire TV OS. You get volume and channel controls; the latter is for cable / satellite and supported streaming services. Plus, there are the usual buttons for home, menu, back, Alexa, mute, and power. About the only thing missing from the Voice Remote Pro is the handy recents button that’s present on the latest Fire TV Cube’s remote. It makes multitasking and switching apps a little more efficient, but losing it isn’t a deal-breaker. As it turns out, Amazon is working to let people map the recents function to one of the programmable buttons in the future. I think the company strikes a good balance with what’s here. There are a lot of buttons, but they’re all self-explanatory. Anything more and the experience would probably stray into confusing territory.
Considering how often you use them in a dark environment, I’m of the belief that all home theater remotes should be backlit. And the Voice Remote Pro is a great example of how it should be done. (Nvidia’s Shield TV is the only other popular streaming device that comes with a backlit remote.) The backlighting is pleasant without any spottiness or areas with light bleeding through. The remote automatically lights up when you pick it up in a dark room and stays illuminated as you use it. Maybe it chews through the included AAA batteries a smidge quicker, but I’ll choose the improved usability every time. C’mon, everybody. Let’s make this the status quo.
The only other noteworthy advantage of the Voice Remote Pro is its new finder feature. You can call out to Alexa on any smart speaker (or the Fire TV Cube if you have one), say “Alexa, find my remote,” and within a few seconds, the Voice Remote Pro will emit a ringing sound that should make it easier to track down. You can also press the Remote Finder icon in the Fire TV app for Android or iOS to activate the sound. There are some requirements to keep in mind, however. The main one is that this function only works if the remote is within 30 feet of the Fire TV it’s associated with. So if you accidentally carry your remote to the complete opposite end of your house, this might not be very helpful. The remote will ring out for up to five minutes or until you press one of its buttons to signal a successful retrieval. With Roku and now Amazon providing integrated remote finding, it remains a frustrating miss that Apple continues to leave out something so helpful on the Apple TV 4K’s Siri Remote.
AGREE TO CONTINUE: AMAZON ALEXA VOICE REMOTE PRO
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
Since you’ll be using the Alexa Voice Remote Pro to control Fire TV streaming devices, it’s tied to the same requirements. You’ll need an Amazon account, which means you’ll be agreeing to the company’s conditions of use and privacy notice to get started. It’s also important to be aware of privacy settings for Amazon’s Alexa since the voice assistant plays such a large role on this device.
The Fire TV platform comes with its own privacy settings (enabled by default) that allow Amazon to:
- “Use personal data collected by the operating system of this device for marketing and product improvement purposes.”
- “Allow Appstore to collect information on the frequency and duration of use of downloaded apps.”
There’s also an “interest-based ads” option that lets you opt out of apps using your device’s advertising ID to build a profile for targeted ads. Separate from this, you can choose to reset your advertising ID.
The Alexa Voice Remote Pro is definitely the best clicker you get for a Fire TV streaming device or a TV that runs Amazon’s software. The customizable buttons and backlighting easily put it on a different tier than previous Alexa remotes. And now, Alexa can help you find it in the couch cushions. Thirty-five bucks seems like a fair price, even if that’s more expensive than the company’s entry-level streaming sticks. But Amazon should bundle this with higher-priced Fire TV gadgets in the near future instead of making people fork out for the remote by itself if they want the new benefits.
It’s not as though people are cross-shopping remotes across streaming players. You get the one that comes with the box you like best, and each has its own strengths. The Shield TV’s triangular remote still ranks as my favorite for ergonomics, and the Siri Remote has the best scrubbing / fast-forwarding gesture around. But I like the flexibility and control that Roku and Amazon are extending to customers with customizable buttons that can remember voice commands. If everyone can get on board with that (and standardize backlighting and remote finding), we’ll all be better off.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge