Jacob Krol/CNN
CNN —  

When it comes to value TVs, Amazon and TCL are pushing the boundaries. It’s a competition, and that leads to breakthroughs — and that’s good for you, the customer. This time around, we’re looking at Amazon’s 32-inch Insignia Fire TV Edition. At $170, it falls squarely on the affordable end, and with a 720p HD screen, it screams value.

It has a plethora of 5-star reviews and features Alexa throughout. You can use Amazon’s voice assistant via the included remote to control nearly every aspect of the TV. Plus it’s powered by FireOS, which means it has the brains of a Fire TV Stick inside. You’ll get access to over 1,000 apps, like streaming services, out of the box.

But when you put this all together, how does it perform?

A simple design

For $170, don’t be expecting bezel-less and jaw-dropping design. Insignia chose a simple route that has been tried and trusted, so this looks just like any other flat panel TV on the market. You have a healthy black plastic bezel around the 32-inch panel. It’s the same width on all four sides, so it won’t be distracting. There’s a light silver Insignia logo along the bottom bar.

A control button slightly juts out of the left rear side, which you’ll use to easily turn the power on and switch inputs by moving the control stick in four directions. On the back, you’ll find the power plug and an array of ports: USB-A, composite, antenna input, optical, audio and an Ethernet port. Along the side, you’ll find three HDMI ports, one of which supports ARC.

As with any TV sold in 2020, this 32-inch Insignia supports standard wall mounts and includes a stand in the box. In this case, it’s not a center stand, but rather a plastic leg on each side, and that will be plenty to hold up this lightweight TV. We tested this Fire TV on a standard wall mount and it was light enough (11.2 pounds) to hold in two hands with no strain on the wrists or hands. It took just four screws to attach the mount, lock it into place and add one more screw. Done in about seven minutes flat.

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The bottom of the TV has two sizable speakers, both featuring DTS TruSurround and Dolby Audio when it’s supported. That’s impressive for the price of this TV, and we’ll foreshadow a bit — they sound really good.

In the box, you’ll get the Voice Remote with Alexa and a set of AA batteries to power it. Most TVs include the remote batteries, but it was nice to see even on a value model. We really like how the remote is longer than previous iterations, which makes for a more ergonomic feel. It also has more curves on the side and back for a comfortable hold. There’s an abundance of buttons on it: directional click wheel, power, voice, back, home, menu, reverse, play or pause, forward, TV, volume rocker and mute. Additionally, there are four quick access buttons: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO and Hulu. The click wheel was easy enough to use during setup and navigation, but we much preferred the voice control. Alexa is just as handy on a TV as it is on a smart speaker.

The 32-inch Fire TV by Insignia doesn’t have a stunning design — it doesn’t have the smallest bezels we’ve ever seen or the most robust construction. But for the price, you’re getting a solid TV, and it hasn’t fallen off our wall yet.

Let’s talk picture quality

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First off, we need to talk about why this has 720p resolution. It’s to keep the cost down, of course, but in our opinion, 32-inch models are typically the cutoff for when you need to bump it up. In 2020, we mostly recommend a 1080p HD model at the minimum; you want something sharp that will last for some time. But on a 32-inch panel, that will display too much detail and areas where it falls short won’t be all that noticeable.

And with that being said, the picture quality is not the worst. It was enjoyable to watch the news, some home improvement shows and even full-length films from a variety of sources. It is not as sharp as a TCL, a Vizio or a Samsung by any stretch, but those are all 1080p HD.

From about 4 to 6 feet away, content came through sharp, and you couldn’t pick up on the fuzziness of a chyron on the news. Moving in a bit did result in seeing some artifacts. From afar, though, views were pretty solid. Color reproduction seemed mostly accurate, although it could struggle to present a very vibrant picture at times, especially when we compared the same content against another model.

With the scene from “Frozen II” where Elsa crosses the ocean, it didn’t offer the best contrast to the brightness ratio when showing our heroine against the black and dark blue ocean. Smartphones performed better, although with a smaller screen to power, and other lower-end TVs offered a more immersive view. That aids in being able to really sink into the content and with the color accuracy being produced. This wasn’t a home run, but wasn’t an immediate out either.

We’d pass on gaming with only a 60Hz refresh rate and a total resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels. It’s low, but the best use case for this TV is casual TV. Don’t bother trying to use it as the showcase panel in your home, for gaming or as a computer monitor. With the latter you’ll almost immediately have a bad experience with it.

Once again, for the price you’re getting a dependable 720p panel that is fine for most uses. Sound is above average here, and it’s likely thanks to the two speakers working overtime. Even at 30 or 40, the volume packs a punch, with a balanced mix across low, mid, high and bass tones. Getting DTS TruSurround and Dolby Audio in the box on a value-oriented TV is a bonus here, and a very worthwhile one.

Fire TV is great

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When it comes to streaming services and smart TV platforms, they’re all becoming pretty similar. Fire TV and Roku probably fit in the same boat. They aim to support an array of services all from one easy-to-use ecosystem. Fire TV is a bit more clunky than Roku, with more ads tossed in, but it performs quite well here. It also brings a ton of value to the table with access to hundreds of services: Prime Video, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and many, many others.

On this TV, the software is powered by a quad-core processor that can easily power through setup, general use and voice controls. You can use the remote to navigate around the experience. It’s a mix of recommendations, suggested content and the channels or services you go to the most. Cable boxes will live on a separate input, but those using an antenna can get a Live TV experience integrated directly into the Fire TV home screen.

You can also ask Alexa, while holding in the button on the remote, to find a specific show, make a search, change the volume, switch the input, open a service, switch the channel and even to turn the TV off. You can also use other Alexa-enabled smart speakers, like an Echo Dot or Echo Studio, to turn this TV on or off. It’s handy, but we found ourselves using Alexa more natively with the remote than from other devices.

It’s an interface that will continue to get smarter with age, not one that will lose features. Amazon is thoroughly committed to Fire TV and you can expect new apps, services and skills to arrive for many months.

Bottom Line

At $170, you’re getting a dependable 32-inch TV that offers a ton of value outside the picture quality department. A resolution of 720p is average and will suffice for most users, but Fire TV with thousands of streaming services, Alexa built-in, Dolby Audio and DTS Tru Surround give this value TV an edge.

Ultimately, the choice likely depends on what ecosystem appeals to you the most, or maybe even the one you have in your home. TCL and Roku definitely deserve a look, but if you’re already integrated with Alexa, this 32-inch Insignia Fire TV Edition does as well.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed prices at the time of publication.