Amazon Fire HD 6 review: Raising the bar on low-end tablets
Starting at only $99 (€78 or $112AU) Amazon's smallest tablet ever is also its cheapest.
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.
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.
|Amazon Fire HD 6
|LG G Pad 7.0
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0
|Toshiba Excite Go
|Weight in pounds
|Width in inches (landscape)
|Height in inches
|Depth in inches
|Side bezel width in inches (landscape)
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the downsides of the Amazon Fire tablets, including the Fire HD 6, is their lack of Google Play store access. The Fire tablets instead offer Amazon's app store, which still offers a great number of apps, but not as many and as varied as Google's. Sometimes, it also takes awhile for the latest games and apps to to hit the store, however a curated app store is less overwhelming in terms of options -- a nice relief for the non-tech-savvy -- and it matches the simplified operating system.
The Amazon Fire HD 6 houses an ARM Cortex-A15 1.21GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB or 16GB of internal storage.
Other specs on the tablet include 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope. Unlike the HDX series, the Fire HD 6 is not offered in a 4G LTE version.
Despite being dirt-cheap, the Amazon Fire HD 6 performed like a midrange slate. Performance was consistently swift and smooth -- until the internal storage ran out. After downloading a movie, some magazines, books and various apps, the free 5GB of internal storage was quickly spent. Amazon tablets are very cloud-centric -- in place of offering an expandable storage option -- and the Fire HD 6 is no different.
For casual use like checking email, reading, and browsing the Web, the tablet performed effortlessly. Even when many apps were open in the background, the tablet ran without a hitch. Navigating between one app and another was also swift, and Web pages were speedy to load.
|Amazon Fire HD 6
|LG G Pad 7.0 (LTE)
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0
|Toshiba Excite Go
|Google Nexus 7
|317 cd/m2 (294 cd/m2)
|Maximum black level
|.29 cd/m2 (.22 cd/m2)
|Maximum contrast ratio
HD video looks sharp on the small 1,280x800-pixel resolution IPS LCD screen. Colors appear true to life, but sometimes fall flat when watching cartoons or CGI-infused movies. Text is also clear and easy to read at the smallest and largest fonts. Reading e-books was smooth sailing, however the lack of an ambient light sensor requires manually adjusting the screen's brightness when changing environments.
Touchscreen response was quick and accurate. If the tablet is in the process of downloading a large file, gesture response can become delayed or staggered -- a typical downside to tablets with less than 2GB of RAM.
Gaming performance for simple mobile games was consistently stable. Large games fared slightly differently; loading times were sluggish for games like N.O.V.A 3, and each level took at least 30 seconds to load, slowing down the pace of any action-packed game. This is another typical performance downside to low-end slates.
The Fire HD 6 packs a pair of cameras, but don't expect much from them. The front-facing VGA camera performs fine for video-conferencing, but photos are fuzzy with dull colors. The 2-megapixel rear camera isn't much better. Though there's a manual focus option, photos at full resolution carry a significant amount of digital noise and don't look very sharp. Aside from a bluish tint, colors tend to look life-like. The good news is that, when reduced in size as seen below, the 2-megapixel photos don't look half bad.
In actual use, battery life for the Fire HD 6 was preemptively impressive. With casual to heavy use, the tablet lasted about two and a half days on a full charge. With a little less than 50 percent battery life I was able to stream about three hours of video with the brightness on full blast, and at only 10 percent remaining, I was able to squeeze out about half an hour of reading. Check back after we're done testing the tablet in the CNET Labs for results from our battery-drain testing.
The Amazon Fire HD 6 is a bit of a revolutionary addition to the budget tablet landscape; its sharp IPS display, compact construction, feature-filled OS and smooth performance are a rare combination for a device that's only $99. It's still hindered by the lack of Google Play store and its thick, plastic build, but certain sacrifices are to be made if saving money is a priority.
The Fire HD 6 is a good tablet, but if you're interested in something great, an upgrade can be found in the Fire HDX 7 and Google Nexus 7. The high-end end Fire HDX line packs a Mayday button for instant customer service as well as a thinner design, a faster processor, and a sharper screen. The Nexus 7 gets you access to Google's huge cache of apps and services. If those fancy bells and whistles are unimportant, the Fire HD 6 is the best bang for your buck. Though it's on the low end of the spectrum, the feature-filled 6-incher raises the bar for sub-$100 tablets.