Amazon's Android tablets and phone are often seen as second class citizens in the mobile world, but its Fire TV set-top box and Fire TV Stick gadget are worthy competitors in their respective spaces. Amazon is about to make both of them even better with a new update aimed at expanding functionality, particularly in those small but crucial areas that can make a big difference to the user experience. First up: Wi-Fi access for hotspots that require browser-based authentication, like dorm rooms, hotels, offices, and the like.

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This is a much bigger deal than it might sound like. One of the primary failings of Google's Chromecast is that its phone and tablet-based setup makes it almost impossible to verify on these common networks, reducing the cheap streaming gadget's efficacy when traveling. This additional capacity is a huge bonus for road warriors, particularly for the extremely portable Fire TV Stick - it means the difference between playing a video on your phone or laptop or playing it on the TV in your hotel room.

Both the Fire TV and the Fire TV Stick will be getting the ability to browse and search Amazon Prime Music playlists, input PIN codes without showing them on the screen (how was this not already in there?), and a collection of new shortcuts, like long-pressing the remote's Home button to put the device to sleep. The more powerful Fire TV will also be getting the ability to stream audio directly to a Bluetooth speaker or Bluetooth headphones for private listening, and the ability to expand the onboard storage with any USB hard drive or flash drive.

Unfortunately Amazon didn't give a date for the new features, stating only that the OTA will be sent out "in the coming weeks."

Press Release

SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mar. 24, 2015-- (NASDAQ:AMZN)--Amazon today announced new features are coming to the best-selling Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. These features will be delivered as part of a free, over-the-air software update in the coming weeks. Amazon also announced today that Fire TV Stick is now available in the UK and Germany, joining the #1-selling streaming media box, Amazon Fire TV.

"Customer response to Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick has been overwhelming--we've been working hard to build more of both as quickly as possible, and we're excited to be adding new features we think customers will love," said Peter Larsen, Vice President, Amazon Devices. "In the UK and Germany, Fire TV is already the best-selling streaming media box on Amazon, and we're thrilled to be bringing our fastest-selling Amazon device ever--Fire TV Stick--to the UK and Germany. We think millions of customers in the UK andGermany are going to love this product."

New features coming as part of the free, over-the-air software update include:

  • Expandable USB storage on Amazon Fire TV--You can now use a connected USB mass storage device to expand your Fire TV storage for downloaded apps and games--this enables you to have more games downloaded for easy access.
  • Connect to your hotel or dorm room Wi-Fi with captive portal support out of the box--Take your favorite movies, TV shows, games, and more with you away from home--Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are the first streaming media devices to enable you to connect to Wi-Fi that requires web authentication--this includes Wi-Fi at most major hotels, as well as some universities.
  • Private listening on Fire TV--Enjoy favorite movies and TV shows after the kids go to sleep, without worrying about waking them up. Support for wireless Bluetooth headphones to Fire TV lets you listen to your movie, TV show, or music without bothering others in your household.
  • Browse and search Prime Playlists--Prime members can now take advantage of hand-crafted Prime Music playlists directly from Fire TV and Fire TV Stick--there are hundreds of expertly curated Prime Playlists to choose from based on your mood, activity or even artist or decade of choice.
  • Hidden PIN entry--With the new PIN entry screen that hides the numbers selected, you can now make sure your kids (or freeloading friends) can't see your device PIN as you enter it on-screen to confirm a purchase on Fire TV or Fire TV Stick.
  • New shortcuts--Quickly put your Fire TV or Fire TV Stick to sleep or enable display mirroring by pressing and holding the Home button on your remote.

Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are available for purchase at www.amazon.com/firetv and www.amazon.com/firetvstick. Fire TV Stick is available to order starting today in the UK and Germany--it will start shipping on April 15. Learn more at www.amazon.co.uk/firetvstick andwww.amazon.de/firetvstick.