Amazon Fire HD 6 review:

Raising the bar on low-end tablets

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Amazon Fire HD 6 starts at an affordable $99. Its small size makes it extremely portable and easy to use in one hand. Performance is smooth and its OS features a variety of family-friendly functions.

The Bad The plastic construction feels cheap and girthy. It lacks Amazon's Mayday instant customer-service feature as well as the Google Play store. The free space on the 8GB model fills up quickly.

The Bottom Line The smooth performing and feature-filled Amazon Fire HD 6 is unrivaled in the bargain tablet category.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 6.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 7.0

The Amazon Fire HD 6 turns the budget tablet category on its head. Starting at only $99 for an 8GB model, the 6-inch slate rocks a sharp IPS screen, performs smoothly, and offers a feature-filled, user-friendly operating system -- and that's more than you can say about most tablets in the $100 price range. It's priced at £79 in the UK. Availability in Europe and Australia aren't yet announced, but the US price works out to €78 or AU$112.

In comparison to its 7-inch counterpart, the Fire HD 6 sports a more compact build that's easier for travel and commuting, not to mention lighter on your wallet. The specs on the 6-inch tablet aren't the most cutting edge, but for a rock-bottom price, its lack of Google Play store and girthy plastic construction can be forgiven.

Budget tablets have slowly improved in quality throughout the years, and the Fire HD 6 continues to up the ante. Amazon's top-of-the-line small tablet, Fire HDX 7, starts at $199 (at current exchange rates that's £124, €181 or AU$263) and packs more features and better performance, but if you're looking to keep costs low, you can enjoy all of your Amazon content on the 6-inch Fire HD for about half the price. If you're not cloud-centric about your content, the upgrade to the 16GB is a smart investment and only a small bump in price. There have been plenty of $99 tablets that haven't been worth your time, but the Fire HD 6 isn't just a throwaway cheap slate, it's a low-priced tablet that packs in plenty for the money and is well worth its price.

Design

The smallest addition to Amazon's tablet lineup continues the tradition of subtly distinct designs. The Amazon Fire HD 6's design is far from the sleek build of the HDX 7 and, though its angular back panel is reminiscent of its higher-end sibling, that's as far as the resemblance goes. For a smaller-than-average slate, it's not very slim, and at 0.63 pounds (0.29 kg), it's not the lightest either.

Dimensions compared

Amazon Fire HD 6 LG G Pad 7.0 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 Toshiba Excite Go
Weight in pounds 0.63 0.65 0.61 0.78
Width in inches (landscape) 6.7 7.4 7.4 7.8
Height in inches 4.1 4.5 4.2 4.7
Depth in inches 0.4 0.4 0.35 0.43
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.6 0.7 0.6 0.7

The buttons on the Fire HD feature a more traditional placement and design in comparison to the concave controls on the Fire HDX tablets; the rectangular buttons slightly protrude from the top edge and right corner, instead of the left and right edges. The headphone jack, microphone pinhole, and Micro-USB port can also be found on the top edge, while the back of the bottom is home to the solitary mono speaker.

kindle-fire-hd-7-7.jpg
Small but girthy. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Another big design difference on the Fire HD is its lackluster plastic construction. The Fire HD 6 skips the rubbery texture that elevates the HDX tablet's designs and opts for a matte finish that provides little to grip onto. Its back panel feels cheap and thin -- almost toy-like -- yet it's still comfortable to hold, and its dimensions lend itself to a seamless one handed experience.

The 6-incher is made to fit in one hand and fits perfectly so. Reading on-the-go and playing games in crowded commuting spaces was an easy endeavor, and its compact size conveniently fit inside any small bag or purse. During my time with the tablet, I got used to its chunkiness, and I appreciated how easy it was to handle in one hand. However, when I switched to the HDX 7 for comparison's sake, I found myself favoring the thinner design of the 7-incher.

Amazon offers the tablet in a Kids Edition , which ships with a protective case and a two-year replacement plan. The tablet itself is simply the Fire HD 6 with the added bonus of a FreeTime Unlimited subscription. The service, free for a year, features curated kid-friendly apps, games and videos. Packaged into an interface children can easily navigate themselves, FreeTime also works as an extensive parental control function that can set a schedule or time limits for tablet use. The extras will cost you, at $149 for the 8GB model 6-inch model in the US; availability in the UK and Australia have yet to be announced.

kindle-fire-hd-7-3.jpg
The mono-speaker is located on the back. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Pass the Sangria

Amazon's latest operating system, Fire OS 4 Sangria, isn't much different than last year's Mojito, but it adds a few features to make sharing the tablet with family members simpler and extending the battery life easier. The Fire HD line lacks a few of the software perks that can be found on the HDX tablets, like the instant customer service feature Mayday, but the majority of features on the high-end line can be found on the Fire HD 6, too.

Amazon recently introduced its FreeTime service, which helps parents manage how and when their children use the tablet, and the addition of user profile options help parents take that control a step further. With the Sangria OS, you can create individual user profiles for adults and children, so instead of going into the settings menu to turn on the kid-friendly tablet mode, you simply create a separate profile for your child. Android tablets have long had a similar feature, but Amazon's function is geared toward making the Fire tablets more sharable among families. Soon there will be an update to allow sharing content from one Amazon account across multiple Fire devices, but it has yet to roll out.

kindle-fire-hd-magazines.jpg
For $10 a month, Kindle Unlimited lets you access hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, and audiobooks. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

One of the other subtle differences new to Sangria includes the ability to manage power consumption when the tablet isn't in use. The SmartSuspend option is a new function that helps increase stand-by battery life by turning off the Wi-Fi when the tablet is sleeping. In automatic mode, the function's timing adjusts to when you typically use the tablet, but you can also manually schedule when you'd like the Wi-Fi turned off. There are a variety of battery-saving apps that can do this, but this new built-in function is a nice, user-friendly addition for the less tech-savvy.

In addition to the benefits of a Prime membership, the Fire tablets also help take easy advantage of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited subscription service. For $10 a month, you can access over 700,000 reads and audiobooks. For anyone interested in a tablet with e-reader sensibilities, the service functions as a high-end library where the latest magazines are always available and they're never torn to shreds.

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