(Pocket-lint) - Just a few years ago, the tablet space was littered with choices. There was a wide range of iPads - the de facto choice for those in the Apple club - and a full selection of Android alternatives at all price points from many manufacturers.
The market then quickly stagnated, with a top-end drive toward productivity and replacing the laptop with the likes of the iPad Pro, Pixel C and Galaxy Tab models, while the cheaper end of the market had the rug pulled out from under it by Amazon.
With a sizeable gulf now sitting in that middle zone, it's almost impossible to ignore the Amazon Fire 7. This plucky £50 tablet is some £290 less than the cheapest iPad. That made you choke on your cornflakes, didn't it?
Amazon Fire 7 review: Design
- 192 x 115 x 9.6mm; 295g
- Plastic body in black, blue, red or yellow
Glance at the new Fire 7 and we'll forgive you for thinking it's the same as the previous version. The design follows very much the same lines, with a 7-inch tablet getting a plastic body, with curves around the side.
The Fire 7 won't win any awards for design, it's not the thinnest or the lightest or have any similar such claims. There are no premium materials, but that doesn't matter because of the price. The important thing is that the plastic feels solid and the device is comfortable to hold.
There's a large Amazon logo emblazed on the rear with the camera nestled in the corner. Around the edges is a microSD card slot, 3.5mm headphone socket, Micro-USB and the power and volume controls.
There's a single speaker on the rear of the Fire 7. It's ok if it's just for general noise, but if you're settling down to watch Bosch, then you'd be better served by headphones.
Perhaps more appealing aspect of the design is the range of colours offered. While black is straightforward, there's a little more fun to be had with the yellow, blue and red tablets - especially if you're going to be putting one into the hands of your kids.
Amazon Fire 7 review: Display and hardware performance
- 7-inch IPS display, 1024 x 600 pixels (171ppi)
- Quad-core chipset, 1GB RAM, 8/16GB storage, microSD slot
There's a 7-inch display on the front of the Fire 7, which gives it its name. This isn't the highest resolution tablet around, offering fewer pixels than most smartphones. That means it doesn't have the sharpness that more expensive rivals offer, so text, pictures and apps don't have the visual pop that they would on an iPad mini for example. Still, let's not forget the Fire's price point.
The lower spec display doesn't stop this tablet from doing what it needs to do, however, and this new version offers a superior display to the old Fire. To us this looks like better calibration of the hardware, as the whites are less yellow than before - and that makes the visuals look more natural. It also appears to be brighter than before, giving things a little more punch.
On the hardware front the Fire 7 is powered by a quad-core chipset with 1GB RAM, along with improved Wi-Fi connectivity for this iteration. In the real world, this means you're likely to get a better connection throughout your house. Comparing the old Fire to the new Fire 7, this proved true in our testing, with the newer tablet being faster to start streaming video and quicker to click into crisper resolutions when sourcing from the same network.
There are a number of different storage configurations for the Fire 7 - with the choice of 8GB or 16GB. The former is a little light in capacity - available space for apps and files on the 8GB model is only 5GB, which you'll quickly fill up if you're downloading movies or lots of larger apps - so we would recommend the latter.
However, there is microSD card slot for whichever capacity you choose. Insert a card that's too slow and you'll be prompted to use something better, so it's worth getting yourself something like the SanDisk Ultra 32GB, which is only £10 and gives you a lot more storage space - that's double or quadruple the space for minimal cost.
The Fire 7 won't break any speed records, it's not the snappiest tablet around, but it still has the power to fire up a full range of games, apps and services, to keep you connected and entertained, without breaking the bank.
Amazon Fire 7 review: Software and user interface
- Fire OS (v5.4)
- Alexa included
- Fire for Kids
Amazon's Fire tablets predictably run something called Fire OS. This is essentially a skewed version of an Android operating system, so has a lot in common with Google's mobile OS. That extends to things like the basic navigation controls, the notifications and quick toggle shortcuts, so the Fire tablet is familiar place for those with Android phones.
The big thing to remember is that this doesn't come with Google Play or those Google apps that you would associate with Android. You can hack Play Store onto a Fire tablet if that's what you want to do, but essentially, this tablet is built around Amazon Appstore and Amazon services.
The Fire tablet offers a conventional view with the home screen letting you swipe between different categories of content from books to video, apps, games and so on. At the same time, shortcuts are dropped onto the main home page, so you can scroll and tap what you want to access directly. There's also a handy "recent" swipe from the main home page so you can resume what you were doing, be that watching a movie or playing a game.
As the Fire 7 is designed to work with your Amazon account, as soon as you turn it on you'll be synched with content from your account. Books are in sync with your Kindle, Amazon Video content is in sync with your smart TV, and so on.
In this sense, Fire tablets work well for anyone who is an Amazon user - especially if you're a Prime member, as you're rewarded with all that extra sign-up content, such as Amazon Video. Sure, you can install the Amazon Video app on any Android tablet and enjoy much the same experience, but if you live in the Amazon world, the integrated nature of the Fire has plenty of appeal.
New to the Fire family of devices in the UK is Alexa. This is the same voice-assistant that you might have on an Amazon Echo and once you've opened the app and signed in, you'll find Alexa ready to service your needs, already equipped with any skills you might have setup previously. That means that you can press-and-hold the home button and tell Alexa to turn off the lights or set the heating to 23 degrees (well, if you have the relevant smart home devices) with no need to be within earshot of your Echo.
Another major element of the Fire tablet is Fire for Kids. If you have children in your household (and setup on your Amazon account), then you can sign into a bespoke profile for that child on your tablet. This offers one of the best and simplest approaches to parental control that you'll find on a tablet, making the Fire 7 perfect for kids. We've extolled the virtues of Fire for Kids and discussed it in more detail elsewhere, but we'll just say this: if you want to get a tablet for your kids, you could spend £50 or you could spend £339 on an iPad. There's no comparison on price, so it's the Fire 7 (or even the Fire 8 HD) that you'll want.
It's not all rosy, however, on the software front. Because the Fire 7 is running with Amazon's own Appstore there will be things you can't get. Not all the apps that you'll find in Play Store or the Apple App Store will be here. If they are then sometimes it'll be an older version of the app. In that sense, while others are getting excited about the latest update or app, Fire users might miss out.
There is, however, plenty of choice when it comes to apps - the top streaming services like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify are all here - and there's a lot of content to be had from Amazon too.
Amazon Fire 7 review: Battery life
- 8 hours reading, less when gaming
- 6 hours charge time
There's one area where the Fire 7 isn't such a good performer: in the battery department.
For many, the standard for a tablet is about 10 hours of use per charge. Across lots of Apple and Android devices that's what you get, which usually means you'll get through about a week of intermittent use before you have to charge it again.
For the Fire 7, Amazon sticks a figure of eight hours per charge on it. That's not so bad, but you can drain the Fire 7 a few hours faster than that with more aggressive gaming, which is what tends to happen when you put the tablet into the hands of your children and take your eyes off them.
There's also no sign of quick charging here. The Fire 7 takes about six hours to fully recharge, which is pretty slow.
Amazon Fire 7 review: Which version should you buy?
- 8GB or 16GB?
- Special offers or no special offers?
- Should I buy the Kids Edition?
Much of what we've said hangs on the fact that you can get the Fire 7 for £49. However, important to realise what Amazon offers and how much the different devices cost, before choosing your tablet.
We briefly mentioned microSD and the 8GB version. If you're only planning to lie in bed, using this tablet to stream movies, read books and do your shopping and browsing, then the 8GB version will probably do you just fine. For those who want to download more apps - so for those who want to play games or download Amazon Movies to take on your travels - then you'll likely need a higher capacity, i.e. the 16GB model.
Then there's special offers, which are the adverts on the Fire 7's lock screen. Accept special offers and you'll get the Fire 7 for the cheapest price. Opting out of special offers means paying £10 more. We've never found such ads to be intrusive, so we're happy to save the cash.
It's also worth noting that if you're buying the Fire 7 primarily for a child, then the Fire 7 Kids Edition is a better option. Not only does it come with a case, but there are no adverts, 16GB storage, and a year's subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited - which provides a whole range of content that's age appropriate - as well as a no-quibble two year guarantee. It is £100, however, which is the cost of two 8GB Fire 7 tablets with special offers.
So here's the breakdown:
- Best for bedtime streaming: Amazon Fire 7 8GB with special offers
- Best for gamers and app fans: Amazon Fire 7 16GB with special offers
- Best for kids: Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition
The Fire 7 has won itself a lot of fans based on its happy-go-lucky positioning at the bottom of the tablet pile. It's one of those devices that you'd probably dismiss based on the spec sheet, if it wasn't for its ridiculously affordable price point. Instead, this tablet is one of the best tech bargains you'll find.
If you want something larger than your phone for browsing and shopping, or watching catch-up TV or movies in bed, then the Fire 7 is an easy choice. Technically, it will never be a good as any number of rivals - it's slower, less resolute, and doesn't last as long, as well as not reflecting the app proposition compared to Apple or Android competitors - but with the colossal saving you'll make by not just jumping in and buying a big brand tablet, it's all excusable.
If you're after a tablet that's so affordable it's almost disposable, can act as a bedside companion or travel pacifier for the kids, then the Fire 7 should be the among first devices that you consider.
Alternatives to consider...
Apple iPad mini 4
It's hard to talk about tablets without mentioning the Apple iPad. The iPad mini, now in its fourth generation is the closest Apple rival to the Fire 7 given the compact size, although it now costs £419 and comes with 128GB storage, meaning its a world apart in price. The iPad mini 4 will do everything that the Fire 7 will and a lot more. It's more powerful, faster, has a more premium build and offers a better display. It just costs 8 times as much.
Huawei MediaPad M3
If you're after an Android tablet that mostly just settles down to the business of entertainment, then Huawei has a contender. The MediaPad M3 offers a great build and lovely Harman Kardon speakers along with a cracking display and plenty of power. It is, unfortunately, nearly £300, so it's a far cry from the price of the Fire 7. It's a better performer in all areas, but you could buy six Fire 7's instead.