Christmas is coming and with that means two things. New tech and stocking fillers. When the new Amazon Fire Tablet was released at such a low cost we thought it would be a good idea to take a look and what what the fuss was all about for you.
All everyone seems to release or care about is the latest specs. If your phone or tablet does not come with 138472gb of storage, 47472gb of ram, a 56k screen and can last until an Ice Age between charges someone is going to find fault with it. That is just how it goes. Then when a new device is launched the cries that since it does not have this or that means that person will never buy that product, or anything from that company again. So back in September when Amazon announced their new Fire 7, it got my attention.
£50/$50 for the basic model. Yes we all read that right and it is indeed that cheap. A tablet so cheap that it would not matter if the kids threw it against a wall or if it fell out of your hand and smashed.
The question was it any good? We have all seen cheap tablets before and they were all so bad the only thing they were good for was as a paperweight. So has Amazon figured it out? Black Friday saw the price drop to £35/$35. At that price I figured why not pick one up and see what it is like, I actually picked up two but that is a whole different story.
Opening the box, peaking inside you will find a tablet along with a charger and standard micro-usb cable to charge it. The cable looks to be of the cheap kind, I was a little surprised not to see an Amazon Basics cable included mind you.
My first impression of the Fire was it had a nice weight to it. It’s not light, not too heavy either. The plastic on the back really sets it off as a cheap tablet. It feels cheap and is a little slippy. I have been worried that it is indeed going to slip out of my hand and hit the ground. Placed in my hand it felt okay. Yes again the cheap nature became a little more noticeable in the bulk of the Fire. However I am able to grip it with one hand with no real issues.
Holding the Fire in portrait most of the buttons and ports are along the top. The headphone port, volume buttons, mic, micro-usb port and the power button all sit along the top. Only the micro-sd card slot, which sits on the right side and the single speaker grill on the bottom of the rear of the device are placed elsewhere. I find the placement of both the volume and power buttons along the top to be a bit odd. To me the right hand side is a more natural location. The same goes for the charging port. Having it on the top is a strange move as the bottom is something we are all more used to.
So yes it all feels a little cheap. Here is the thing. It is cheap. At this price who cares. What matters is the screen, what is inside and thow it performs. It is also worth pointing out that the actual specs do not matter. Yes, I said it. The specs of the Fire Tablet do not matter. That is why throughout this review I will not spend that much time talking about them.
Screen and Sound
The common factor with just about every low-end tablet that have been released before now have been the terrible screen and insides. This is where Amazon stand out at this level.
You get a 7-inch screen that looks pretty good. Shopping, reading, playing games all look fine. Text is crisp enough to read, it is not blurry. Images while not high resolution the detail and colour come across in good enough detail that puts this well above the asking price Amazon is asking for.
One concern that I have noticed on occasion is a slight ghosting of my home screen while playing games or viewing media. The game Monument Valley seems to show it up the most. I will have it show up one night and the next it is kit there. Why I’m not sure, however if I ever find the cause I will update this post.
Other than that I have been quite happy with screen. I did find the video content I watched was very select. Sitting down to watch a full film on the Fire Tablet was difficult, something I put down to being used to consuming media at a higher resolution on my other devices. Yet I found if I put the news on or something that I did not have to devote all of my attention to then it was acceptable.
The same could be said of the speakers. They are not amazing however they are a step up for the usual low end variety. Listening to music was okay, I did find that listening to podcasts was much better overall.
There is a camera. It works. You are never going to want to use it. That is about as many words I feel the camera deserves. Amazon should really have not included a camera to either reduce the price or to have increased their profit margin per device. It is so useless I totally forgot to write about it and I only remembered after I had finished this review and had sent it to be published.
Software and Interface
Right, let’s get this point out of the way and be done with it. The Fire Tablet while based on Android at its core is not an Android tablet. That means you will find no Google apps installed, no Play Store, no Gmail, Google+, Drive or anything else. This is an Amazon product designed to bring you into the Amazon ecosystem. It is easier for you to ignore from the start any idea that the Fire Tablet is an Android tablet. Now that is out of the way we can look at the Fire Tablet on its own merits.
Blah, blah and blah. You might be thinking that is a strange way to start talking about the software and interface of the Fire Tablet, reason is it does not excite me in the least. It is smooth, everything is there and it is not difficult to find your way around. All this is good, it just doesn’t excite me or interest me at any level.
I think part of the problem is how un-invested I am in the Amazon ecosystem. I do not buy my books or audiobooks from Amazon, I am not a Prime subscriber so the Video and Music tabs are empty. I feel there is a large part of the experience I am missing out on. Yet using the Fire Tablet for the last few weeks I felt no desire to take one out. My loss yes I am sure of that. I do believe that if you plan on buying your books from Amazon and using Prime Video as your streaming service then the use you will get out of the Fire Tablet greatly increases.
Turning my attention to the App Store I found a lot had changed since I last looked at it. Now with what is known as Amazon Underground the App Store is a healthy store, packed with almost everything you could want – Google apps aside. All the main apps I use on my primary tablet ES File Explorer, Player FM, Feedly, Pocket, Battlescribe, Wikipedia are all there. I have all the usual apps built in that I expected to see your Calender, Email, Weather, Browser and Calculator. The only one app that I needed to find a replacement for was a PDF reader and the App Store had plenty of choice for me to install.
Gaming on tablets is not something I do a lot of. Saying that all the big games are there – Minecraft, Candy Crush, Game of War, Monument Valley, The Sims, Grand Theft Auto, The Simpsons Tapped Out and much more. Any game I tried ran smooth, I never felt any game I tried pushed the Fire Tablet to the max. Perhaps there is some games that will end up pushing the hardware to the edge but for a $50/£50 tablet I have found it smoother and better than any of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2/3 tablets the kids have used and all for about a quarter to a third of the price.
If you have stuck with this review until now, or perhaps you just jumped straight here, the question is should you buy one? That is not the first question you should be asking. What you should ask is “Why do you want one?” My experience the last few weeks has been swinging back and forth from this is the greatest piece of tech I have encountered right to this is the most frustrating piece of tech I have used since I last used Windows.
Let us start with the good. It is cheap, I might have mentioned this before but it is worth bringing up again. It is not cheap in the “cheap and nasty” vibe. Amazon have actually figured out how to make a cheap tablet more than the sum of its parts. I pick it up, think about how much I paid for it and I still get blown away. Knowing that if I drop it chances are it is not going to smash and crack is also nice. The Amazon App Store is so much better than you think it is. Now with Amazon Underground giving you paid apps for free more and more developers are jumping on board to give you access to their apps. Finally, it is also the perfect spare tablet for yourself or starter tablet for kids or parents/grandparents.
Now the bad is where it gets interesting. It is cheap. Yes, this is a bad point just as it is a good point. The reason that it is bad is because there are times you will want more from the Fire Tablet. The more you use it the more you use it the more you notice where it could be better – The screen, the feel of the plastic, the camera (if you remember you have one) and the rest. Yet I feel this is all part of the Master Plan from Amazon. The low end Fire Tablet is like a gateway drug. It is cheap enough to tempt you. They get you hooked and before you know it you find yourself trapped in their ecosystem craving for a bigger, better screen, you crave more storage and Amazon are there to sell you their bigger and better models.
We also should address the Google problem. Amazon have taken a very strong stance by not allowing Google apps in their App Store. That is a huge mistake. Most of my problems have come from not having access to my Google account in the form of Google+, Gmail, Play Books, Play Music, Drive and Keep. Yes I can access them through the browser or other 3rd-party apps, it is just not the same. Native Google apps would not only be a beautiful thing but would open interest from those who are already invested, like myself, with Google. Unfortunately I do not think this is something that is going to change anytime soon. That is a shame it could have been perfect.
If you want your kids to stop using your lovely expensive phone or tablet buy them this. It is good enough. If your parents want something to surf the web without spending a lot of money tell them to pick one up. If you want a spare tablet to have in the kitchen for reading recipies off or reading your news in the morning stop reading and place your order now. If you want a tablet to edit photos, to binge watch Netflix or to spend hours playing intense games this is not the tablet for you. You’ll want to spend a bit more for that, a Nexus 9 would be my personal suggestion.