Between a growing selection of apps and unlimited access to movies and music for Prime members, it makes sense that Amazon would drop the Kindle name from its line of Fire tablets, but the company is still very much focused on value. For just $140, the Fire HD 7 offers a crisp 7-inch display, long battery life and the same robust FreeTime parental controls that Amazon slates are known for. The Fire HD 7 should really come with more than 8GB of storage standard, but, overall, it's a good media-focused tablet for the money.
Editors' Note: Amazon has recently announced a new 7-inch tablet called the Fire which features a 1.2-GHz quad-core processor, a 7-inch display and Fire OS 5 for just $50. It will be available on September 30.
Budget price be damned -- the Fire HD 7 has a sturdy, comfortable build that looks and feels like a miniature version of the more premium Fire HDX line. Like the HDX, the Fire HD 7 has a convex back panel with a smooth plastic finish, sporting angled stereo speakers on the left side, a 2-MP camera at the top right and an Amazon logo carved into the center.
Amazon offers a wide range of color options with the Fire HD 7, which comes in black, white, cobalt, citron and the especially loud magenta of my review unit.
A thick black bezel surrounds the 7-inch display on the front side, with a volume rocker on the left edge and headphone and microUSB ports at the top. Unfortunately, you won't find a microSD Card slot, which is a real bummer because this budget slate ships with just 8GB of memory.
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Measuring 7.5 x 5.0 x 0.4 inches and weighing 11.9 ounces, the Fire HD 7 is suitable for one-handed reading, especially thanks to the
Click to Enlarge back panel's finger-friendly angles. The new Fire is only slightly thicker and heavier than similarly priced Android tablets, such as the ASUS MeMO Pad 7 (7.5 x 4.5 x 0.38 inches, 10.35 ounces) and the LG G Pad 7 (7.45 x 4.48 x 0.4 inches, 10.48 ounces).
Click to EnlargeSporting a 7-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel display, the Fire HD 7 provides a vibrant canvas for enjoying entertainment. From the sports photographs on ESPN.com to the comic illustrations on Marvel.com, images looked bright and satisfying on the slate's display.
Movies looked equally impressive, as I was able to pick out individual freckles in Jennifer Lawrence's face during the trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. From skin tones to aircraft explosions, the clip looked consistently crisp and rich in color on Amazon's tablet.
Amazon's hardware business began with eReaders, and, unsurprisingly, digital novels look great on the Fire HD 7. When skimming a few pages of Revelations, the book's black text looked sharp whether I zoomed all the way in or packed the page with as many paragraphs as possible.
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The Fire HD 7's impressive brightness was reflected in our display test, as the tablet produced a whopping 433 nits on our light meter. This outshines by a long shot the Dell Venue 7 (348 nits), LG G Pad 7 (282 nits), the MeMO Pad 7 (271 nits) and the 329-nit category average.
While colors looked natural when watching movies on the HD 7, the tablet's Delta E (color accuracy, closer to 0 is better) of 7.8 is a bit
Click to Enlarge off the mark. The MeMO Pad 7 and G Pad 7 had more accurate color at 6.1 and 2.0, respectively, and the Fire HD 7 underperformed the 5.6 tablet average.
The Fire HD 7 produced 81.9 percent of the sRGB color gamut, beating the G Pad 7 (66.4 percent) and Dell Venue 7 (63.3) but tying the MeMO Pad 7.
With two rear-facing speakers, the Fire HD 7 offers respectably loud and clear audio. The tablet preserved the rich vocal harmonies and sharp lead guitars of Paramore's "Ain't it Fun," and, unlike most tablets, I could actually hear the bass. The silky vocals and clean funk guitars of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" were similarly clear, though the bass wasn't quite as distinguishable on that track.
Though I was able to pick out individual instruments in most songs, every track sounded just slightly muffled. Interestingly, because the
Click to Enlarge speakers rest on an upward angle on the tablet's right edge (where your hand might cover them), I found that music sounded better when I laid the tablet flat on a table instead of holding it.
The Fire HD 7 registered 84 decibels on our audio test, which consists of measuring a tone's volume from 13 inches away. The Amazon slate rang louder than the Venue 7 (81 db), G Pad 7 (76 dB) and MeMO Pad 7 (78 dB).
Click to EnlargeThe Fire HD 7 runs Amazon's Android-based Fire OS 4 Sangria, which places your most recently used books, apps and games in a large, easily navigable carousel within Amazon's signature gray-and-black aesthetic. You can swipe up on the carousel to peruse all your apps at once, or use the designated tabs for categories such as Games, Apps, Books, Music and Videos at the top of the screen.
A search icon at the top left of the interface lets you search for items across the Web, Amazon.com and your device. Like with most Android tablets, you can pull down a quick settings menu from the top of the screen to quickly adjust brightness, Wi-Fi and music playback and check notifications.
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Amazon's tablets are usually among the most kid-friendly slates around, and the Fire HD 7 is no exception. As with previous Fire models, the Amazon FreeTime interface allows you to create up to four child accounts--and now, up to two for adults--on the tablet, with complete control over which books, games and videos your little one gets to use.
You can set specific time limits and bedtime hours to make sure Junior isn't glued to the Fire all day, and you can opt to lock away entertainment content until your child completes his educational goals for the day.
The Fire HD 7 ships with a 30-day free trial of FreeTime Unlimited, which allows unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly apps, games, and books hand-picked by Amazon. A special Kids Edition of the HD 7 packs a full year's subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, which otherwise costs $10 a month.
Amazon will soon add a Family Library feature to the HD 7, which will allow you to link two Amazon accounts and easily share apps, games, books and Prime Instant Video content.
Features and Content
Click to EnlargeAmazon's X-Ray feature makes a return on the Fire HD 7, allowing you to get the most out of all your media.
For books, X-Ray mode points out notable passages, characters and terms, while movies and TV shows are augmented with a list of actors, characters, background songs and fun facts via IMDb. If you're using X-Ray when jamming out to music, the song's lyrics will appear in sync with the track.
The Fire HD 7 sports Goodreads integration, so you can share your reading progress to the book-based social network or look up reviews of your current book with a single tap.
Unfortunately, the MayDay feature, which provides instant video-chat help on Amazon's HDX tablets, is absent on the Fire HD 7. At least you can easily pull up Amazon Customer Service from the drop-down settings menu, should you need to look up user guides or call or email support.
The Fire HD 7 packs a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime, which lets you sample the 40,000 Instant Video titles and 500,000 eBooks available on the $100 annual service. You can also enjoy free two-day shipping on Amazon.com purchases, and stream unlimited tunes on Amazon's new Prime Music service.
The Fire HD 7's default keyboard boasts a sleek, dark gray aesthetic that's in line with the overall Fire OS 4 interface. The keyboard sports predictive typing, as well as a swipe function that allowed me to type full movie titles like The Empire Strikes Back with just a few finger strokes. It also supports voice dictation, a feature that consistently and accurately turned my spoken words into text.
Click to EnlargeThe Fire HD 7 lacks access to the Google Play store, but you can download more than 200,000 Android apps via Amazon's proprietary Appstore. The selection doesn't quite compete with Google Play (more than 1.1 million apps) or Apple's App Store (more than 500,000 just for tablets), but you won't have a hard time snagging popular apps and games like Facebook, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Candy Crush Saga and Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Still, if you were hoping to download favorites such as Snapchat, Clash of Clans and the ever-essential Goat Simulator, you'll be out of luck. And with no Google Chrome or other popular browsers, your only option for surfing the Web is Amazon's built-in Silk app.
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Fortunately, new Fire owners get 500 complementary Amazon Coins (valued at $5), allowing you to get a game or a few cheap apps to start with before digging into your own funds.
Click to EnlargePacking a 1.5-GHz quad-core MediaTek processor, the Fire HD 7 handles demanding tasks with ease. Graphically rich games such as The Walking Dead: Season Two ran without a hitch, and I had no problems instantly jumping between books, apps and streaming video.
Just don't expect to download of ton of apps on the Fire HD 7. The device ships with just 8GB of onboard storage, 5.06GB of which is usable out of the box. Other competing tablets in this price range ship with 16GB standard. Yes, you can get the HD 7 with 16GB of storage, but it costs $20 more. At least Amazon now offers unlimited photo storage in the cloud.
The HD 7 netted 1,503 on the Geekbench 3 overall performance test. That bests the G Pad 7 (1,130) and Dell Venue 7 (1,161), but comes up short of the MeMO Pad 7 (2,431).
Amazon's 7-incher was much more impressive on the Vidtrim video test, transcoding a 204MB, 1080p video to 480p in 5 minutes and 18 seconds.. That's a bit faster than the MeMO Pad 7 (5:35) and more than twice as fast as the G Pad 7's sluggish 12:55.
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The Amazon slate scored a 10,381 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, crushing the G Pad 7 (4,627) and the 7,530 tablet average while losing to the MeMO Pad 7's epic 13,625.
Click to EnlargeThe Fire HD 7's 2-MP rear camera works fine for snapping pictures of friends or pets, but don't expect it to capture anything award-winning. Photos I took on a busy Flatiron corner exhibited decently accurate color, but the pixelated shots made it tough to make out store logos in the distance.
The selfies I took with the slate's front-facing VGA camera told largely the same story, with some obvious pixelation on my hairline and beard.
A tablet with access to as much content as the Fire HD 7 demands a strong battery. Fortunately, the slate will get you through most of the day on a single charge. The HD 7 lasted a solid 8 hours and 25 minutes on our battery test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi), outlasting the MeMO Pad 7 (7:39) and the 7:59 tablet average. The Dell Venue 7 turned lasted nearly as long as the Fire, at 8:14. The HD 7 was only bested by the G Pad 7, which endured a whopping 11 hours and 18 minutes.
Which Fire HD Is for You?
If you're looking to get a Fire as cheaply as possible, the $100 Fire HD 6 packs the same feature set as the HD 7, but with a smaller 6-inch screen, a single speaker and a phablet-like design that's easier for one-hand use. The HD 6 and $140 HD 7 both start with a measly 8GB of storage--and there's no SD card slot on either--but you can get a 16GB version of either for an extra $20.