Amazon’s Fire 7 tablet (our review) and the child-focused Amazon Fire 7 Kids (they’re both the same device, separated only by a kid-proof case and different return policies) are popular devices for children. They make great gifts!
Your first impression is of a device that can play games, music, audiobooks, and videos. The eight-hour battery is a bit of a bonus, too. However, as time goes on, you find yourself fixing annoying problems with the tablet, checking for solutions online, and regularly turning it off and back on again.
Oh, and it probably lags too — a lot.
And while this is happening, your child is falling out of love with the device, bit by bit.
Are your kids happy with the Amazon Fire tablet? Perhaps you’re thinking about buying one. Here’s why you shouldn’t, and why existing owners should move their children onto a real tablet.
12 Months With 2 Amazon Fires
In June 2016, I bought my children (five-year-old boy and girl twins) a pair of Amazon Fire tablets, equipped with rubber foam cases. Costing just $50 each (or less on Amazon Prime Day or other special deal events) they were, of course, instantly delighted. But soon the problems started.
It wasn’t long before the tablets had run out of internal storage. It was after a week of installing games and taking photos when we noticed the problem — just hours before we had to leave for vacation. The tablets were largely intended as in-car entertainment for the children, so this was not ideal.
Since then, I’ve bought two high-capacity microSD cards, initiated four factory resets, and uninstalled more games than I can count. Oh, and then there’s the endless tapping of the “Move to SD card” button.
Twelve months of restarts, closing unresponsive games, battling with Wi-Fi drops, performing factory resets, and children crying because their tablet has decided not to launch their favorite game… it’s not good, and it leaves a bad experience. Kids want more from their tech. So do adults.
Insufficient RAM for Multitasking
Buried within the “2x more durable than an iPad mini 4” tablet is a 1.3 GHz quad-core CPU accompanied by 1 GB of RAM.
My smartphone has 3 GB of RAM. The Samsung Galaxy S8 has 4 GB. Even the Amazon Fire HD8 has 1.5 GB of RAM. Sure, these are more expensive devices, but 1 GB is utterly paltry for a device that is supposed to be capable of running apps and games from the Amazon Appstore.
In short, there are titles in the store that demand more from the hardware. It goes like this: games that are at the very limits of what your device can handle can be installed, then your daughter plays one of them — then she downloads and plays another, and perhaps another.
Within half an hour, three or more games are running, some low spec, others high. But multitasking has ground to a halt, along with the tablet.
And children under 10 just don’t want to close apps they’re not using. They want to be able to switch back to them in a few minutes when they get bored with game number two or three.
Default Storage Is a Joke
RAM is low, but so is default storage. With just 8 GB to play with (a 16 GB model is also available), if you don’t want to run out, you have three options:
- Don’t install games or apps bigger than a few megabytes.
- Don’t download any movies from Amazon.
- Buy a microSD card and add increased capacity.
This last option might not seem too bad (see below) but the other two can prove troublesome. As we’ll see later, games take up space both as downloading files and as installed programs.
Meanwhile, children love watching movies in the back of the car. These can be downloaded from Amazon Instant Video or synced from your PC. Streaming is an option, but not practical in the car. But prepare too many movies for your little ones to watch, and you’ll quickly run out of space for other media, as well as games.
As you can see, it’s all a bit tricky.
Online Checks for Games. Like, WHAT?
This problem came as a shock.
On a different trip later in the year (a four-hour drive to Liverpool), it soon transpired that some newly-installed games would not play. Why not? Well, the error message for one advised that the title’s “license expired,” and it blocked the game from running.
All you can do to fix this is connect to the internet, which isn’t really straightforward when you’re driving a car.
Now, we had two Amazon Fire tablets, but only one Amazon account. Other titles run on the tablets without any trouble — often the same game at the same time. Researching the error, I discovered that the problem is often linked to duplicate instances of the same title running, but this is sadly inconsistent.
In short, it’s a lottery as to whether or not games (and some books and audiobooks from Audible) will run. Whether games have been downloaded for free, or been bought, this simply isn’t good enough.
Games That Won’t Install to the SD Card
Because the Fire OS is based on an old version of Android, it has a problem handling games that run from the SD card. In short, they cannot be installed automatically to the expanded storage. However, they can be moved to the microSD card later.
This causes problems. Although many titles can be moved, downloading them in the first place can prove difficult, due to the limitations on native storage. Installing too many games that cannot be moved to the SD card means that games that usually can be moved can’t even be downloaded.
This can often result in you, as a parent, getting involved with uninstalling games, trying to download that one awesome new title, failing, and repeating the process.
Too Many Problems Fixable With a Factory Reset
With a low-spec approach to building tablets on a massive scale, Amazon probably doesn’t care too much that its most popular device cannot be used without a jigsaw puzzle approach to installing apps and games.
After all, their most popular response to support issues is to instruct users to initiate a factory reset. Sure, it makes everything fresh again, BUT it’s a massive pain, especially for children. All of their games are gone. Usually the progress they’ve made is also destroyed.
It’s the instruction I received when complaining that the Wi-Fi on one of our Fires would disconnect of its own accord. Seriously, that’s the fix — because there is literally no competent tech support.
In short, a factory reset is a temporary solution to a deeper issue. As long as the Amazon Fire remains a low-spec device, Junior is always going to be frustrated by games that won’t install to the SD card, online checks, low RAM, and a generally sluggish operating system.
And Then There’s Privacy
Credit where it’s due: the Amazon Fire ships with a good parental control tool. But this seems like a bit of an afterthought when there are so many issues with ads on the device.
We’ve previously looked at how to (attempt to) control privacy and ads on the Amazon Fire. If you’ve already spent a few minutes looking at how to deal with these issues, you’re probably loathe to spend more time closing unused games, or trying to get the tablet back online. In short, the Amazon Fire experience needs to be better for your child, and better for you.
You’re a Parent, Not a Techie
If you think that everything you just read is okay, then that’s fine. You’re the parent, it’s up to you whether you want to waste time dealing with these problems on behalf of your child. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing frictionless about the Amazon Fire experience for children.
We’re towards the end of the second decade of the 21st Century. Little ones have been born into a world of compact, digital technology. The TV has hundreds of channels that they can call up via the remote control. Your child sees you on your iPad or high-end Android or Windows tablet and sees that it just works.
So why is their tablet struggling to load Minion Run? Why won’t the audiobook play? How come it needs to check online whether the game you bought just last week has permission to load? And isn’t it a pain when you’re three hours from home, hoping your child will be entertained by the tablet, only to find that all of these things are a problem in quick succession?
You’re mom. You’re dad. You’re probably not the “expert” from the electrical retailer, nor a “supertechdad”. Other things are happening in your household. You need to get the dinner ready, or mow the lawn, or sort the laundry out.
So, what’s the answer? If not the Amazon Fire, which tablet should you choose for your children?
Finding a Kid-Ready Replacement for the Amazon Fire
Several affordable alternatives can be identified. We’ll be honest, they’re not as cheap tablets as the Amazon Fire, but then again, that device is essentially a portal into the Amazon ecosystem, and is manufactured on demand as part of the massive Amazon machine. In short, it’s not just a low-spec tablet, it’s a cash cow.
However, these non-Amazon Fire tablets for kids aren’t strictly tablets for kids. They’re tablets. You’ll need to install some parental control software to keep a close eye on what is going on. You’ll probably want to ensure your Google Play (or Apple App Store) account is secured so that no accidental purchases are made.
You may need to take even more steps to kid-proof your tablet.
However, the performance your little ones will get with these devices will be largely headache free, especially if they want a tablet for reading.
- ASUS ZenPad 8 (8-inch tablet) — For around $129, this tablet has 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, and a 1.3 GHz CPU, running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
- Samsung Galaxy Tab A (8-inch tablet) — Just $200 for this tablet with 1.5 GB of RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage. A Samsung quad-core 1.2 GHz CPU is also inside this older Android 5.0 Lollipop device.
- iPad Mini 4 (8-inch tablet) — Is your child worth a $500/£350 tablet? This is clearly an expensive option, but cheaper and older models are available with less storage.
What Does Your Child Think of Their Amazon Fire?
Twelve months on, my largely-undemanding children are becoming fed up with the limitations of the Amazon Fire. They’re not hardcore gamers, they just want to be entertained and diverted on long journeys.
I think I’ve identified the problems we’ve encountered with the Amazon Fire. But it’s entirely possible that there are more. Do your children have an Amazon Fire? How has it worked out for them? Are you considering upgrading to a more reliable device and operating system?
And if your kids want to play games, check out the best cheap gaming tablets for other ideas.
Image Credit: Olimpik via Shutterstock.com