This year Amazon launched an all new line of Fire tablets, including the Amazon Fire HD 10 which we recently reviewed, and a sort of reboot of the original Kindle Fire, now known simply as the new "Fire" tablet that not only comes with a fresh look but a lower price point as well coming in at $49.99. While the new Fire isn't going to turn any heads due to awesome specs and a sleek design, it does offer up what is likely a decent tablet experience for an extremely low cost, and that is probably what will be enticing many buyers as it comes across as a great first-time tablet for those who have never owned one and may want to start small without coughing up hundreds of dollars.
It should be expected though that even though this runs Android, it's Amazon's own forked version running Fire OS 5 which is based on Lollipop but looks and functions far from it, so those looking for a more pure Android experience may want to look elsewhere. Taking this into consideration, does the Fire have what it takes to win over the hearts and minds of first-time tablet buyers, and will it be able to perform up to snuff? Let's take a look and see what the new Fire has to offer consumers.
The all new Fire tablet is packed with a 7-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 and 171 pixels per inch. It's powered by a quad-core processor that's clocked at 1.3GHz, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage space although it can be expanded upon up to 128GB via the microSD card slot. It also features one mono speaker on the back in the bottom left corner as well as a microphone for initiating voice actions, and in the camera department, it's carrying a VGA front camera to be used for video chat, while the rear camera comes in at 2MP with the capability for 720p video recording. It only supports single-band WiFi b/g/n, and weighs 313g.Suffice it to say, the new Fire is no powerhouse tablet, but the lack of powerful specs might well be outweighed by the supreme value one gets from the cost savings.
In The Box
Much like with the Fire HD 10, Amazon isn't packing a whole lot into the box of the new Fire tablet. Inside you simply find the tablet itself, and the microUSB cable for charging along with the AC wall adapter. Given the $50 price tag, consumers shouldn't be expecting a whole lot of extras, but Amazon does offer a couple of accessories for it like different cases for example.
Hardware & Build
The Fire definitely evokes a design which displays its lower cost, yet it doesn't feel too cheap. Having said that, there won't be any mistakes about the lack of a premium feel as there simply is none. That isn't to say it has a lower build quality about it though, as the Fire felt nice in the hand and was quite comfortable to hold. The device is made of a soft-touch plastic all the way around with plastic buttons. Interestingly enough, all of the Fire's buttons are located up, where you'll find the power button, the volume rocker, the mic, and the ports for charging the tablet as well as plugging in headphones. On the back you'll only find the single speaker and the 2MP camera along with the amazon logo, and on the front is obviously the display with the VGA camera residing up top in the center of the bezel.
Having all the buttons and ports accessible from the same edge sounds odd since no devices really tend to do this, but it actually works out quite nicely. I thought I was going to have trouble with accidentally hitting the volume buttons or the power button during use causing the screen to go to sleep or the audio to crank way up or way down, but this never once happened which was a relief. Looking at it from a glance, the Fire is rather unassuming, but it's build quality is decent and it certainly looks to be a well-rounded tablet for the cost. No one should feel disappointed by the build as you won't be spending much, and in all honesty, it probably feels better built than many other devices which cost the same amount.
Amazon didn't equip the Fire with a brand spanking new top of the line display, but for $50 you're actually getting something that looks more enjoyable and pleasing to the eye than you would think. Having said that the display does still lack in a good few areas. It doesn't have particularly great viewing angles although they are decent enough for those that are less nitpicky about clarity and using the device without having to stare at it straight on. Beyond the viewing angles, the screen also lacks the production of a sharp quality image, which isn't too noticeable when looking at actual images or video, but spending a little more time looking at menu and UI details as well as the app icons made it more noticeable that this isn't a world-class panel. Surprisingly, though, it gets plenty bright and I didn't have too much trouble viewing it in direct sunlight. Touch responsiveness was also good and I didn't feel like I was having to tap the screen more than once for any given action as it seemed to register my presses and rapid typing quite nicely.
Performance & Memory
Despite lacking an extremely powerful set of specifications, the Fire performed just fine for most tasks. I could easily stream video and play a few games without any issues, although there are some games that the tablet is just not equipped to play. Hearthstone for example, offers up too much in the way of graphics and special effects for it to run smoothly on the Fire, so depending on what you want out of the performance you'll want to take things like that into consideration. If you're planning on gaming with this tablet, make sure you're aware that there are some heavy graphics intensive games it won't be able to handle. Games like Angry Birds 2 runs just fine of course, and my occasional time spent racing through the waters on a jet ski in Riptide GP 2 provided me with plenty of enjoyment with no real issues.
With only a quad-core processor and 1GB of RAM at its disposal, the Fire manages tasks and functions better than I had hoped, and while I wasn't expecting to do any hours long multitasking sessions with it, having music play in the background while I read and browse through Facebook occasionally didn't seem to bog down the Fire at all. It's certainly not equipped to handle multitasking on a professional level but it can hold its own by running more than a few apps at a time. Having said that the Fire is purely about entertainment and consumption. It's meant as an inexpensive, accessible entertainment device. Its performance doesn't evoke a cheap tablet (even though it truly is a cheap tablet), which is becoming more and more common these days as manufacturers are doing more with less, which ends up translating to the consumers. That's the case here.
Just like with the Fire HD 10, I was not able to get the Fire tablet to run AnTuTu for some reason. Upon starting it up to run the benchmark test, it gets to about 5% then hangs there for as long as I'll let it, so unfortunately that particular test is a bust. I was able to run the Fire through both Geekbench and 3DMark though so there is at least some idea of what performance both with single and multi-core functions as well as with the graphics. Keep in mind that benchmarks aren't everything, and real-world use is always going to be somewhat different than a benchmark, and I found this to be pretty accurate as the Fire didn't score too well in Geekbench or 3DMark, but it performed just fine in real-world tests for what I was using. If you're interested in checking out the benchmark scores, you can view them in the gallery below.
For a tablet battery life is something that you generally want to last, although it's not as imperative as the battery inside your smartphone. The new Fire tablet carries a boasted 7 hours of battery life with mixed use, meaning you could charge it up to full, unplug it, and do anything from reading to movies, to a little bit of gaming and even some music, and a combination of all of those would get you around 7 hours of battery life. Naturally, this doesn't sound like much but most people probably aren't going to use the tablet continuously until it dies. I personally found the Fire to last me around a 10-11 hours in a day using it moderately with about an hour to two hours of gaming, a few hours of reading, and a few episodes of the Man In The High Castle. I would occasionally pick up the tablet and browse through Facebook as well, and this would take me through most of the day. This was all including some downtime as well where the tablet display was asleep, and not a full 10 hours of screen on time. Once the tablet needed a charge, it only required a few hours to juice back up using the provided USB cable and AC adapter from Amazon, so I was able to kill it in a day with more than average use time, recharge it, and get some more use out of it before I plugged it in or the night. I did need to be plugging it in daily as I used it often enough to where it was needed, but I also go through periods of heavier use on my devices which might not be the same situation for other users. Overall the battery life was fine. Not stellar, but not terrible, and a little better than average.
Software & UI
Amazon's new Fire runs on the latest version of Fire OS, which is Fire OS 5 'Belini', and the same version that's running on the Fire HD 10. The software makeup looks exactly as it does on the larger tablet, just scaled down for a smaller screen that doesn't take up as much space. If you already have the Fire HD 10 as well or someone in the family has it and you've been able to handle it a few times, the new Fire will feel very familiar. It also carries all of the same headlining features, like the Blue Shade functionality that helps to shield your eyes from the blue light that emits from the screen. This is immensely useful if you're someone who reads later at night because the blue light emission can keep you from falling asleep, at the very least it delays it. With the blue shade feature enabled, you're presented with a nice soft filter that gives off a more orangeish tone which is easier on the eyes. This made it much simpler for me to read for an hour or two in bed without really disrupting my sleep.
As with any Amazon Fire device, the new Fire is perfect for anyone who is already invested in the Amazon ecosystem. If you're a Prime member you have access to Prime Instant video on the Fire, as well as Amazon's Kindle books app. Much like the Fire HD 10, the Fire provides all of the tablet's different features and options towards the top of the screen, presented as pages on the homescreen separated out to different categories like books, apps, video, games, shop and more. Since everything is more or less presented to you front and center everything is pretty easy to get to, which is going to be simple for new tablet users to navigate. This is still Android Lollipop of course, so even for seasoned Android users familiar elements are here like the Lollipop style navigation buttons, and the drop-down notification shade.
For $50, I wasn't expecting much out of the sound department, but to my surprise, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. At moderate levels the audio wasn't really distorted and provided a nice listening experience for music or video, but if you have to turn the volume up too loud to compensate for background noise or just because you enjoy a louder audio volume, you'll easily start to notice the limitations of the one mono speaker sitting in the bottom corner on the back. The nice thing is that since the speaker is located in the corner, it's generally out of the way of hand placement, for me at least, which kept me from covering up the speaker and muffling the sound when playing games or holding the tablet in landscape mode watching a video. All in all the audio was passable but nothing to be too excited about. It will serve its purpose for enjoying any sort of content, but don't expect it to blow you away with deep, immersive sound. Once again, though, there shouldn't be any expectations about the limits of the hardware that's packed inside this tablet.
The camera is definitely the weakest point of the new Fire tablet, carrying only a 2MP rear camera for photos and a VGA front camera for selfies and video chat. With the quality provided here the camera really didn't serve me as a legitimate alternative option to the cameras on my other mobile devices, although I suppose in a pinch, if this was the only camera I had it would do the trick because any camera is better than no camera at all. The camera is definitely not the main focus of this device, and it shows with the lackluster options that are available. You do have a few different shooting options, like HDR, lenticular and panorama shots, and there's no LED flash meaning you'll need absolutely flawless lighting to really make the most of the images that the Fire produces, and even then pictures will still come out looking grainy.
Keeping these things in mind, taking pictures on a tablet just feels awkward given the larger size of the device. This only added to the poor camera experience, but I was personally fine with it as I had never planned to use the camera as a main source for images in the first place. If you want a tablet with a really decent camera, then you'll be spending quite a bit more to get the upscale picture quality, and while the Fire does fall short in this area, if you're considering this tablet as an option for yourself or someone else, you should be going into it knowing full well that the pictures aren't going to be great.
Durable plastic build
Really good value at $50 cost
Comfortable to hold for long periods of time
Blue Shade feature to help shield your eyes from blue light emission
Battery life is pretty good
Audio is mediocre/quality starts to degrade at higher levels
Camera quality is pretty poor, front camera is too low quality to make video chat enjoyable
Performance drops a little during games with heavy 3D graphics
Only 8GB of internal storage
As tablets go, the Fire is a decent device and that is more evident when you really consider the cost. At $50, Amazon is offering up a way to enjoy all kinds of content like the latest apps and games, a wide library of books, movies, and music, through Prime, and easy access to Amazon's shopping experience with the app. Useful features like Blue Shade make it nice solution to anyone looking to replace their old traditional kindle e-readers with something that does a little more for not a lot of money, and for anyone looking at the Fire as their first device, you can't go wrong here. That said, should you buy the all new Amazon Fire?
If you're already invested in the Amazon ecosystem, meaning you subscribe to Prime and regularly enjoy all forms of media content via that subscription, then this is a good way for you to get access to all of that media on the go as well as at home. It also makes a decent upgrade for those who want to move from a kindle e-reader to a full-fledged tablet, but if you're looking for a high-powered device that produces the best graphics and sound, you'll need to look elsewhere and be OK with paying a little more.