Who spends vacation watching TV? I confess: I did a little, thanks to the Amazon Fire TV Stick, a $39 gadget that gave me access to NetFlix, Amazon Instant Video and more.
It might seem odd to take this along, but if you're hooked on "House of Cards" — not that I am — and you're lying awake or you need to keep the kids entertained, it's just the ticket.
Best of all, the highly portable Fire TV Stick is so easy even I made it work.
A caveat, though: In the first hotel I stayed in — this was in the Palm Springs area — Wi-Fi required logging in on a website. Fire Stick can't do that — yet — so instead of using the hotel's Wi-Fi, I thought I'd use my Mi-Fi hotspot.
Nope. Because of the remoteness of the hotel, the hotspot wasn't giving me a connection. Fire TV Stick was a nonstarter there.
But at the less-expensive second hotel I stayed in while in the Phoenix area, hotel Wi-Fi didn't require a log-in. Success.
The schematic above shows the five easy pieces and how they plug into one another. It helps if the electrical outlet where you plug in the Fire TV stick is close by because the provided power cord is only about 3 feet long. (I travel with an extension cord or a short-corded power strip so this is less an issue.)
On the TV, you select the correct input (HDMI 1, HDMI 2 or so on) and the on-screen tutorial will walk you through the rest. Using the remote, you can choose from several on-demand providers, including Amazon Instant Video and Netflix. (If you're an Amazon Prime member, you'll have access to a wealth of free content.)
There are music options and games as well, although PC magazine says "you can't expect as smooth a gaming experience with the Fire TV Stick, though we can't recommend relying on any media hub for serious gaming."
Is it worth hauling this around just to be entertained? It wasn't much of a haul: The five pieces fit in a cloth eyeglass case (which I happened to have kicking around in my bag) and weigh less than a pound. It's easy entertainment.
For the price of about two on-demand movies at the first hotel where I stayed, it gave me access to what Amazon says is 200,000 TV episodes, movies and more.
Was the reward worth the investment of time and trouble? I think so. Just wait till I tell you what Frank Underwood has done now…