Amazon Fire 7 (2019) review: A good cheap tablet gets minor improvements

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The Good The Amazon Fire 7 is inexpensive, has a standard headphone jack and houses a microSD card slot expandable up to 512GB. This 2019 edition has an upgraded processor and adds support for hands-free Alexa. Amazon Prime members can access the bevy of free TV shows, movies and games included with their $119 (£79) annual subscription.

The Bad The screen is sub-HD quality. App store doesn't have quite as much variety as Google Play Store. To truly take advantage of what the tablet has to offer, you need an Amazon Prime membership.

The Bottom Line Amazon's slightly upgraded entry-level Fire 7 tablet remains a good value, but you're still better off spending a bit more for the HD 8 instead.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

I always find it a little cynical when Amazon calls a slightly updated version of one of its products "all-new" when it really isn't. The latest version of Amazon's entry-level tablet, the Fire 7 ($50, £50), is very similar to the 2017 version -- it looks identical except for some new color options -- but it's got some small upgrades on the inside, namely a "faster" processor, according to Amazon, and a bump in the base storage from 8GB to 16GB, with a microSD expansion slot that lets you add up to 512GB of additional storage. A model with 32GB of internal storage ($70, £60) is also available. 

We thought the previous version was a good value, particularly when it was discounted by $10 or even $15 during flash sales, and at those prices this updated model remains an attractive option for Amazon Prime members looking for a dirt-cheap serviceable tablet to experience Amazon's "free" content included with that Prime membership. The Fire 7 ($50 at Amazon) and its step-up sibling, the Fire HD 8, are also tablet favorites among parents in search of a budget iPad ($385 at eBay) alternative for younger kids. 

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The Fire 7 home screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's certainly fine for parents to buy this model and add a case to it, but Amazon is also offering the new Fire 7 in a new Fire 7 Kids Edition, which costs $100 or £100 and comes with 16GB of storage, one year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a "kid-proof" case with a new adjustable stand (it's a nice improvement) and a two-year free replacement policy. I personally don't think it's as good a value as the standard model, but some people will find it appealing.

Now playing: Watch this: Amazon's Kids Edition Fire tablets don't fear cracked...

Before you buy any Fire tablet, or any Amazon device at all, really, keep in mind that they frequently go on sale, so you should never pay the list price. The two best times to buy are usually during Prime Day (mid-July) and Black Friday (late November) sales, but periodic discounts happen at other times throughout the year, too.

The big feature addition Amazon is highlighting is support for hands-free Alexa. That means that instead of hitting a virtual button on the screen to activate Alexa, you simply say the name "Alexa" as you would with an Echo device -- so long as you're on Wi-Fi. The feature can be toggled off in the settings menu. It was already added to the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10.

Comparing 2019 version with the 2017 version

I compared the Fire 7 2019 with the previous Fire 7 model, which was released in June of 2017. From a performance standpoint, it's hard to tell how much zippier it is, if at all. Like the previous model, the new Fire 7 features a 1.3GHz processor, but presumably it's a new processor that does offer some performance benefits (it seems that the new processor is required for hands-free Alexa). 

As I said before, the Fire 7 runs pretty smoothly despite its entry-level status. I wouldn't call it zippy, but it doesn't feel sluggish and I didn't have a problem with the responsiveness of the touch screen. For what most people will do with this tablet -- surf the web, stream video and music, read e-books and listen to audiobooks -- it's sufficiently fast, and I found that Amazon's apps, particularly Amazon Video, launched quickly and played content with minimal delay (on a decent Wi-Fi network anyway). 

It's fine for typical mobile casual gaming apps but it may get bogged down with more graphically intense games or if a lot of apps are running in the background. You can close out apps by pressing the virtual square button at the bottom of the screen and X-ing out the apps.

One of the new color options: plum.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Ultimately, the display is what relegates this tablet to budget status. While Amazon made some improvements to the contrast in the last model that are retained here, you're still looking at standard-definition video no matter how you slice it and images, video and text appear sharper on the step-up Fire HD 8, which lists for $80 for the base 16GB model and seems to regularly go on sale for $60 -- and sometimes even $50. The HD 8 also features better battery life (10 hours versus 7 hours) and the external sound from its twin speakers bests the sound from the Fire 7's single speaker (both have standard headphone ports as well as Bluetooth connectivity).

Like other Amazon tablets, the Fire 7 gives you access to the company's exclusive features, which include Alexa, ASAP, X-Ray, Second Screen, Amazon FreeTime, Family Library, Blue Shade, On Deck and Prime Video downloads. Prime members also have access to a panoply of movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, apps and games with free, unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content.

Some of the apps available.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The other thing to keep in mind is that Amazon tablets use a modified version of Android, but it's not the real deal. In other words, it'll be familiar to anyone with an Android phone, but you won't find every Android app here because the tablet lacks the Google Play Store (unless you're an enterprising user willing to hack the device). Spotify, Roblox, Facebook Messenger, Netflix and HBO are available; Gmail, Google Maps, Tinder and Whatsapp are not. Check out the list of Fire tablet apps before buying to see if it's missing any of your must-have apps.

When it comes to tablets that cost this little, it's hard to expect major improvements, even if it is has been two years since the last update. However, the Fire 7's small refinements, like last year's Fire HD 8's minor updates, aren't terribly exciting to write about. So, like I said before, the Fire 7 is about as good as you get for a $50 tablet, particularly if you're a Prime member, but the Fire HD 8 is the better deal. 

Key features

  • 1,024x600-pixel display
  • 10.4 oz (295 grams)
  • 7.6x4.5x0.4 inches (192x115x9.6 mm)
  • Quad-core 1.3GHz processor
  • Front- and rear-facing cameras
  • Free, unlimited cloud storage for all photos taken on Fire devices
  • Up to 512GB of expandable storage via microSD card (up from 256GB on previous model)
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi support
  • Battery life: Up to 7 hours of reading, listening to music, streaming video and web browsing
  • Screen sharing: Let an Amazon expert guide you remotely through any feature on your screen for free
  • Access to exclusive Amazon features, services and media libraries
  • New color options: Black, Sage, Plum and Twilight Blue

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