(Pocket-lint) - The Amazon Fire 7 tablet is now in its ninth generation, although to look at you probably won't see any difference from previous models of this device.
That's Amazon's approach: it updates the internals, while keeping the exterior design and dimensions the same. One tablet replaces the other on Amazon's online store too, meaning that once the new model is available, that's the version you'll likely buy.
So how does this 2019 model stack up and is it the best budget tablet for light entertainment needs?
Designed to be sturdy
- Polycarbonate body
- Finishes: Black, Twilight Blue, Plum, Sage
- Measures: 192 x 115 x 9.6mm / Weighs: 286g
Colour often isn't the most important thing in a tablet, but it's one of the things that has changed on the new Fire 7 tablet. It now comes in a variety of colours, which each appear slightly more mature than the previous incarnation - where we had vibrant reds and yellows.
The tablet is the same design, however. Amazon likes to point out that it's more sturdy than the iPad, but it's also aiming at a very different part of the market. The Fire tablet's plastic back is tactile and withstands scrapes, easily wiping clean - although there's no official waterproofing rating on these Amazon devices.
That plastic also wraps around the edges, providing some protection for corners - which are common impact points when a tablet is dropped. To the front you're still looking at a glass display. Amazon has a range of cases and covers and it's always advisable to kit this out if you're putting this tablet into the hands of a child.
We've used Fire 7 tablets for a number of years and having seen how well they have survived in the hands of children, there's certainly some truth in Amazon's claim that these are strong. You'll still scratch the display if you're not careful, but with kids it's often wiping off sticky fingerprints that you'll be doing the most.
It's also worth mentioning that the 7-inch tablet is a great size for travel. There are some benefits to going with the larger 8-inch model (mainly the higher resolution display), but at 7-inches it's easy to fit in a bag and take with you anywhere. There's a hefty bezel around the display and this does make the tablet look rather dated, but it does give you somewhere to grip without putting your fingers all over the picture.
Updated hardware for a mite more speed
- 7-inch, 1024 x 600 resolution (171ppi) display
- Quad-core 1.3GHz processor, 1GB RAM
- 16/32GB storage, microSD (to 512MB)
Raw power has never really been what the Fire tablets are all about. Over the years there have been incremental updates to these devices, but they don't set the world alight when it comes to speed. Compare it to a typical Android phone and you'll find the Fire 7 to be pretty slow to load apps and navigate.
But let's put that in context. This is a £50/$50 tablet, essentially the cheapest tablet you can buy, and it's designed for basic entertainment - playing games, running apps and watching movies and shows from various providers. In that sense, it performs perfectly well. Once apps are up and running, everything in entertaining enough.
Flip that argument on its head and compare it with the iPad mini. If you're looking at buying the Apple device only to play basic games and watching TV then you have to ask what you're spending your money on. Yes, the iPad mini is better in every way than the Fire 7 tablet - but it's also six times the price, so that's what you really need to consider when you come to buying a small-format tablet.
Drawing a line under that, the performance of the Fire 7 does vary depending on how you fill it up. Although the 16GB storage model is the cheapest, you'll definitely want more storage as that will put a limit on the number of apps or TV shows you can download. Buying a microSD card is fairly cheap - but you have to make sure that you then move that content to that card to free up internal storage. That's important, because the Fire 7 runs best when it has spare space in the storage, otherwise it slows down and gets rather frustrating to use.
Having lived with Fire 7 tablets for a number of years, it's also evident that after a few years of use things can naturally slow down. That might not necessarily apply to the latest models as much as it did to predecessors, but don't be surprised if it struggles to load big apps after a few years of use. We suspect this comes down to internal resource management - and a factory reset and restore often improves things.
The display on the Fire 7 appears to be the same as the previous versions. As we said, the size is great for portability and it's plenty big enough for watching movies on the go. It's not the best performer, with a fairly low 171ppi pixel density, and is prone to reflections. Again, at this price, that doesn't really matter. What's important is that it's bright enough, vibrant and responsive to the touch.
There's a single speaker on the side of the tablet which is adequate, but there's also a 3.5mm headphone socket in addition to Bluetooth wireless connectivity, so you have choices for connecting headphones.
- 7 hours battery life per charge
- Micro-USB recharging
Amazon says that you'll get seven hours of use from the battery and that's a figure based on mixed usage. It's actually pretty short for a tablet and if you're playing a more intensive game - like Minecraft, for example - then you'll likely get through that battery a little faster. We've also found that you can get some battery drop in the background, such as over night when you're not doing anything, so you might want to turn it off rather than leave it on standby.
Charging also isn't fast, taking about four hours, which is something you'll need to factor into your day if it's being used to entertain children.
This charging time is the result of the Fire 7 not embracing new technologies. It still has a Micro-USB charging socket - as do Amazon's Kindle devices - and there seems to be a reluctance to move on to USB-C. We're assuming that it's to keep costs down, as the faster-charging and easier-to-connect socket would likely push the price up. And no one wants that.
While we've not stress tested these tablets, on previous versions we've found some battery performance decay over a couple of years. We'd say that after using a Fire 7 for a year, you'll notice the drop in performance if it's been through regular charge and recharge cycles.
Software and interface
- Seamless Amazon integration
- Fire OS operating system
- Alexa voice control
- Fire for Kids
The Fire tablet runs on Fire OS, based on the core Google Android platform - as used in many phones and tablets - but is designed to service Amazon's devices, so isn't as open or quite the same.
It's simple enough to use, based around content sections on home pages where it's really easy to find content from Amazon. If you're a Prime customer with access to those services (or even an Amazon Music subscriber) then you're well served.
There's support for a full range of apps from Amazon, including many mainstream games, although you do miss out on some titles. When it comes to entertainment you'll find the main services are offered, so firing up BBC iPlayer or Netflix to watch video is just as easy as watching something from Amazon Video.
It's not only entertainment and games - there's also support for email, documents and a browser, so the Fire 7 can do a range of other tasks, but we can't help feeling that you might be better doing that on a phone.
One of the big things that the Fire 7 will give you is Alexa voice control support. This is now hands-free, meaning you an always talk to the Fire and get Alexa to do your bidding. If you have a house full of Echo devices then that means you can turn the lights on or off or access a full range of information wherever you happen to be - or if you just want to experience the fun of Alexa answering your obscure questions then this is a great place to start.
But the other side of the Fire's operating system is Fire for Kids. The fact that Amazon builds in a comprehensive mode designed specifically for younger users tells you a lot about where Amazon thinks the Fire tablet will end up. You can easily manage your family devices locally or remotely, creating a safe space for kids to play, access to appropriate content with restrictions in place to make sure they don't saunter off into the seedy underbelly of the internet.
That's available as a standard feature and well worth using, but can be extended with a subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited which gives you a load more content - a little like Kindle Unlimited. The advantage of having a subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited is that, as a parent, you don't have to spend so much time administering the tablet, as appropriate content is abundant.
There's also the Fire 7 Kids Edition which is worth considering - as this gets you a case, a year's subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited and a two-year warranty against breakage. It does cost a little more, but that might be well worth it for your needs.
The Amazon Fire 7 continues to be something of a no-brainer. While the hardware could be faster, the design could be more exciting and the battery life longer, that would detract from the amazing bargain that the Fire 7 is. It's easy to recommend for anyone looking for a tablet for kids - it will survive the rough and tumble of kids, meet entertainment requirements and provide a nice safe space to play.
Sure, the Fire tablet is never going to be scintillating to look at (although the new colour options are nice). It's not going to have the street cred that the iPad does. But at the same time, if you leave it on an EasyJet flight (which we've done), drop it out of a car door (which we've done), cover it in candy floss (how did this even happen?), it will probably survive - and if it doesn't then it's cheap to replace.
Alternatives to consider
Amazon Fire HD 8
The Amazon Fire HD 8 is a natural alternative to the Fire 7. The HD in the name indicates that it has a slightly higher resolution display and it's also bigger. It offers Dolby Atmos sound, but the same great kid-friendly software that the Fire 7 does. It's a touch more expensive, but gives you a better display for that.
Apple iPad mini
The Apple iPad mini has also been refreshed in 2019 and that leads to a fantastic 7.9-inch tablet, the smallest that Apple offers. It's not as fancy as the iPad Air or Pro, but it's a lot more compact and affordable. It is faster, better designed and will outlast the Fire 7, but it's a whole lot more expensive too.