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When you go tablet shopping, there’s always that ridiculously cheap option that you expect to fall apart, or at least refuse to respond to your taps, after a few days.
Wisely, you probably opt for something a bit more expensive, certainly more than $200. But what if there was a tablet that was well made, reliable, had good battery life, and closer to the $100 mark… Would you buy it?
We recently took a look at the Google Pixel C tablet, a high end Android tablet that is positioned as a competitor to the iPad Air. But if this is out of your budget, it’s certainly worth taking a look at the Amazon Fire 7, a budget tablet and e-reader from the online shopping giant whose quality will surprise you.
The Kindle Fire: What’s It All About?
Available for just $50, the Kindle Fire is a surprisingly good tablet. Amazon sells it through its vast global network, which can help keep down the costs for a device that might normally be around four times the price.
Originally released in 2011, we’re up to the 5th generation Kindle Fire tablet, now known as the Amazon Fire 7. Running FireOS, which is based on Android 5.3.1 Lollipop, the Fire 7 is designed to allow you to consume media — with integrated store, music player, movie player, Amazon Instant Video and Kindle reader.
You also get the choice of whether you to allow adverts or not. This choice is represented by two price points for the tablet, with the more expensive option naturally resulting in no system adverts. The cheaper model is subsidized by ads displayed on the menu and lockscreen.
This isn’t a tablet that is by default designed for work and productivity, although that doesn’t mean that you can’t reconfigure it. For those interested in hacking their tablets, the Fire 7 represents a cheap option — you’ll find a great selection of alternative Android ROMs at XDA-Developers.com.
Various Kindle Fire Tablets
Several Kindle Fire tablets are currently available from Amazon, starting with the review device, the standard Kindle Fire, then the more expensive Fire HD, and Fire HDX, both of which offer some hardware improvements, and larger screen dimensions.
There’s also a kid’s version of the standard Kindle Fire (the Fire Kids Edition Tablet, for $99), which comes with an impact case (children tend to drop things) and a few media streaming options pre-installed.
You can save a lot of money on this option by just buying a suitably rugged case for your Amazon Fire 7, should you plan to buy one for your children.
What’s in the Box: Amazon Fire Hardware Spec
Each Amazon Fire 7 ships in a compact cardboard sleeve, pinched at the top, more like a toy than a productivity device. Perhaps there’s a reason for this… Also in the box is a USB cable and charger; you’ll typically receive a device with about 60% charge in the 2980 mAh cell.
A 191 × 115 × 10.6 mm (7.52 × 4.53 × 0.42 in) tablet, the modest 7-inch display is 1024×600 pixels, arranged at 171 ppi. There’s no Gorilla Glass here, so a screen protector must be purchased to avoid scratches and cracks over time.
A MediaTek MT8127D quad-core CPU operates within (four 1.3 GHz ARM Cortex-A7 cores) in tandem with 1 GB of RAM and an ARM Mali 450 600 MHz GPU.
Storage depends on the model you purchase; typically, it’s 8 GB, but there’s also a 16 GB option. Either way, you’ll be looking at this as the first customization to make, and the latest Fire 7s have support for up to 128 GB of additional microSD card storage. The microSD slot is well hidden behind a small door on the right-hand side of the tablet.
Amazon don’t envisage the Fire 7 as a media creation device, which is evidenced by the front and back cameras, a paltry 2 MP and 0.3 MP VGA respectively. A microphone is built in, so you can record audio — useful for Skype calls, perhaps — and the tablet has Bluetooth 4.0 LE support. Further connectivity is in the shape of 802.11 b/g/n wireless networking.
The Fire 7 weighs 313 g (11 oz), which is weighted well for the screen size.
Apps and Games for the Fire 7
Unless you plan on modifying the Fire 7, you’ll find that apps and games can only be purchased through the Amazon App Store. This can prove limiting, depending on what you want. Amazon offers a vast library of titles, but is missing some of the most popular games and apps.
On the other hand, if you have plenty of Amazon Coins then you have the option of picking up the big premium titles without dipping into your pocket.
Amazon Prime subscribers, meanwhile, get access to Amazon Unlimited, where some currently popular games and apps can be picked up for free. This is a great way to get some quality titles onto the tablet — you’ll find Star Wars, Angry Birds, and many other popular games.
Accessorizing the Fire 7
Unsurprisingly, the Amazon Fire 7 is the biggest selling non-Apple tablet (half of all Android tablets are from the Kindle Fire family). As a result, the Kindle Fire has a nice selection of accessories available for it, from cases and screen protectors to styli.
Now, if you’re planning to buy the Amazon Fire 7 for a child, but would prefer to avoid the $99 version with its “rugged” case, you can. Several rugged cases are available, into which the tablet can be securely fitted. Some even come with handles that double up as stands!
It’s worth mentioning that if you are buying for a child, a screen protector is a necessity. Worried about fitting one securely? Don’t be, our guide to applying screen protectors makes it very easy.
If there is any accessory you should definitely buy for the Fire 7, it’s a microSD card. This can be inserted in a covered slot on the side.
Enjoy Movies, Books, and Audio From Amazon and Beyond
With the Amazon Fire 7, you’re buying into the Amazon environment. This means that you have instant access to any existing Kindle books, Audible audiobooks, or Amazon Instant Video purchases that you have made in the past. You’ll also find any CDs and MP3s you’ve bought previously available to download and playback via the Amazon Cloud.
Amazon Cloud is enabled by default in FireOS. Any photos that are made or saved to the device, and any video clips recorded using the device camera will be synced to the cloud by default.
But, you’re not restricted to Amazon-provided media. The Fire 7 has a standard micro-USB connector that you can plug into your PC and sync music, photos and videos. Although limited to MP4, WEBM, and MKV formats, this means that you can enjoy your own movies, perhaps downloaded from another service, or ripped from your DVDs.
To find videos synced to your Amazon Fire 7, open Videos > Library > Menu > Personal Videos. As long as the video is in the right format, it will play.
However, for the best results, you should expand your tablet’s capacity with a good quality microSD card.
Who Can Use a Fire 7?
Seriously, these devices are very easy to use. If you’re coming from a standard Android tablet, things might be a strange at first as the Fire OS environment is much simpler. But it is based on Android, and this is recognizable throughout, from the Settings menu and the media selection screens, to the occasional error messages.
Whether you chose the child-focused version or not, the Amazon Fire 7 is easy to use by people of all ages. It’s not the best option for productivity, but if you want to read, browse the web, listen to audiobooks, or watch videos — or even play video games — it’s a great portable choice. Easy to hold, despite the weight (it’s a bit heavier than most tablets of a similar size), the Fire 7’s only real weakness is that it isn’t particularly robust.
If you’re looking for something more, Amazon Alexa is now being rolled out to Amazon Fire 7 (and other Amazon tablets), bringing the same voice-controlled magic experienced on the Echo, Dot, and Tap devices to this $50 tablet. We haven’t been able to test this on our tablet yet, but we’re told the full range of commands will be available.
When the Fire Breaks
Perhaps it is the build quality, or the quality control system, but Kindle devices occasionally develop hardware faults. Our Fire 7 device started out fine, but developed a “screen misting” issue, which seemed to stem from a faulty internal connection.
Was this the end for this tablet?
Well, no. Amazon operates a useful and functional returns system. Although you have to go through a telephone consultation to allow the fault to be described and diagnosed, as long as the device is in warranty and it is a hardware fault, they will replace the device.
You’ll find that a straight swap is provided, with the replacement sent to you first. Once this is received, and confirmed as working, you’re then provided with emailed instructions to return the faulty hardware within 28 days. It’s a good system that works pretty well.
Easy to Use, Simple to Sync
The Amazon Fire 7 is, without a doubt, a frustrating piece of hardware. It is popular, does everything you would expect it to… but that’s it. It is versatile in its abilities, but it does no more than play videos, games, audiobooks, songs, run apps, books and comics, and browse the web.
In short, the Fire 7 is a decent piece of kit, with good features, and a range of available accessories, but it never surprises.
It’s pocket-sized, portable, holds charge reasonably well (unless you’re hammering it with videos and games and using the display at full brightness) and is, most importantly, easy to use. The Amazon Fire 7 is affordable, but represents the lowest common denominator in the tablet world. A sort of anti-iPad, if you will.
The Amazon Fire 7 is a perfectly decent media consumption device in tablet form — ideal for videos, books, and games. It might not be the best tablet out there, but it’s fun, easy to use, and cheap.