Amazon’s latest low cost Fire asks the question: can a tablet that sets you back just £50 each, or buy five and get one free, be any good at all?
It’s the fifth version of the original Fire tablet, which first launched in 2011 as Amazon’s attempt to undercut Apple’s iPad and produce a low-cost tablet to access its books and video services.
Thick, chunky and sturdy is the best description of the Fire tablet. Covered in textured black plastic, it weighs 313g, is over 1cm thick and feels weighty in the hand.
It feels as if it could take a knock or two without issue. Amazon claims the Fire tablet is twice as durable as an Apple iPad Air 2 in the company’s “Tumble test”. I can well believe that, but its smaller size probably plays a big part in that.
The speaker in the back is loud enough to watch video when handheld, but not loud or clear enough to watch a video while the washing machine is going full-pelt in the kitchen.
The 7in screen is not HD. It has a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels, which is below the minimum 720p resolution for HD. It also has a relatively low pixel density of 171 pixels per inch – it is no iPad but it’s also less than a sixth of the cost.
But the screen is surprisingly good for the price. It’s reasonably bright, has good viewing angles and is colourful, even if its blacks are a bit grey. But it doesn’t have an ambient light sensor, so you’ll have to manually adjust it to not blind yourself at night, and it’s not exactly crisp.
Not too bad for watching video or playing games, while it’s passable for reading books.
- Screen: 7in (1024 x 600) LCD (171ppi)
- Processor: 1.3GHz quad-core
- RAM: 1GB of RAM
- Storage: 8GB; microSD slot also available
- Operating system: Fire OS 5 based on Android 5 Lollipop
- Camera: 2MP rear camera, 0.3MP front-facing camera
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Dimensions: 191 x 115 x 10.6mm
- Weight: 313g
Games, apps and movies are fine
The Fire tablet’s 1.3GHz processor and 1GB of RAM are not going to set the world alight, but they were surprisingly capable in my testing. The tablet wasn’t especially sprightly in operation, neither was it lag-filled.
Videos loaded and played promptly, games were smooth for the most part, including graphically intensive games on which the tablet’s bigger brother the Fire HD 10 choked. Games such as Monument Valley took longer to load than an iPad, and switching between running apps was a little sluggish from time to time, but nothing that was too infuriating.
The battery lasted for around five hours of video playback with the screen turned up to maximum brightness, longer with it a little dim. Charging was slow, taking more than five hours to fully charge. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth worked as you might expect. A microSD card slot is available for adding more storage.
Fire OS 5
The Fire tablet runs the same version of Amazon’s Android 5.1.1-based Fire OS as the Fire HD 10. It makes getting to content and games quick and easy.
It only has access to Amazon’s app store, however, which means you are limited in your choice of applications and games compared to Google’s Play Store. Most, but not all of the top apps are available, as are streaming video services such as Netflix.
The Fire also has Amazon’s Underground service, which offers apps for free with free in-app purchases, if you subscribe to the company’s Prime service.
As you might expect, Amazon’s integration of its own video, music, books and shopping services is excellent.
The 2-megapixel camera on the back is terrible. It produces images of about the same quality and detail as a CCTV camera, and not a good one. The VGA selfie camera is marginally better, but that’s not saying a lot.
The Amazon Fire costs just £50 and is available in a slightly ridiculous “buy five get one free” (BFGOF) offer. The tablet comes with adverts on the lock screen, however, and removing them costs £10.
The nearest branded tablets from Samsung or Asus cost upwards of £70.
I had very low expectations of a £50 tablet. But the Amazon Fire smashed them all. It’s actually quite remarkable how not-rubbish it is when it costs so little.
It’s not a fantastic tablet by any stretch of the imagination. The screen is low resolution, the battery doesn’t last that long, its cameras are woeful, it’s heavy and chunky and it only has 5GB of internal storage accessible to the user.
It’s no iPad or even Nexus 7, but it’s a cheap and cheerful 7in tablet that feels like it will last and really doesn’t matter if it doesn’t because you could just buy another one.
It only really makes sense if you subscribe to Amazon’s Prime service for video, books and apps, but at £50 it’s an impulse buy.
Pros: cheap, Amazon video, books and music services, microSD card slot, feels durable
Cons: low-res screen, heavy, chunky, poor cameras, takes ages to charge, battery life not fantastic
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