It's no secret that the tablet market is struggling. Phones are getting bigger, laptops are incorporating touch screens, and thus the tablet honeymoon is over. However, Amazon isn't quite ready to give up the ghost. Its hardware division is reportedly working on an Alexa-powered tablet that could revitalize the demand for slates.
Amazon’s Lab126 hardware unit is working on "a tablet-like computer screen known internally as 'Knight,'" according to the Wall Street Journal. The idea is that Amazon's smart virtual assistant would be hands-free, similar to the Amazon Echo, in that it would always be listening for its wake word to jump into action. That way, when you're elbow deep in cake batter, you could still bring up websites, watch videos, check the weather, triple check the recipe or fire up your favorite Pandora station.
Will a hands-free voice assistant be enough of a reason for people to flock back to tablets? I doubt it. Apple's Siri can be made hands-free, and that's not stopped flagging iPad sales. According to IDC, Apple's iPad sales tanked nearly 25 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014 to 2015. Samsung's sales dropped 18 percent.
However, Amazon has a little something going on. Its tablet sales increased 176 percent in Q4 2015, based on strong holiday sales. Amazon's super-low $50 price tag on the Fire probably had to do with that. It's not the highest quality tablet I've ever reviewed, but it did manage to eek out a 3-star recommendation because of the value.
I would not recommend the rest of the company's tablets that were refreshed in the fall (Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10). The whole line suffers from lackluster, low-resolution displays and underpowered CPUs. They also feel cheap.
I'm a big fan of Alexa, and do think that could improve upon Amazon's Fire tablet lineup. But unless the company adds some power, sharper displays and better construction, it doesn't look good. Plus, that always-listening feature could be a drain to the battery. I don't see virtual assistants being the tablet savior, but as a card-carrying member of the Alexa army I'm excited to see what the Knight can do.