This year's version of the Fire 7 tablet, Amazon's cheapest slate, comes with two slight upgrades. You now get twice as much internal storage (starting with 16GB rather than 8GB), and Alexa is now a simple shout away, so you can trigger the assistant from across the room.
The only downsides about the tablet are that its performance, battery life and display will constantly remind you of the device's $50 price. But does the Fire 7 offer enough to compete with its new rival, the $64 Walmart Onn? While the Fire 7 is still worth recommending, your opinion of it will all depend on if you rely on Amazon's video ecosystem (or YouTube's) and whether you care about Amazon's policy of making you pay to get rid of ads. It's not exactly one of the best tablets, but it is among the best kids tablets you can buy.
Fire 7 price and availability
The Fire 7 is most well known for its $50 price, which gets you 16GB of storage. A 32GB model costs $70. Unfortunately, that version is unavailable as of this writing. According to Amazon, the blue colorway will be back in stock on Aug. 16.
For an extra $15, you can remove advertisements from the Fire 7's lock screen. In my time with the tablet, I've seen "special offers" (as Amazon calls them) for the company's original show The Boys, the game Candy Crush Friends Saga and Amazon Coins, a currency used for in-app purchases. These coins remind me of going to an arcade that makes you buy its own tokens rather than letting you use quarters.
The Fire 7 is the most basic tablet to ever see the light of day: a plastic-clad 7-inch slate with some pretty chunky bezels. Of course, that's all we expect at this price. Annoyingly, Amazon has only the black Fire 7 in stock at the moment, with Plum, Sage and Twilight Blue colorways not available until weeks from now.
At 10.1 ounces in weight and 0.4 inches thick, the Fire 7 is a bit lighter than the 8-inch Walmart Onn (12.2 ounces, 0.4 inches). Amazon's device is also much thinner and lighter than the Fire 7 Kids Edition (16.1 ounces, 1 inch), though those measurements include the kids' slate's chunky protective case.
The Fire 7 includes a headphone jack and microSD reader, the same ports you get with the Onn and the Fire 7 Kids.
When I streamed the Amazon Prime series The Boys on the Fire 7, I felt like I was watching a muted, almost bootlegged version of the big-budget original program. For example, the reds and blues of Homelander's U.S.-flag cape seemed a bit off, but at acceptable levels for this low-price device.
The Fire 7's sub-HD, 1200 x 600-pixel resolution is the main culprit for why most images -- from children walking slowly to a hero saving the day when a bank truck is under attack -- look a little fuzzy, if not completely filled with artifacts.
When we tested the Fire 7 with our colorimeter, we found that the tablet produces a mere 66% of the sRGB color spectrum, which is a point below the Fire 7 Kids' score of 67% and a lower rating than the 73% we saw from the Walmart Onn. Both of those ratings fall far below the 107% tablet average
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The Amazon Fire 7 emits up to 370 nits of brightness, which is close to the 376-nit tablet average and much brighter than the 273 nits from the Walmart Onn. The 339-nit Fire 7 Kids fell in between those marks. This Fire tablet is not bright enough to avoid colors darkening (and images getting obscured by reflective glare) when you view the screen at 30 degrees to the left or right.
Navigating the Fire OS interface with taps and swipes, I saw the Fire 7 offer excellent responsiveness for its price class. I did notice a minor amount of delay as I pinched and zoomed web pages, but it was an acceptable amount for a tablet this cheap.
Fire OS: All of Amazon's content, no Google apps and hands-free Alexa
Fire tablets run a modified version of Android, Amazon's Fire OS, which is built around all of the content Amazon sells. From the ads on the lock screen (as I mentioned earlier) to the slate's home screen sections (Books, Video, Games and Shop), everything about this tablet is optimized for Amazon households. That's not a bad thing, per se, but it will likely rub folks the wrong way if they don't actively enjoy living and breathing the Amazon way of life.
The latest optimization for the Fire tablet is an improved Alexa experience, as you can now activate the digital assistant just by saying its wake word (options for that word include Alexa, Echo and Computer). During my testing, I found that this feature works well, recognizing commands to provide information about the weather and the previous night's Yankees game, even in our chatty office.
While this Alexa upgrade is an important improvement, I'm not exactly impressed. Alexa should have always been voice-activated on the Fire 7, as the assistant has long been available touch-free on most Amazon devices.
Fire OS's biggest flaw is that it lacks the Google Play store and native Google apps. Yes, even as Fire TV got the YouTube app back this year, you can't use the real YouTube app on the Fire tablet, and you're forced to use the YouTube website -- a shame, really. Additionally, Gmail users will need to use third-party apps or the web view, as will GDocs users. It's a shame that Amazon has yet to remedy this in the seven-plus years since the original model of the Fire tablet dropped. You can get the Google Play store on Amazon's Fire tablets, but it relies on an unsafe workaround.
When listening to Twista's "Overnight Celebrity" on the Fire 7, I noticed that the tablet produced only enough volume to fill one of our smaller conference rooms.
Even then, the track's violins sounded way too sharp, the song's bass was practically nonexistent, and Twista's voice came out hollow. If you want a better sound experience, you'll want to invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
The Fire 7's expectedly underwhelming performance is due to the slate's no-name 1.3-GHz quad-core processor and 1GB of memory. If you don't know how little torque you get at this price, it's easy to explain. I saw the tablet slow down and become sluggish with only six tabs open in the Silk web browser.
However, the Fire 7 is a bit faster than the Walmart Onn (which sports a similar 1.3-GHz chip, but with 2GB of RAM), as I noticed when I rotated both tablets' screens. I was most disappointed by the Onn when it took 2.5 seconds to switch from portrait orientation to landscape, a relatively unimpressive feat that the Fire 7 completes in 1.6 seconds, a 36% shorter time.
The Fire 7's score of 1,922 on the Geekbench 4 performance test might be low compared to the 4,887 tablet average, but it's significantly higher than the Walmart Onn's 1,415. The Fire 7 Kids (which has the same processor and memory as the Fire 7) scored a similar 1,881.
When I played the racing game Asphalt 8 on the Fire 7, the cars looked nice enough, but the frame rate was sluggish. Less demanding games, such as Pac-Man 256, ran more smoothly. I'm guessing that Candy Crush-style games fall in the sweet spot (pun intended) for this tablet, as Amazon gives similar apps high placement on its Games section.
For a cheap tablet, the Fire 7 lasts pretty long, though its new Alexa setting eats away at the slate's longevity. On the Laptop Mag battery test, which times how long a device can browse the web at 150 nits, the Amazon Fire 7 ran out of juice after 6 hours and 56 minutes when Alexa wasn't enabled.
The slate lasted 6 hours and 16 minutes when touch-free Alexa was enabled. Both times are far shorter than the 9:13 category average, but the Walmart Onn (5:29) lasted even less time. The Fire 7 Kids posted a similar time of 6:57 with Alexa disabled, though its Alexa enabled time of 6:45 showed a much smaller drop-off.
The 1.9 megapixel cameras in the front and rear of the Amazon Fire 7 are OK for a $50 gadget. Snapping a selfie and photos of the toys on my desk, I saw that the Fire 7's cameras captured relatively accurate hues but coated photos in a grainy texture.
This isn't disappointing or unexpected, though, as most webcams, even in laptops that cost 10 times as much, offer similar unimpressive quality.
The Amazon Fire 7 offers relatively responsive performance and long battery life, especially for a cheap tablet. Unfortunately, the slate could use a brighter display, still packs ads, and lacks YouTube and the rest of Google's apps.
If you need the perks of the YouTube app or just want a more traditional Android experience, get the Walmart Onn. Be warned, though, that it costs $14 more and runs a tad slower. Still, if you're in the Amazon ecosystem and looking for an affordable tablet, there's plenty of value to be found in the Amazon Fire 7.
Credit: Laptop Mag