When Amazon revealed that it was to release a tablet in its Fire range that would only cost £50 we have to admit that we didn’t expect much. Previous cheap-as-chips devices have never cut the mustard. In fact, they haven’t even been in the vague vicinity of mustard or any other metaphorical condiment.
For £50, you can usually expect a dual or even single-core processor, just enough RAM to switch the machine on, and the picture resolution of a postage stamp. That might be enough for those starting out on their tech slate adventure, but even they will soon leave such a device unloved and discarded like an old odd sock.
The Amazon Fire tablet doesn’t just break the rules however; it gives them a nasty kick in the nethers. It is of a standard that you would have been expected to pay £100 for a year ago, let alone 50 smackers. Is it the best budget tablet money can buy?
Amazon Fire tablet review: A bargain
The Fire tablet has a 7-inch 1024 x 600 resolution IPS LCD touchscreen that, while it is not high definition, is still clear and decent for the price.
There’s a VGA front-facing camera and a 2-megapixel snapper on the rear that is capable of also recording video in 720p. And there is 8GB of storage on board as standard, with a microSD card slot on the side that is capable of expanding that by up to a further 128GB should you need (such a capacious card would, ironically, cost more than the tablet itself).
However, more impressive is that there is a 1.3GHz quad-core processor running the show and 1GB of RAM. Many equivalents only have 512MB usually. It means that the tablet runs very smoothly in operation, whizzing through its menu screens.
Amazon Fire tablet review: Ample performance
It also loads and runs apps like BBC iPlayer quickly, and while there are some times when you get a delay between pressing a play button and video actually starting, for example, it’s no more so than with other, more expensive rivals. And more importantly, you never really feel like its unresponsive.
Indeed, with some functions, such as reading a book or browsing the internet, it is very responsive. And games run surprisingly well on the device, with GFXBench test 3D graphics results proving it punches well above its weight – beating other big brand tablets in this budget sector handsomely. Not that we’d call it a gaming tablet by any measure, but it’s not incapable.
There are some caveats that help Amazon keep the Fire tablet at its magical price point though. It has a particularly wide bezel in comparison with other, sexier devices on the market. The screen isn’t as bright as others either, even with the brightness turned all the way up. And the single-band Wi-Fi is a little slow in operation. Audio is also a bit flat when played aloud through the mono speaker.
Amazon Fire tablet review: Budget build
But the biggest indication that this is a budget tablet is with its overall design and the materials used in its build. It feels plasticky, chunky and perhaps a little heavier than you would expect.
That said, those factors have the effect of making the Fire more durable than many others out there – ideal for a family device. And with a seven-hour battery, which we’ve found to be fairly accurate, it can take quite a bit of passing around the household before running out of juice.
It comes with Amazon’s new Fire OS 5 "Bellini" pre-installed, which is better in almost every way to the last iteration of the manufacturer’s own take on Android. For a start it even looks like an Android tablet operating system at first glance, with the home, back and menu buttons looking as they do on Android 5.1 Lollipop. That’ll make switching between devices (if you happen to use an Android phone, say) all the easier.
Amazon Fire tablet review: Promotional premise
However, it is unmistakably designed to help sell Amazon digital and physical products, with each home screen given over to a category that you only get the most of by purchasing Amazon services or doo-dahs through its online shop. That is the most likely reason why such a reasonably specified machine is able to be sold at £50 – it is somewhat of a loss leader.
That will be yet another caveat for some, but many others simply won’t care. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, for example, you’ll be able to access Prime Music, stream Prime Instant Video and any free books from the Kindle Lenders Library for the one-off yearly fee, which makes the tablet a cheap and cheerful portal into something you likely already pay for.
Amazon also has the Underground section of its own Appstore, which offers completely free applications with no hidden or extra costs, and the vast array of parental controls and profile management options to give every family member a different log-in that only presents their own content. In that, it is an ideal and inexpensive tablet for a household. Just one that is already particularly active on Amazon.
For its price, the Amazon Fire is an amazing tablet. Yes, there are plenty of tablets out there that are much better in almost every way, including Amazon's own Fire HD range, but the Fire is great to watch streaming video on. It's capable of playing casual games well. And it doubles effectively as an eBook reader. And all for £50 (or £60 for the advert-free version).
If you don't already have a tablet and have invested a lot in Amazon digital content or are a Prime subscriber, it's a no-brainer. It's also an ideal solution for a pre-teen in that they can browse the internet and such like while you can keep a close eye on what content they can access through the extensive parental controls.
Even if you have a tablet already, you might even consider the Fire as a living room device to leave lying around for anyone to use. We reckon Amazon will sell bucket loads of them this Christmas, that's for sure.