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Amazon Fire 7 (2017) review: Small improvements make Amazon's budget tablet a better bargain

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The Good The Amazon Fire 7 is inexpensive, runs Amazon's user-friendly operating system and houses a microSD card slot expandable up to 256GB. This 2017 edition is slightly lighter and battery life has been improved. Amazon Prime members can access the bevy of free TV shows, movies and games included with their $99 (roughly £75) annual subscription.

The Bad 1,024x600 display is sub-HD quality and not as sharp as the display on the step-up Fire HD 8, which doesn't cost much more. To truly take advantage of what the tablet has to offer, you need an Amazon Prime membership and there's no access to Google Play Store without a hack.

The Bottom Line Despite its performance limitations, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better entry-level tablet than the 2017 Amazon Fire 7.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

At first glance, Amazon's 2017 edition of its entry-level Fire 7 tablet (it was formerly just "Amazon Fire") looks virtually identical to its predecessor. However, it's been ever so slightly trimmed down, its battery life is improved and there's some added contrast to its 1,024x600 display. You can argue over whether that makes it "all-new," as Amazon bills it, or just "refreshed," but the point is this inexpensive tablet is now slightly better and costs the same, which is why we've rated it higher than its predecessor.   

The Fire 7 tablet is frequently discounted from its standard $50 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

It's available in 8GB ($50; £50) and 16GB ($70; £60) configurations, along with a Kids Edition ($100; £100) that includes a protective case and a two-year, no-questions-asked replacement guarantee should the device get damaged.

The new Fire 7 is ever so slightly thinner and lighter and comes in new color options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as weight goes, the new 295-gram Fire 7 ($37 at Amazon) is about 20 grams (about 2/3 of an ounce) lighter than its predecessor and 1 millimeter thinner. Like before, there's a memory expansion slot, but it now accommodates microSD cards with up to a 256GB capacity, instead of 128GB. Other changes include updated color options -- there are four to choose from -- and the addition of dual-band Wi-Fi, which means you can connect to both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi networks.

The front and rear cameras haven't been upgraded and are pretty basic by today's standards (the rear captures 720p video), but at least they're there and available for such apps as Skype.

Worth noting: One downside to Amazon's Fire tablets is that even though the Fire OS is built on an Android foundation, you're locked into Amazon's OS and its less robust app store rather than the Google Play store you'd find on a "real" Android tablet. Yes, hardcore techies can theoretically "jailbreak" the Fire 7 to effectively make it more Android-friendly -- you can find instructions online on how to add the Play store -- but I'm reviewing the product as is.

As for performance, 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 ebooks 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 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). Madden Mobile, Traffic Rider, Zombie Frontier 3 and City Racing 3D ran smoothly enough in my tests. However, I couldn't get Asphalt 8: Airborne to load. 

While the processor is the same 1.3 GHz quad-core processor as before, thanks to some software optimization, Amazon says battery life has been bumped up from seven to eight hours for mixed use. In our battery test, where we run our test video in a loop until the battery dies (we do two runs), there was a significant bump in battery life: This model delivered nine hours and 22 minutes of battery life while its predecessor topped out at six hours and 52 minutes.

The SD screen resolution remains the same but Amazon has slightly improved the contrast.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like all of Amazon's latest Fire tablets, you can access the Alexa voice assistant with a tap of a virtual button. The feature comes in handy for quickly accessing the latest weather and news, as well as finding and playing a specific video or artist in Amazon Video or Music. However, you do have to push that virtual button to access Alexa, so you can't tell your tablet what to do from across the room. 

Changes to the screen are very subtle. The slightly improved black levels make video and images pop a little more and text appears a touch sharper. However, 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 now costs $10 less ($80 total) for the base 16GB model. The HD 8 also features better external sound from its twin speakers versus the Fire 7's single speaker (both have headphone ports as well as Bluetooth connectivity).

I still think the HD 8 is the better deal, but comparatively speaking, you'll be hard pressed to find a better tablet for $50, especially if you're an Amazon Prime customer who can tap into all that free content that's included with your membership. And if you're buying this for a kid, I doubt she'll complain too much about watching standard definition video unless she's a budding videophile. 

The Fire 7 Kids Edition starts at $100 or £100 and comes with a case and a year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited service.

Amazon

Key specs

  • Alexa-enabled: Press a virtual button and ask to play videos, music, audiobooks, ask questions, shop, find news, display the weather and more
  • 1,024x600 display
  • 10.4 oz (295 grams)
  • 20 grams lighter than previous model
  • 7.6x4.5x0.4 inches (192x115x9.6 mm) -- previous version was 10.6 mm thick
  • Quad-core 1.3GHz processor
  • Front- and rear-facing cameras: Video chat with friends and family, take and share photos, and save them for later with free, unlimited cloud storage for all photos taken on Fire devices
  • Up to 256GB of expandable storage via microSD card (up from 128GB on previous model)
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi support
  • Screen sharing: Let an Amazon expert guide you remotely through any feature on your screen, available 24/7, 365 days a year -- for free
  • Amazon-exclusive features: Alexa, ASAP, X-Ray, Second Screen, Amazon FreeTime, Family Library, Blue Shade, On Deck, Prime Video downloads and more
  • Access to millions of movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, apps and games with free, unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content
  • New color options: Black, Punch Red, Marine Blue and Canary Yellow
  • Available in 8GB ($50; £50) and 16GB ($70; £60) configurations, as well as 16GB Kids Edition for $100 or £100 that includes protective case, two-year free replacement policy, one year of FreeTime Unlimited
  • Discount if you purchase multiple Fire tablets. Buy any three, including the new Fire 7, Fire HD 8, Fire 7 Kids Edition and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, and you get a 20 percent discount

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