The Fire spec sheet is not flattering. The MediaTek quad-core 1.3GHz processor and 1GB of RAM are similar to what you might find on budget devices from 2013 and 2014. The benchmark scores aren’t impressive either, with the Amazon Fire tablet scoring 362 on the Geekbench 3 single-core test, and 1162 on the multi-core test. Today’s flagship tablets regularly post scores four times greater.
The Fire can handle web browsing, video, and Amazon’s casual games without much trouble. In fact, streaming Amazon Prime video is surprisingly swift. It starts up and shuts down in seconds. Still, this under-powered tablet is easy to bog down. A few open apps will make the Silk Browser crawl. Fortunately, keeping tabs on open apps is easy thanks to the intuitive UI.
The Fire only has 8GB of storage, with 5 available to the user, but there is unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content such as Prime and Amazon Music. The microSD card slot also allows for external storage up to 128 GB.
The Fire is definitely a tablet that benefits from an Amazon Prime membership. It ships with Amazon’s Fire OS 5, built off of Android Lollipop. It doesn’t look much like Google’s mobile operating system, and lacks many of Android custom tweaks. Instead of home screens populated by shortcuts and widgets, the Fire OS is broken into sections dedicated to recent apps, home, books, video, games, shop, apps, music, audiobooks, and newsstand. Littered throughout, Amazon includes links to more books, movies, games, apps, and just about everything else it sells. If the point isn’t clear, Amazon sells hardware in order to sell more products.
Fortunately for parents, the Fire supports different user and children profiles, which can mitigate against errant and unwarranted purchases.
Popular Prime services like Instant Video and Music have permanent apps on the Fire. Prime members are also able to download Instant Video movies and TV shows for free offline viewing, which works great with the Wi-Fi-only tablet. Those without a Prime membership are still able to buy and download content from the Amazon store. Other streaming services, such as Netflix and Spotify, are available in the Amazon Appstore.
Amazon’s app store is noticeably more limited than Google’s, and Amazon tries to make up for this with Amazon Underground. Amazon Underground offers thousands of apps that would originally cost money, for free. Games such as Angry Birds, Goat Simulator, and Madden are all available with Underground. This includes in-app purchases, like extra lives in Angry Birds, for free.
As Amazon has done with other devices, the $50 Fire comes with ads. An ad feed makes up the lock screen and has its own “Offers” app. So every time users have to unlock the device they will see more ads and links for apps, albums and books. Thankfully, it’s not too intrusive, and users are able to disable them on the Amazon website for a $15 fee.
To take full advantage of the $50 Fire, users need a $99/year subscription to Amazon Prime. The Fire is a much more complete tablet with Prime. Here are some of the benefits of being a Prime subscriber:
- Prime Instant Video: A Netflix-like streaming service with tons of movies and TV shows
- Prime Music: A Spotify-like streaming service with no ads
- Prime Photos: Unlimited cloud storage of your photos
- Prime members can try the Washington Post for free for 6 months and subscribe at a reduced price.
- Prime members get free 2-day shipping on Amazon orders as well as reduced prices on one day shipping, offers for using standard shipping instead, access to some deals early, and reduced prices on some items.
- Prime members can borrow one book a month from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.
The Fire has a 2-megapixel rear camera and a VGA (about .3 megapixels) front-facing shooter. Simply put, these are not good cameras, and both produce low-quality and fuzzy images with poor color production and horrible exposure. There is also no flash, so low-light pictures come out black. If you do manage to take a picture you want to keep, there are a TON of options for editing it. From frames to effects and even a meme maker, the options are there for this to be a great camera app. Too bad it’s more like lipstick on a pig.
The battery life is one of the best parts of the Fire. In standby mode the Fire holds its charge very efficiently, and on one charge we were able to periodically use the Fire for about five days before it died. The Fire died after 5 hours and 30 minutes of streaming movies over Wi-Fi with the display set to full brightness. This is about the minimum users can expect from the tablet.
Budget device makers typically cut back battery to save money. Here’s a place Amazon wisely did not.