- Terrific value
- Enough power to handle any Android game
- Decent battery life
- Feels slow
- Basic build
- Low-resolution screen
- 7-inch 1,024 x 600-pixel IPS screen
- 8GB storage with microSD
- Android 5.1 with Fire OS 5
- Manufacturer: Amazon
- Review Price: £49.99/$74.99
AMAZON’S NEW FIRE 7 (2017) IS HERE, AND THIS IS WHAT’S NEW
Sitting at the bottom of Amazon’s Fire tablet line is the Fire 7 – and it also happens to be its most appealing model. This is a tablet that costs less than a PS4 game, or a few pints in London, and is definitely in impulse-buy territory.
While the pricier, but still good-value, HD8 has seen minor improvements for a 2017 release, the Fire 7 picks up a handful of features that make it even better value.
While the display remains at 7 inches, Amazon says the new IPS panel benefits from improved clarity and contrast. Even though I wasn’t able to view the devices side by side, the new Fire 7’s display certainly seems rather good for the price.
The body remains plastic, but it’s thinner and lighter than before – and just as durable. If you want a tablet that you’re happy to sling in your bag for watching some downloaded Prime shows on the bus, this will do the job. Like the HD8 (2017), this new version of the Fire 7 is available in red, yellow, white, blue and black.
The tablet is also capable of new software tricks, including support for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. This lets you control your smart home, play songs from Spotify and books from Audible, all with your voice.
Dual-band Wi-Fi support should provide a more stable connection when streaming, and the battery can now last an extra hour over the previous model at eight hours. The rest of the internals remain the same, though, so don’t expect this version of the Fire 7 to be any snappier. The tablet is available in 8GB and 16GB options, and both support up to 128GB microSD cards.
Amazon is also releasing a Kids version of the tablet, which will come with a rugged bumper along with an extended warranty and access to the Prime Kids service. That will be available in a 16GB option for £99.99/$99.99.
The Fire 7 (2017) will go on sale on June 7 for £49.99/$49.99; the 16GB option will cost £59.99/$59.99.
Continue reading for our full review of the previous Fire 7 and stay tuned for an updated review of the new model.
The Amazon Fire is a 7-inch tablet that, even though a year old, remains one of Amazon’s latest devices. While I wasn’t overly impressed by the Fire HD 10 or Fire HD 8, the Amazon Fire is a different matter.
And that’s because even though it doesn’t feel that different to the others its price is incredibly low. It costs just £50 – less than some of us spend on a takeway and a bottle of plonk. That’s incredible value, although cheap tablets can often be totally rubbish.
If you’re a really into your tech you might think the Amazon Fire tablet is one of those. It’s sluggish; the screen resolution is fairly low, and it feels cheap. On the other hand, it’s much better than many of the no-brand tablets we’ve used over the past few years and costs less than a lot of them too.
The Amazon Fire is the sort of tablet that would make a perfect gift for a little one who won’t be too perturbed by the lowly specs or a good first tablet for someone who’s not the most techy. The Amazon Fire has its flaws, but also does enough to make it worthwhile for anyone who doesn’t want to spend more, or who wants to keep their kids’ grubby mitts off an expensive iPad.
AMAZON FIRE – DESIGN
The Amazon Fire has a bulky, textured plastic body that would feel a bit of a con in any tablet above £100/$150.
It actually feels a lot more like a Kindle e-reader. The entry-level plastic that does its job – which is to keep the insides, well, inside – and nothing more. If you’re after sophistication or elegance, you’re not going to find it here.
That’s not what the Amazon Fire is about. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s poorly made. Amazon claims the Fire is 1.8 times more durable than the iPad Air 2. As a general rule I don’t drop tablets down mineshafts for testing purposes – but it does seem to have that simple-but-sturdy vibe.
Clearly it isn’t as well made as the other Fire HD tablets, though. Part of the back plastic by the logo “clicks” when pressed, and the screen covering doesn’t appear to be Gorilla Glass, judging by the pressure required to make it flex. However, it’s still some form of toughened material.
As such, the Amazon Fire should fulfil the most obvious purpose of a tablet such as this: It should suit young-ish kids pretty well. Note that if you’re buying for very young children who might fling the thing at a wall at a moment’s notice, however, you might want to consider a Kids Fire tablet. It comes with a chunky case and a 2-year no-quibble guarantee should it break.
You get 8GB internal memory with the Amazon Fire tablet, plus a microSD slot should you want to add more. For storing numerous games and video, this may become necessary. That said, with around 5-6GB memory free from the off, you can install a fistful of high-end games without one.
AMAZON FIRE – SCREEN
It’s here that we hit the point where those with more money to spend on a tablet will want to bail out. The Amazon Fire’s screen is very basic.
A 1,024 x 600-pixel display, it appears blocky even when stretched across only seven inches. It’s far more pixellated than your phone – unless you have a very low-cost handset.
This is something of which you should take note if you’re planning to use the Amazon Fire as an e-reader. The resolution is far too low to make text appear smooth, even though a book displayed on a Kindle e-reader of a similar resolution might actually look quite good. There’s a reason why Kindle e-readers still exist, after all. Browsing highlights the poor 171ppi density too.
I can’t fully condemn the Amazon Fire here, though, since it still delivers the most important basic factors I expect from a tablet. For example, it uses an IPS display, which results in decent viewing angles and fair colour. In the dark old days of ultra-budget tablets, £50 would buy you a screen that was barely visible from some angles. The Amazon Fire’s panel would allow for a few people to gather around to view it without it looking a shadowy mess to anyone.
Colour fidelity is relatively poor compared with tablets four times the price, though. But with none of the respected brands offering a tablet at £50/$75 – bar Archos – the question becomes: What do you expect for the price?
That said, the pixellation is actually better than on the Amazon Fire HD 10, which costs several times the Fire. Games and video still look fairly good, with the resolution being less than, but ultimately not a million miles away from, 720p. Note that most Xbox 360 and PS3 games are actually rendered at 720p.
As with its Fire HD siblings, the Amazon Fire doesn’t have an auto-brightness setting, which means you’ll need to alter the brightness level manually. The screen isn’t nova-bright, but we found that using about 50-60% brightness indoors was around “normal”. There’s no need to max it out unless you’re outdoors.
AMAZON FIRE – SOFTWARE
The Amazon Fire is an Android tablet, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the software. Android 5.1 is at the Fire’s heart, but on top you get Fire OS 5. This is a total re-skin of Android, one that not only replaces the top layer but every Google service beneath too.
Chrome is replaced by a custom “Silk” browser; Google Play by the Amazon Appstore; and Google Mail by a lesser copy. Some of the basics are more accomplished in a normal Android tablet, and when you spend more than 10 minutes with the Fire, the reason for this becomes obvious.
The Amazon Fire’s focus is to push the company’s many digital services. Here I’m talking about Prime Instant Video, the Kindle bookstore, the Amazon Appstore, the company’s music retail service and the standard Amazon store front. Each of these receives a “homescreen”, which you can flick through horizontally in the way you do the homescreens on your average Android tablet.
With the Amazon Fire, only around 20% of the interface is geared towards getting you to your favourite apps, games and so on. The rest if about selling you new stuff; or at the very least downloading more free stuff.
In our Amazon Fire tablet this is made all the more obvious since it’s a “special offers” model. This means that whenever you bring it out of standby, it’ll show you an ad for an app, game or book that Amazon thinks you might want to download. For a version of the tablet without the ads you’ll have to pay an extra £10, but that takes you over the magic £50 barrier. The choice is yours.
Here’s an example of one of the ads in action:
While you may become accustomed to Fire OS’s style, to start with it does feel as though you’ve simply rented space on the tablet. It’s difficult to make the tablet feel your own when so much of the interface is a store front, and there’s no customisation possible beyond picking the wallpaper.
There is a solution, however: simply stick to the first “Home” area of Fire OS, which is much like the apps menu of normal Android.
AMAZON FIRE – PERFORMANCE
Getting used to Fire OS is perhaps a small pay-off for a £50 tablet. However, you’ll also need to put up with fairly slow performance at times.
While the Amazon Fire isn’t consistently laggy, like the earliest Fire tablets, moving between parts of the OS is often peppered with annoying pauses that ruin the responsiveness experienced with most modern tablets. This may be down to the tablet having only 1GB of RAM, alongside the bloated and/or under-optimised Fire OS. Many 1GB Android Lollipop devices suffer performance issues.
Reports that the Amazon Fire is horribly underpowered are very much exaggerated, however. It has a MediaTek MT8127 SoC, a quad-core 1.3GHz processor designed to support displays up to 1,920 x 1,200 resolution. This chipset has easily enough power to do justice to the Fire’s 1,024 x 600 pixel display.
While the low display resolution means some games don’t quite offer the graphical quality of an iPad mini 2, for example, every game I tried on the Amazon Fire ran perfectly well. That includes some of the system’s most demanding titles.
Here’s are some quick notes on the games I tested, just in case one of your favourites is here:
- Crossy Road: Plays perfectly aside from the odd split-second pause.
- Dead Effect: Runs well at Ultra graphics setting, apart from slight frame-rate glitches when multiple enemies on-screen at once.
- Dead Trigger 2: Runs very well, but lacks some of the detail and visual effects it would in a high-end tablet.
- Goat Simulator: Performs well, with some frame-rate jumps during packed scenes (explosions, for example). These occur in more expensive devices too.
- Farming Simulator 2014: Good performance, looks decent too.
- Riptide GP2: Runs great, although textures lack some detail compared with a higher-end tablet.
- Real Racing 3: Runs well, although visuals look a little soft.
- Sonic CD: Runs perfectly.
- Five Nights at Freddy’s: Runs perfectly.
- Age of Zombies: Runs perfectly – in the first few levels at least.
- Ravensword 2: Runs very well, although visuals appear a bit dated.
The Amazon Fire is a surprisingly good ultra-low-cost gaming tablet – if you can put up with the reduced graphical fidelity of its lower-resolution display. Under strain, the top of the tablet’s rear becomes a little warm, which is all the more obvious when holding the Fire on its side. However, on no occasion did it become outright hot; the thick plastic construction keeps the warm zone tightly localised.
In benchmarks, the Fire performs about as well as a phone or tablet using the Snapdragon 400 CPU. This is no surprise given that the MT8127 and Snapdragon 400 are fairly similar, using four Cortex-A7 CPU cores. The main difference is that where the Snapdragon chipsets use Adreno GPUs, this one has a Mali GPU.
It scored 1,237 points in Geekbench 3, and 4,643 in 3DMark. While these aren’t remotely high scores – predictably flattened by the Nexus 9 and co – they need to be considered in the context of the Fire’s undemanding display.
AMAZON FIRE – CAMERA
In this last section of the review I’m going to cover some of the areas most obviously affected by the low price of the Amazon Fire. I’m talking about both the camera and speaker quality.
Frankly, it would have been silly for Amazon not to have put camera quality right at the bottom of the Amazon Fire’s priority list. In fact, it’s a little surprising that the company has even taken the call to fit two cameras on the tablet. On the back is a 2-megapixel sensor, and on the front sits a basic VGA camera.
The selfie camera is so low-res that much of the time it’s actually difficult to determine whether your face is in focus. It’s far more suited as a tool with which to have video chats than to snap images. You’ll need to download an extra app for this, however.
The Amazon Fire’s rear camera isn’t much better. Despite being so low in resolution, it actually crops into the sensor to make 16:9 images as standard (it has a 4:3-shape sensor). Images will appear soft compared to those of even an entry-level phone, and the maximum available resolution is a mere 1,600 x 1,200.
I’ve seen worse cameras packed into budget tablets in the past, and that’s about as complimentary as I can be about the setup.
AMAZON FIRE – SOUND QUALITY
The Amazon Fire also lacks the decent-quality stereo speakers of its bigger Fire HD siblings. There’s a single speaker on the rear, and it’s of the thin, tinny quality that you’d expect on a device this cheap.
Amazon has at least done well to implemented the driver properly, ensuring it’s not pushed so hard that it distorts at maximum volume. However, unlike the Tesco Hudl 2 or Amazon Fire HD 8, you’re not going to want to casually listen to music while cooking unless you have literally nothing else to use.
AMAZON FIRE – BATTERY LIFE
Battery life isn’t as bad as either the camera or speakers, although charge time could be better. Amazon’s own figures suggest the tablet takes up to six hours to charge, which isn’t helped by Amazon selling the Fire with a low-end 5V, 1A charger. This is definitely a device best charged overnight.
Switching over to a 2A charger designed for a phone – matching the voltage matters most here – did speed up charging time somewhat, but it still took four hours.
From a full charge you’ll get around 10.5 hours of 720p video playback if it’s stored locally, and at least four hours of gaming too. Stamina is perfectly acceptable, which is quite different from some of the ultra-low-cost no-brand tablets we’ve used over the years.
SHOULD I BUY THE AMAZON FIRE?
The Amazon Fire isn’t a tablet for everyone, despite its all-welcoming £50 price. However, for some, its low price will be justification of its cut-price parts.
It isn’t slick in operation, the screen is clearly pixellated, and it feels cheap. However, it can happily run virtually any Android game, includes an IPS display, and – unlike ultra-budget tablets of a few years ago – it doesn’t feel as though it might be about to drip battery acid from its seams.
Sitting quite apart from the Fire HD range, the Amazon Fire has no better known-brand rivals. The closest is the Archos Xenon 70b, which is a dated tablet likely to suffer even worse performance issues.
If you can afford more, I’d urge you to spend the cash on a better tablet – the Tesco Hudl 2 is miles better, for example, but it’s also twice the price.
I can’t deny that the Amazon Fire is a good deal at £50/$75. I don’t imagine the company is making much money from the tablet, instead clearly hoping that revenue will be boosted by getting millions hooked onto its digital services. If you’re on a very tight budget, then why not benefit from this strategy?
The Amazon Fire tablet is a sturdy but unremarkable tablet, offered at a remarkable price. If your budget is tight, this is a solid buy.