Amazon Fire review:

Not good, but good for the price if you're a Prime member

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3 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars 4 user reviews

The Good The Amazon Fire tablet definitely isn't overpriced. It runs a user-friendly operating system and houses a microSD card slot expandable up to 128GB. Amazon Prime members can access the bevy of free TV shows, movies and games included in the subscription.

The Bad The design feels cheap. Performance is slow if many apps are open in the background and when downloading. The display has a low resolution and touchscreen response can be sluggish. Gaming performance for large games is slow and the graphics can experience frame rate drops.

The Bottom Line The Amazon Fire is a fine tablet for casual use, but it's not a good tablet, it's just good for the price.

6.0 Overall
  • Design 5.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 6.0

Editor's note (November 11, 2015): Stop! Before you order a Kindle, Fire tablet or Fire TV stick, check out the price drops coming soon.

The Amazon Fire is special for one reason: it costs $50 or £50. (Amazon doesn't typically sell hardware in Australia, but the US price converts to about AU$70.) It's an unremarkable-looking tablet that runs Amazon's custom Fire OS 5 Bellini operating system, which is based on Android but can't natively access the Google Play store, and offers easy access to Amazon's vast media library.

At its low price, the Fire is an attractive option for frugal customers who don't care about the latest and greatest technology. In fact, it's a great option for those who don't care much about technology at all. For an undiscerning user, the Fire is simply an inexpensive device for watching video, reading, light gaming, browsing the Web and, of course, shopping the Amazon store. At a price this low, you can buy six of them for less than the cost of one Apple iPad Mini 2 -- you pay for five and Amazon throws in the sixth for free.

Just like the Fire, this review is simplified to the bare essentials. Since it's a tablet with specs so dated we haven't reviewed a comparable model in over two years, it's an exception to the rule. The review answers the important questions by focusing on what the Fire has to offer, if it's worth buying and, if so, for whom. We've never seen tablet at this price that was worth recommending. Is the Amazon Fire the first?

If you're a Prime member, yes. The operating system is tailor-made for watching and playing all of the TV shows, movies, music and games that come with your membership. You can also download them all for offline use, onto a memory card or the internal storage. No other tablet will give you the same perks for such a low price. However, if you're not a Prime member the Fire tablet does little to change your mind about what you should expect from a tablet that costs $50 or £50. For more details, keep reading.


Design

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Thicker than most tablets. James Martin/CNET

Is it comfortable to hold?

The rounded edges comfortably sink into your palms and the smooth plastic back is pleasant enough, but the finish lacks grip support and feels more slippery than silky.

Dimensions compared

Tested spec Amazon Fire Amazon Fire HD 6 Amazon Fire HD 8
Weight 0.69 pounds (313g) 0.63 pounds (290g) 0.68 pounds (311g)
Width (landscape) 7.5 inches (191mm) 6.7 inches (169mm) 8.4 inches (214mm)
Height 4.5 inches (115mm) 4.1 inches (103mm) 5 inches (128mm)
Depth 0.4 inches (10.6mm) 0.4 inches (10.7mm) 0.3 inches (7.7mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.62 inches (15mm) 0.62 inches (15mm) 0.68 inches (17mm)

Does it feel cheap?

The plastic construction does feel a bit flimsy. If you give the tablet a small squeeze both front and back panels slightly cave in. Yet its hefty weight makes it feel solid -- if you were to keep squeezing, it doesn't feel as though it wouldn't crack in two. We, however, did not put this to the test.

What's so bad about the design?

Its thick girth and big bezels make it look more like a tablet that came out in 2011 instead of 2015. It's not ugly or anything, but top tablets today feature sleek, super-slim constructions and the Fire looks dowdy and unfashionable in comparison.

Features

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Amazon's latest OS is called Bellini. James Martin/CNET

What's so great about Amazon's Fire OS 5 Bellini?

The Fire tablet's operating system is tailored for Amazon Prime users. The latest version sports an updated look with a few new features. You can find all the details in the Fire HD 8 review .

What's the app store situation?

The Fire doesn't have access to all of the Android apps in the Google Play Store. Instead it has the Amazon app store. It's curated and doesn't offer as great of a selection. It has many popular games, like Hearthstone and Angry Birds, but you're unlikely to find any of the new and trendy games that are available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

Do I need an Amazon Prime account to buy or use one?

No, but it would definitely enhance your experience with the tablet. More on that below.

Can I download video?

Yes. With an Amazon Prime account you can download any of the TV shows or videos available in the Prime library. You can also download content you've bought from Amazon or load your own video files onto it, either with a microSD card or by transferring them onto the tablet directly.

Performance

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Gaming performance is mediocre at best. James Martin/CNET

Is it unbelievably slow?

Surprisingly no. To be sure, everything from apps to videos take at least a handful of seconds to load, especially if they're bigger file. But I expected it to be a lot slower. As with the Fire HD 8 , download times were also on the slow side.

Is it buggy?

I didn't encounter as many performance quirks as I was expecting. When I was browsing the Prime library, a few menu pages of video content wouldn't load. Another time, I downloaded a game and watched the download complete and install, but when I tried to open it I was redirected to the game's download page in the app store and had to download it again.

If many apps are open in the background, performance can get sluggish. Games and apps will take longer to launch and tap response is delayed. Occasionally, the screen had difficulty responding to taps. I had to increase the pressure (which felt more like pressing a button than pecking at a touchscreen) before it would recognize the gestures. This happened randomly then went back to normal. The top edge of the tablet can also get a little warm after using it for a long time, but not so warm that it becomes uncomfortable.

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Standard definition screen James Martin/CNET

What's the screen quality like? Is it HD?

The screen has a 1,024x600-pixel resolution, so it's not high-definition. And, unlike the Fire HD tablets, it is not a Gorilla Glass screen, meaning it's not as solid and durable.

Viewing angles aren't very wide (when you view it from the side the screen looks darker and harder to see) and it's best for single person viewing. The screen isn't very bright, but it's luminous enough to comfortably view indoors in normal lighting situations. The color range is limited and there's a prevalent green hue on the screen that's most noticeable when you compare the screen with the Fire HD 6. The Fire HD 6 displayed more accurate colors, while everything on the Fire looked like it had a thin film of green over it.

Screen specs compared

Tested spec Amazon Fire Amazon Fire HD 6 Amazon Fire HD 8
Maximum brightness 328 cd/m2 390 cd/m2 534 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.24 cd/m2 0.30 cd/m2 0.50 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1366:1 1,300:1 1068:1
Screen resolution 1,024x600 1,280x800 1,280x800
Pixels-per-inch (ppi) 169ppi 251ppi 189ppi

What's the audio quality like?

There's a headphone jack located on the top edge and a single speaker on the bottom right. The speaker is loud enough for single viewer watching, but quality is poor. Highs sound tinny at loud volumes and it lacks bass.

How's its gaming performance?

Not as bad as you might think. Simple mobile games -- like Cut The Rope and Angry Birds -- run smoothly. They can take a few seconds to launch if a big file is downloading or if many apps are open in the background. Bigger games like Dead Trigger 2 and Hearthstone take anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds to load. Gameplay is mostly smooth, though it's common to see choppy graphics, which already look pretty rough on the SD screen.

3DMark Ice Storm (Unlimited)

Amazon Fire HD 8
10161
Amazon Fire HD 6
9960
Amazon Fire
4646

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Graphics Score

Amazon Fire HD 6
10835
Amazon Fire HD 8
10734
Amazon Fire
4098

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Physics Score

Amazon Fire
8741
Amazon Fire HD 8
8563
Amazon Fire HD 6
7764

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

How much internal storage space does it have?

There is only one version of the Fire and it comes with 8GB of internal storage. Out of the box, you have about 5.6GB of free storage (the rest is taken up by the software to run the tablet) so in reality, you have almost 3GB less than the advertised 8GB.

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