Access to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited content; Amazon Underground app store makes paid apps free; Impressive parental controls; Two-year accidental damage guarantee
Short battery life; Sluggish performance; Low-resolution screen
The $99 Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet comes with tons of kid-friendly content, impressive parental controls and a two-year guarantee, but it won't last long on a charge.
Junior has been begging you for a tablet, but you aren't prepared to spend $150 (or much more) on something he's going to destroy in a week. With the Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet, you don't have to worry. This $99 tablet comes with tons of preloaded, kid-friendly content and a two-year guarantee that if your little Conan the Destroyer manages to break the tablet, Amazon will replace it. However, you'll have to sacrifice long battery life and fast performance.
The 7-inch Amazon Fire Kids Edition tablet is essentially the $50 Amazon Fire tablet wrapped in a durable, removable foam shell. You can select the pink or blue case, which features rounded, firm edges that give me confidence in its durability. In fact, it fell from my desk several times onto carpet without suffering any ill effects.
Big cutouts allow access to the volume and power buttons, as well as the charging port, headphone jack, camera and speaker. The diamond pattern on the back of the case feels soft, and I imagine small hands will find it interesting to touch.
With the case on, the Fire Kids measures 8.6 x 5.4 x 1 inches and weighs 14.3 ounces, which is a bit smaller but heavier than the 8-inch Fuhu Nabi Elev-8 (9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches, 13.6 ounces). I believe it would be easy for small hands to grasp it and carry it around. If you remove the case because Junior has outgrown it, the Fire Kids becomes sleeker, at 7.5 x 4.5 x 0.4 inches.
Under the wrap, you'll see a microSD card slot for adding to the 8GB of onboard memory (but only 5GB is available to the user). It supports up to a 128GB card.
Amazon is either so confident about the Fire Kids' construction quality -- or it's so cheap to make -- that all Fire Kids tablets come with a two-year guarantee. So if your child does break it somehow, Amazon will send you a replacement, no questions asked.
Display and Audio
The Fire Kids 7-inch display doesn't look washed out or fuzzy, even though the resolution is just 1024 x 600 pixels. When I played games and watched videos like Shaun the Sheep, images looked sharp and colors were vibrant, even at extreme angles. The Fuhu Nabi Elev-8's screen is a bit sharper, with a resolution of 1280 x 600 pixels.
Amazon's older $150 Fire HD 6 Kids Edition tablet, which you may still be able to find for sale, sports a higher 1280 x 800-pixel resolution on a smaller 6-inch screen.
We measured the Fire Kids tablet with our colorimeter. We recorded a high level of color accuracy (1.4, when 0 is perfect), but not a wide color gamut range (69 percent, where 100 percent is better). The Fuhu Nabi Elev-8 is less accurate (2.2) but shows a wider range of colors (74 percent).
I didn't expect much from the single speaker on the Fire tablet, and "nothing much" is exactly what I got. Lorde's vocals in "Royals" was flat, with zero bass. Still, gameplay audio was loud enough.
For parents, Fire OS 5 is intuitive and easy to understand. Each category of content (Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audiobooks and Newsstand) gets its own mini carousel of recently accessed items. Below that carousel sits a handful of suggested content from Amazon's recommendations engine that's aimed at the primary parent's Amazon profile. A prominent link to the Amazon store sits on the top-right corner of every page. At the top of every page is a search bar that digs through the Web, your downloaded content and all of Amazon.com.
Blue Shade is a new feature available on all Fire tablets aimed at making it easier on your eyes when you're reading at night. Once you've enabled Blue Shade through the quick settings menu, the whole screen takes on an orangelike, sepia look that I found very offputting to look at, but it didn't keep me up at night.
The Fire Kids tablet is designed to be shared by every member of the family. You can link two adult Amazon accounts and create up to four children's accounts to share a family library of content, which can be customized by person. That means each person can have his or her own apps and other content ready when entering their profiles. To switch to a kid's account, tap the FreeTime app that's on the first row of the home screen, and then specify which profile to open. But first, you'll want to check the parental-controls interface in the Settings menu.
Amazon has consistently offered the most extensive parental controls of any tablet designed for kids. By default, a child's profile doesn't have access to the Silk browser, email, contacts, social apps or the camera. You can password-protect purchases (including in-app purchases), Wi-Fi access, location-based services and video playback.
I like that you can set time limits for specific types of content and even set educational goals, such as making sure your child reads for 30 minutes before he or she is allowed to play a game. The tablet is smart enough to designate existing content, such as books and apps, as kid-friendly. You can even block all entertainment content until a day's educational goals are met. And you can set a curfew that turns the tablet off at a specified day and time to signal it's time to go to bed.
An update to Fire OS 5 brings a new kid-friendly browser that features more than 40,000 curated, age-appropriate YouTube videos and websites that parents can customize further. Although it took a few seconds to load, the tile interface will be easy for youngsters to navigate. We couldn't get into anything that wasn't on the preapproved list to load, and that included Tomsguide.com, Laptopmag.com, NYTimes.com and The Daily Beast. But the approved list is robust and family-friendly, and includes PBS Kids, Nick.com, AMNH.org and many more.
Amazon revamped its parental-notifications section, which the company now calls Activity Center. Through a tablet, smartphone or PC, parents can visit amazon.com/mycd to access the tablet's data. You will be able to see how much time the family is reading, playing or watching videos on the Fire tablet, but also what books, videos and games the kids are using.
All of Amazon's Fire tablets offer some perks, particularly for Amazon Prime members. No one beats Amazon's content plan. Prime members ($99 per year) get access to more than 38 million movies, TV episodes, songs, books, apps, games and more. Amazon also bundles a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited with its Kids tablet. That means unlimited access to 10,000 kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps and games.
You can sign up for FreeTime Unlimited without the Fire Kids tablet, but it will cost you $60 per year for one child or $120 for up to four. Prime members get a discount ($36 per year for one child, or $84 for up to four). Similarly, Fuhu offers Nabi Elev-8 owners Nabi Pass, for access to tons of kid-friendly content. However, the company charges you $4.99 per month ($60 per year) from the start.
The Fire tablet also can tap into Amazon's Mayday-powered customer service through screen sharing. When you call customer service, a tech support agent can connect to your tablet to walk you through features or show you how to fix something.
Powered by a 1.3-GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A7 and 1GB of RAM, the Fire tablet can be slow to respond, especially when opening apps and switching profiles. But it will suffice for watching videos, reading or playing games like the one where you wreak havoc as a digital goat in Goat Simulator. The Nabi Elev-8 sports a more powerful octa-core Snapdragon 615 CPU with 1GB of RAM, while the Fire HD 6 Kids Edition offers a slightly better CPU than Amazon's newer tablet (1.5-GHz quad-core processor).
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the Fire scored 1,158, which is pretty far below the category average of 2,672, as well as the Nabi Elev-8 (2,220). The older Fire HD 6 Kids scored a slightly higher 1,462 as well. That means the Fire definitely doesn't have the zip to it that other tablets do. And while we did notice some lag when changing profiles or opening large apps, it wasn't annoying enough to make the tablet unusable.
The Amazon Appstore offers a curated version of the Google Play store, with more than 300,000 apps and games. But in addition to that, Fire owners get preloaded access to Amazon's new Underground store. In a tab of the regular store, you'll see free apps and in-app purchases, which otherwise cost money. Amazon claims Underground is home to more than $10,000 in apps, games and in-app purchases. For instance, Goat Simulator ($4.99) and Monument Valley ($1.99) are free, as are Monument Valley's additional levels ($1.99).
Amazon's store -- regular or Underground -- isn't huge, but it does have some staples, such as Evernote, Facebook, HBO Go and Netflix. I did miss Google Drive and the Chrome browser, though. Of the top 20 free and top 20 paid apps in Google Play, three from each list are missing from the Amazon Appstore. You won't find Snapchat, McDonald's, Frozen Frenzy, League of Stickman, Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies or Nova Launcher.
The Fire Kids sports a 2-megapixel shooter on the back, while a VGA camera sits above the display on the front. Neither impressed me. All of the shots taken outside, including New York cityscapes, took on a purplish hue, and had somewhat fuzzy edges. The selfie camera on the front, presumably for use over Skype, made me look like I had green hair and psoriasis when I snapped a pic indoors.
Amazon claims the Fire should last for up to 7 hours of mixed use (reading, surfing the Web, watching videos and listening to music). The tablet lasted 6 hours and 42 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi). That's 2 hours less than the tablet average, and 2.5 hours shorter than the Nabi Elev-8 and the Fire HD 6 Kids Edition.
Tablets can be a kid's favorite tool for fun and education, but without good parental controls, they can also be a parent's worst nightmare. Amazon delivers quality content and family-friendly protections that will make everyone happy. The Fire doesn't offer the zippiest performance or the longest battery life -- the $170 Fuhu Nabi Elev-8 wins on both those counts, and the $150 Fire HD 6 Kids Edition isn't too shabby -- but Amazon's $99 price tag is tough to beat.
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|CPU||1.3-GHz quad-core CPU|
|Storage Drive Size||8GB|
|Storage Drive Type|
|OS||Fire OS 5|
|Camera Resolution||2 MP|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||VGA|
|Ports||3.5mm audio jack|
|Card Reader Size||128GB|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||8.6 x 5.4 x 1 inches|