Amazon may have flopped when it came to launching a smartphone, but its tablets have been far more successful.
We're now several iterations in and, believe it or not, up to Version 5 of Amazon's own take on Android, Fire OS. With it we've got a new round of hardware that covers various sizes and price points.
What we have here is the 7-inch variety. It's the new entry-level offering with 8GB of internal storage and special offers, but it also costs an incredibly low £49.99 in the UK and $49.99 in the U.S. So it's potentially the most important one to look at.
Let's see what you actually get for not a lot of money.
Before we go much further, let's start off by looking at the hardware specs. What can you get for £50?
|Operating System||Fire OS 5 "Bellini"|
|Display||7-inch 1024 x 600 resolution (171 ppi)|
|Processor||Quad-core 1.3 GHz|
|Storage||8GB with microSD card support up to 128GB|
|Sound||Mono speaker, built in microphone|
|Battery||Up to 7 hours|
|Dimensions||115 x 191 x 10.6 mm|
So, pretty basic. But we'd not expect much more, frankly. How does that actually translate into the thing you hold in your hand?
Well, it's a 7-inch slab of black plastic. In no way does it have any kind of premium feel, but this time that's fine. What it does feel is sturdy. Amazon claims it's 1.8 times more durable than an iPad Air, though we have no idea what exactly they've done to come up with that number. But it feels tough enough, like something you could happily hand to the kids and not have to worry about the condition it comes back in. Of course, the price also helps with that.
It feels like something you could happily hand to the kids and not have to worry about
Unlike some of the other Fire tablets just launched, this one has a matte finish on the back, which I like. The others look like full scale fingerprint magnets. We've got a microSD slot behind a little door, a rather small looking speaker on the back and the camera where you'd expect to find it.
What you probably wouldn't expect to find is the volume buttons on the top of the tablet. Power, maybe, but then Amazon is probably assuming the volume will be most useful when you're watching video. Which you'll be doing with it on its side. And it's not as if you'll be one handing this thing, anyway.
Touching quickly on the display, and it's about what you'd expect from a 1024x600 panel at 7-inches. It's low-res, yes, but it's fairly bright and colors aren't too bad on it. It's fine for reading books on, probably still better quality than some of the lower cost e-readers, and since it's not HD you can save yourself a few dollars and pounds when you're buying videos and get the SD versions instead!
The bottom line on the hardware is that it's solid for £50. You could do worse and still spend more on a tablet.
Then we come to the software, where things have traditionally been much different to the Android we all know and use on a daily basis in these parts. The new Fire runs Fire OS 5 "Bellini." It's based on Lollipop this time around and elements of the visuals remain untampered. The regular back, home and task switching keys are present at the bottom, the notification shade is recognizable as being from Lollipop and so is the UI when you're using the task switcher.
Some of Lollipop still shines through what's still most definitely all Amazon
The rest of it is all Amazon. It's not a complex interface to navigate and anyone who's dealt with Amazon products before will feel its familiarity. Essentially all of your content is in front of you. Apps, books, videos, swiping left and right through the tabs is about as much as it takes. There's also a Library button that will take you to, you guessed it, your library.
There's still zero Google presence, right down to Bing being set as the default search engine in the Silk browser. Naturally, Amazon wants you to use its services, and the Fire tablet is the conduit to that. It covers all the basic bases, though, with Weather, Calculator and Contacts apps, to name but a few. The software can get a little sluggish from time to time, with noticeable lag in the main interface and web browsing just snarling up for no apparent reason. But most of the time it's not actually too bad. Certainly not for something as cheap as this.
I actually appreciate the simplicity given the major purpose of the Fire. It's for consuming content, so why shouldn't said content just be in front of you all the time? With a couple of swipes and taps you can be watching something on Prime Instant Video. I like that.
What I don't like so much, but still totally understand, is that the Fire also doubles up as a persistent upsell for Amazon. It's to be expected, yes, but on a personal level I still don't really like it. I've nothing against Amazon, I use it regularly. I use Prime Video now more than Netflix. But there just had to be a tab that took you straight into the Amazon Store. And while it's going to be hella useful to some people, I'm not sure I want to see an Amazon store link for a small selection of microSD cards in the settings menu.
As I mentioned earlier the one we have in is the basic, special offers laden edition. The special offers so far haven't been particularly bad. Mostly for Fire tablet accessories, which is fair, and one for Duplo. Which I might be buying for my kid. But it's not so bad.
Then we come to the content. Perhaps the best reason to buy any Fire tablet is if you're invested in Amazon's content ecosystem. Whether you buy music, movies, TV or rely on Prime Video, the Fire tablet instantly becomes an obvious choice if you want something primarily for consuming media. And whether we like it or not, the Prime Video experience is still better on a Fire tablet than any other mobile device.
My favorite thing? You can save video for offline use that you'd have to stream on another popular service. My other favorite thing? That on the Fire tablet you can save it to a microSD card. And with only 8GB in this thing (and about 3.5GB free when you turn it on), you're going to need to do that.
As far as consuming content goes, it's not a bad experience. The screen isn't terrible at this size and resolution for watching videos on the go and the speaker while small and lacking in any decent quality is at least relatively loud. Don't expect to get a great deal of battery life, though, so if you're going on a long trip, don't forget a battery pack.
We're now at the point where you can order a six-pack of Android powered tablets
So, final thoughts. I'm impressed that this tablet costs just £50 and I'm impressed that it isn't all around a terrible thing at that price point either. As a conduit to your (mostly Amazon) content it's a decent option and definitely one you could hand to your kids. Amazon's software is still a mixed bag, but it's nice to see a refinement in the UI to leave in some of the familiar Androidy-ness.
Should you buy one? If you're invested in the Amazon ecosystem, sure, why not. It's cheap enough that if you only use it for reading, watching movies and so on, it's not a big loss. Hell, it's got to the point where you can buy a six-pack of tablets. No kidding, Amazon will be selling these in packs of six as well. Get one for yourself, the other half, one for each of the kids.
It's not going to change tablets for the better, it's not going to play games like a champ and if you need to do anything that requires Google it's more than useless. But I'm OK with what it is, what it does and what I'm going to use it for. I've an SD card loaded up with Prime Video downloads and a plane to catch.
The 7-inch Fire tablet will cost £49.99 in the UK and $49.99 in the U.S. and will be shipping from October 23 and October 26 in each respectively.