CNET's Cheapskate scours the Web for great deals on PCs, phones, gadgets and much more. Questions about the Cheapskate blog? Find the answers on our FAQ page.
Yesterday, Amazon took the wraps off a $50 tablet , the simply named Fire. As you might expect, I'm a little excited.
Okay, a lot excited. Not because I need another tablet -- I have only the two hands, after all -- but because this is such a game-changer. I mean, I was already deeply enamored of the Fire HD 6, Amazon's cute little $99 tablet. But now you can get a bigger screen and an expansion slot for half the price? Sign me up.
Admittedly, I haven't seen or handled the new Fire, so I can't address the elephant in the room: the screen. (More on that below.) But here are five reasons I think this is something you'll want, either for yourself or as a gift.
1. It's cheap enough for single-purpose uses
At $50 (or $41.66 each if you buy a six-pack!), the Fire doesn't have to be your all-purpose, all-the-time tablet. Instead, you can earmark it for dedicated tasks. For example:
- Kitchen-counter cookbook
- Kitchen-fridge shopping list (synced to your phone, of course)
- Living-room remote (Fire TV, Roku, TiVo, etc.)
- Nightstand e-reader (because it's cheaper than a Kindle!)
- Minivan kid-occupier (one for each kid, of course)
- Dedicated Pandora/Prime Music/Spotify player (paired with a Bluetooth speaker, natch)
See my point? When you spend $300-400 on a tablet, you feel obligated to take it everywhere, use it for everything. A $50 Fire is like Play-Doh: You can mold it to whatever shape you need.
2. It's expandable
All of Amazon's new Fires -- including this one -- have a microSD expansion slot. To which I say: hallelujah! About time! That's always been one of the main benefits of the Android platform, so I could never understand why so many phones and tablets (all previous Fires among them) left out that option.
So what if the $50 Fire has only 8GB of local storage? For under $20 you can snag a 32GB microSD card and stuff it with a lot more media.
3. It includes all the Amazon goodies
You might think an entry-level Fire would leave out some of Amazon's trademark perks, the idea being to drive customers to pricier models. Nope. Among my favorite Amazon-only features:
- Amazon Underground, a huge selection of free apps, games and in-game extras.
- Mayday Screen Sharing, the free on-device tech-support option.
- Prime TV shows and movies you can download to the tablet for offline viewing.
- Unlimited cloud storage for your Amazon content and any photos you capture with the Fire.
You also get the just-announced new stuff, including On Deck and Word Runner. Amazon pulled no punches, extras-wise.
4. It's more like a real Android tablet
I've never been of fan of Amazon's heavily modded version of Android, as I don't think the whole carousel approach works well for quickly finding what you want. But with Fire OS 5, the carousel is no longer center-stage; the bulk of the interface displays app icons. And if you swipe right from the home screen, you get a page of recently used apps.
Yes, you're still ostensibly locked into Amazon's Appstore, but at least the overall tablet experience is closer to what you might get from a traditional Android model. I really like what I've seen of OS 5, at least in screenshots.
5. Duh: It's $50
You might have noticed I didn't mention screen resolution (a decidedly low 1,024x600 pixels) or processor speed (1.3GHz), which might be the deal-breakers for some buyers.
Let me remind you, though, that the first two iPads had a resolution of just 1,024x768 pixels, as did the original iPad Mini. And those tablets had larger screens. I'm not saying the Fire's 7-inch display is fantastic, merely that it's probably good enough for its size. Reading small text won't be pleasant, but will your kids care? Nope. Will resolution matter when you're queuing up a playlist or playing a few rounds of Terraria? Definitely not. Tweak your expectations and you won't be disappointed.
And reason one not to buy...
The caveat with all Amazon tablets has always been the same: To really get the most out of them, you need an Amazon Prime subscription. Make no mistake, I think Prime is one of the greatest services ever -- the free 2-day shipping alone has genuinely improved my life -- but it's an additional expense.
Indeed, to get the Prime video downloads, the free monthly e-book, the unlimited music -- the stuff that really elevates a Fire tablet over, say, a Google Nexus -- you need Prime.
That said, you can easily dispense with the service and enjoy a fully capable 7-inch tablet for just $50. I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that.
Bonus deal: If there's a new iPhone in your future, no doubt you'll want to protect its screen. But, for heaven's sake, don't spend $30-40 on a screen protector in the Apple Store! Instead, grab the IQ Shield LiquidSkin for iPhone 6/6s for free with coupon code YTETINAX. Getting a 6 Plus or 6S Plus? Same deal with this link and coupon code TQLPTKZZ. Shipping adds just 50 cents. Both versions come with a frustration-free installation tray.
Bonus deal No. 2: Game time! EA's latest On the House giveaway is a good one: real-time strategy classic Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. (You also get the Yuri's Revenge expansion pack.) It may be old (released way back in 2000), but Red Alert 2 is arguably the best game in the venerable Command & Conquer series. (OK, second-best: My favorite will always be Generals.) If you've never had the pleasure and don't mind slightly outdated graphics, this is well worth the download. Note that you'll need an Origin account for that.
Contest time! My house is so dumb. ("How dumb is it?!") My house is so dumb, all the light switches have to be operated manually! Fortunately, CNET is working to overcome house-dumbness with the Smart Home Sweepstakes. How's this for a prize bundle: August Smart Lock , MyQ Garage , Nest Cam , Lutron Caseta Wireless Lighting Starter Kit and Amazon Echo. Total value of all that booty: nearly a grand. Enter now!