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Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition (2017) review: A tablet kids will outgrow quickly

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The Good This very low-cost tablet includes a wealth of extras, including deep parental controls, a no-questions-asked two-year warranty and Amazon's excellent FreeTime Unlimited service. Onboard storage is expandable via microSD card.

The Bad The slightly larger, more expensive Fire HD 8 has a better display and audio, and runs faster. The Kids Edition costs significantly more than the otherwise identical standard version. There are the same app store limitations as the other Amazon Fire tablets.

The Bottom Line The very basic Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet has great software for kids and parents, but the slightly more expensive 8-inch version is a better all-around pick.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Spoiler alert: If you can afford it, skip the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition, and get the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition instead. It's bigger, faster and better all around, and well worth the extra $30 or £30. For what it's worth, the same advice applies to the "adult" versions of the Fire 7 ($50 at Amazon) and Fire HD 8, too -- the hardware and price differentials are identical.

The Fire 7 Kids Edition is frequently discounted from its standard $100 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

Need a more detailed appraisal? OK, let's back up a bit. 

The Amazon Fire 7, in either its standard version or the Kids Edition reviewed here, is sure to be tempting based on price alone. For between $50 to $100 (and as low as $35 when on sale, which it frequently is) or £50 to £100 in the UK (you can't get it in Australia), you get a basic slate-style tablet that can play videos from multiple services (including Amazon Prime), read Kindle ebooks, handle your websurfing and social media tasks and even play some games.

The Fire 7 does a decent job at most of these tasks. But once you add in the premium required for the Kids Edition, which includes a padded case, two-year warranty and a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited (a Netflix-like subscription service with kid-appropriate ebooks, videos and games), the better 8-inch Fire HD 8 starts to look like a smarter choice. Comparing the two, the differences include screen size and resolution, audio quality, onboard storage and RAM, with the Fire 7 inferior in each case.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Navigation and menus on the Fire 7 feel sluggish compared to the Fire HD 8, and apps load less quickly. Some apps stutter, although video playback and even most games worked well after they had a chance to start up. But kids may get frustrated waiting even a few extra seconds (I know I did). With more RAM, a better screen and other improvements, spending about $30 more on the superior 8-inch version feels like a smart bet. Yes, the Fire 7 is good for a dirt-cheap tablet, but it's still a dirt-cheap tablet. 

Much of our review of the very similar Fire HD 8 Kids Edition is applicable here, especially when it comes to the Fire Kids Edition software and parental control features. For a deeper dive into the non-kid versions, read the our earlier reviews of the Fire HD 8's hardware and performance, as well as the more limited Fire 7.

A numbers game

The current Amazon Fire line, last updated in 2017, comes in 7-inch, 8-inch and 10-inch versions, with on-sale prices dropping as low as $35 for the (very) basic Fire 7. It's the tablet as impulse purchase, subsidized by the hope that you'll buy content -- books, videos and apps -- from Amazon and create a recurring revenue stream for the e-commerce giant.

Besides the standard models, there are also special Kids Edition versions of the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8. These kid-friendly models are physically identical to the regular versions, and the difference comes from included accessories, software and support. At first glance, it seems crazy to pay an extra $50 for a tablet that usually costs $50/$80 (for the Fire 7/Fire HD 8), but the math actually makes more sense than you might think.

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The Fire HD 8 behind the Fire 7.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the Kids Edition ($100 for the 7-inch, $130 for the 8-inch), you get a rubberized bumper case (I've had a similar one on my son's hand-me-down iPad 2 for years), which Amazon sells separately for $30, a two-year "no questions asked" replacement warranty, double the storage of the base model (8GB to 16GB in the 7-inch, 16GB to 32GB in the 8-inch), and a one-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited. After one year, the service costs $2.99 a month for Amazon Prime members ($4.99 for non-members), which is about $35 per year. That all adds up to well more than the $50 premium for the Kids version over the standard tablet.

Keep in mind also that Amazon regularly puts these devices on sale. The Fire 7/Fire 7 Kids Edition can at times be as low as $35/$75 and the Fire HD 8/Fire HD 8 Kids Edition can be found for $55/$95 during Amazon sales. This chart lays out the basic price differences between the models.

Amazon Fire prices

Fire 7 (8GB) Fire 7 Kids Edition (16GB) Fire HD 8 (16GB) Fire HD 8 Kids Edition (32GB) Fire HD 10 (32GB)
US $50 $100 $80 $130 $150
US sale price (offered periodically) $35 $75 $55 $95 $110
UK £50 £100 £80 £130 £150

The hidden charms of FreeTime

Of the extras included in the Kids Edition of the Fire tablets, the subscription to FreeTime Unlimited may seem the least useful, especially when compared to the padded case, extra storage and no-hassle replacement plan. It's actually Amazon's secret weapon, and having used the service extensively over the past couple of weeks, it's almost criminally low-profile for the value and flexibility it offers.

I'd previous heard about the service, which combines the actually free FreeTime features, including detailed scheduling and usage tools for parents to limit how and when kids use their tablet, with the subscription Unlimited part, which acts as an all-you-can-eat buffet of ebooks, apps and videos.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

A child (or children, as you can set up multiple profiles at an extra cost) gets a custom interface, much different from the standard Android-like Fire interface. FreeTime has a blue background and a handful of large category icons. It's also landscape-only, although some apps and ebooks work in portrait mode while they're being used.

As is often the case with content browsing, actual discovery can be hit or miss. There's no clear master list of what specific content is included, or a real understanding of what highlights the app chooses to surface. That said, the offers are so broad and much of it is of high quality, that kids will enjoy just trying random new things.

My 6-year-old son has been using FreeTime Unlimited on his recently purchased Fire HD 8 for a few weeks now, and is a big fan, especially of the idea that he can pick and download his own games without getting me or his mother to sign off on every individual one.

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A junior product tester with the 8-inch Kindle Fire.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

When setting up FreeTime, you select the age range of media you want displayed, and that changes the level of books, videos and apps. I set Dash's range at up to 8 years old, just to make sure he was challenged by new things.

The video appears to be from Amazon Prime, so you're not getting anything new there, but the ebooks and apps add great value. Books are fairly well-formatted for the screen. Some work on either landscape or portrait mode, but others are restricted to one view or the other. There's no pinch-to-zoom to read text, which can get small, but double-tapping on text pops it up in a larger bubble. Read one blurb, then swipe left with one finger to automatically advance the text. I can't say it will encourage self-directed reading for every kid, but it worked on the one I know, largely because he could pick what to download by himself.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The apps are mostly games. Many are of the free or freemium variety (and no, kids can't make additional purchases on their own), but a good number are actually surprisingly premium. I was pleasantly surprised to find a large library of apps from Toca Boca, publisher of Toca Life, Toca Lab and other kid-friendly apps. Dash is a big fan of these, and I've previously purchased a few for around $3 each. One download like this per month covers the cost of the entire FreeTime Unlimited service once the included one-year subscription expires.

Getting in character

One interesting way to search for content is through a top menu icon labeled "characters." There, kids can scroll through icons that run from generic, like Dinosaurs, to very specific brands, like Lego, Sesame Street, Marvel and Star Wars. Clicking on any of these brings up a list of all available ebooks, videos and apps from that category, and tapping on each individual item downloads or streams it.

It's a great way to discover content, although some brands have only apps and videos, but no books, or only books and videos, but no apps, and so on. Many, however, have all three, and Dash now has an instant Phineas and Ferb book collection.

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