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Amazon Fire HD 7 review: A charmingly cheap small tablet

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MSRP: $139.00

The Good The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 is faster than last year's model and starts at an affordable $140 (£120). Amazon's Sangria OS is user-friendly and new features make the tablet easily shareable for families.

The Bad Its plastic redesign feels cheap and it lacks the Mayday instant customer service feature. Free space on the 8GB models runs out quickly and there's no expandable memory option. The Amazon app store is less extensive than the Google Play store.

The Bottom Line For an inexpensive tablet, the Fire HD 7 satisfies with a practical, family-friendly operating system, but those interested in a 7-inch tablet can find models with better build quality in the same price range.

Visit for details.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Editors' note: The Amazon Fire HD 6 and Fire HD 7 share identical specs in different form factors. Portions of this review resemble the Fire HD 6 's due to their similarities.

A great tablet will cost you at least $200 and anything priced less than that can run the gamut from good to garbage. The Amazon Fire HD 7 is on the good end of that spectrum.

Starting at $139 or £119, the 7-inch tablet features a faster processor with better graphics performance than its predecessor and ships with Amazon's latest Android-based Sangria operating system. The new OS now has better battery saving functions, allows individual profiles - great for sharing amongst families -- and permits content sharing between different Fire devices, though the feature has yet to roll out. It also comes in a cheaper 6-inch model for those with smaller hands -- or tighter wallets. Pricing and availability in Europe and Australia has yet to be announced, but the US price works out to about €90 or AU$160.

The change in design is the most notable difference, but it's also the most unimpressive. In comparison to last year's model (now discontinued) the Fire HD 7 sports an angular design -- reminiscent of the HDX 7 line -- and comes in five fun different colors. Unfortunately, the plastic back panel feels flimsy and, for the first time ever, the Fire HD 7 tablet feels as cheap as it costs.

The Fire HD 7's saving grace is ultimately Amazon's useful feature-rich operating system and family-friendly functions. If you can get past the inexpensive feel, its lackluster design can be forgiven at its bargain basement starting price, however the free space on the 8GB models fills up quickly and a jump to the $159 or £139 16GB version is a recommended move.

Design

Aesthetically, the Fire HD 7 doesn't break the mold; chunky bezels thickly frame the sharp 7-inch screen and the angular design looks similar to the Fire HDX line. Yet, the materials that construct the tablet give it a cheap toy-like feel.

Small tablet specs compared

Tested spec Amazon Fire HD 7 LG G Pad 7.0 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 Toshiba Excite Go Google Nexus 7
Weight 0.74 lb (337g) 0.65 lb (295g) 0.61 lb (277g) 0.78 lb (353g) 0.66 lb (299g)
Width (landscape) 7.4 in (186mm) 7.4 in (186mm) 7.4 in (186mm) 7.8 in (198mm) 7.8 in (198mm)
Height 5 in (128mm) 4.5 in (114mm) 4.2 in (106mm) 4.7 in (119mm) 4.5 in (114mm)
Depth 0.4 in (10mm) 0.4 in (10mm) 0.35 in (9mm) 0.43 in (11mm) 0.34 in (9mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.6 in (15mm) 0.7 in (18mm) 0.6 in (15mm) 0.7 in (18mm) 1 in (25mm)

The thin plastic back panel makes the tablet feel hollow, the way removable back covers do, and its smooth texture provides little grip support -- though the angular design helps fingertips securely wrap around the edges of the tablet. Indeed it's still comfy to hold and portable, but I was disappointed in the rinky-dink plastic design -- despite the five fun colors it comes in.

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.

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For the first time, the Fire tablets are available in a variety of colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

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 7 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 $189 for the 8GB model 7-inch model in the US; availability in the UK and Australia have yet to be announced for the Kids Edition, but that price converts to around £120 or AU$215.

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 7, 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.

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Individual profiles make sharing the tablet easy. Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

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 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 or £8 a month (and not yet available in Australia), 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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New operating system, same carousel Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

One of the downsides of the Amazon Fire tablets, including the Fire HD 7, 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 relief for the non-tech-savvy -- and it matches the simplified operating system.

Hardware

The Amazon Fire HD 7 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 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer and a gyroscope. Unlike the HDX series, the Fire HD 7 is not offered in a 4G LTE version.

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The Fire HD 7 sports a brighter screen than the Fire HD 6. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Performance

The Fire HD 7 performs smoothly and its limitations as a budget tablet are expected. The biggest restriction comes with the 8GB entry model. 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 7 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.

Screen specs compared

Tested spec Amazon Fire HD 7 LG G Pad 7.0 (LTE) Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 Toshiba Excite Go Google Nexus 7
Maximum brightness 448 cd/m2 317 cd/m2 (294 cd/m2) 314 cd/m2 380 cd/m2 570 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.42 cd/m2 0.29 cd/m2 (0.22 cd/m2) 0.47 cd/m2 0.25 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,066:1 1,093 (1,336):1 668:1 1,520:1 1,295:1
Screen resolution (pixels) 1,280x800 1,280x800 1,280x800 1,024x600 1,920x1,200
Density (pixels per inch) 215ppi 215ppi 215ppi 169ppi 323ppi
Display type IPS IPS TFT LCD IPS

HD video looks sharp on the 1,280x800-pixel resolution IPS LCD screen and the Fire HD 7's display is brighter than its 6-inch counterpart , making it easier to see outdoors. 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.

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The angular design looks similar to the Fire HDX tablets. Xiomara Blanco/CNET

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 7 has a front-facing 0.3-megapixel camera that's fine for video conferencing, but photos are fuzzy with dull colors. The 2-megapixel rear camera isn't much better, but offers an HDR and panoramic mode, as well as manual focus. The 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 lifelike. The good news is that, when reduced in size as seen below, the 2-megapixel photos don't look half bad.

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The rear camera doesn't offer any scene modes, but can take panoramic and HDR photos. Screenshot/Xiomara Blanco

Anecdotally, battery life for the Fire HD 7 was preemptively impressive. With casual to heavy use, the tablet lasted about two days on a full charge. Check back after we're done testing the tablet in the CNET Labs for results from our battery-drain testing.

Conclusion

Amazon Fire tablets are typically affordable, but not until the 2014 line of the Fire HD models have they actually felt cheap. The flimsy plastic back is somewhat forgivable on the charmingly chunky low-end Fire HD 6 , however on the 7-inch model, I expected something better from Amazon.

The Dell Venue 7 and LG Pad 7.0 are two small tablets that run Android, offer less restrictive user interfaces and both look more appealing than the Fire HD 7. They're both affordably priced and make solid alternatives to the Fire HD 7. Of course you can splurge on a top-of-the-line model -- like Amazon's own Fire HDX 7 or Google's Nexus 7 -- for faster performance and sleeker design, but if simple is all you need and access to your Amazon content is key, the Fire HD 7 remains an attractively affordable small tablet.

Conclusively, the value of the Fire HD 7 is on the inside. The Sangria OS is both user-friendly and packed to the brim with features. Families with children will enjoy the extensive parental controls and individual user-profiles, while Amazon Prime members can revel in the abundance of streaming video available, or trade in their library card for a Kindle Unlimited subscription. For anyone looking to get their money's worth for both their tablet and Amazon Prime membership, the Fire HD 7 does both.

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