Since Amazon released its first Fire tablet in 2011, it’s become the de facto choice for bargain shoppers and those entrenched in Amazon’s ecosphere. The latest update to its lineup, the 2019 Fire 7 ($49.99), is Amazon’s least expensive model. But while the tech giant has made some minor improvements in processor performance and storage capacity, the overall user experience hasn’t changed much. The Fire 7 features underwhelming performance, poor audio quality, and a mediocre display. While it remains the best tablet you can buy for $50, the Fire HD 8 ($79.99) offers much better value for your money with faster performance, a sharper display, and stronger speakers.
Design and Durability
From the outside, the Amazon Fire 7 is a near replica of its predecessor. The front is home to a 7-inch LCD surrounded by thick bezels. The back is made of matte plastic in black or one of three pastel shades (blue, green, or pink). There’s a 2MP camera in the top left corner along with the Amazon logo.
On the top of the tablet you’ll find the power and volume buttons, a headphone jack, and the micro USB charging port. On the right side is a microSD slot that supports up to 512GB of storage and can easily be opened without a tool. The left side is home to a single speaker, while the bottom is bare. If you’re holding it in landscape mode, the buttons are easy to reach, but in portrait people with small hands will struggle.
Although the Fire 7 has no sort of IP rating to protect against water or dust, its primarily plastic build should be able to handle minor drops. Amazon claims the Fire 7 is twice as durable as the iPad mini, though without an official IP rating, we won’t test that claim. Either way, your best bet is to order the custom Fire 7 cover that offers screen protection and doubles as an origami-type stand. If you want extra protection or plan on letting your children use the tablet, you should opt for the $99.99 Fire 7 Kids Edition, which includes a rubber case, one year of FreeTime Unlimited, and a two-year warranty.
Display, Audio, and Cameras
The display remains a 7-inch, 1,020-by-600 LCD. Pixel density is rather lower at 171 ppi, meaning you can definitely notice pixelation when looking closely at the screen or reading a book. At 335 nits, it’s bright enough for indoor use, but you won’t be able to see it in direct sunlight so using it by the pool or at the beach is pretty much out of the question. Color accuracy is decent but a little cool. Viewing angles are just okay, so you may have problems seeing the screen at certain angles.
Audio is a disappointment. While the speaker has been moved from the back to the side of the tablet, it continues to offer mediocre sound quality. Peak volume comes in at 90dB, but anything much higher than 60dB sounds tinny. At any volume, the sound is flat and there’s not a hint of bass. Luckily there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and Bluetooth 4.1 LE for external audio.
The Fire 7 has 2MP front and rear cameras. In bright light, the front-facing camera is acceptable for video chat or a quick selfie, but doesn’t compare with what you get on a modern cell phone. The rear camera is also fine in bright light for quick shots of receipts or documents. Neither camera performs well in low light, which is not unexpected since camera quality is not one of the tablet’s main selling points.
Hardware and Performance
The biggest updates to the 2019 Fire 7 are internal. Amazon made a slight bump to both the processor and storage. The Fire 7 ships with an updated 1.3GHz quad-core processor that Amazon claims is faster than 1.3GHz quad-core processor in the previous model, along with 1GB of RAM. There’s also more storage, with the base model coming in at 16GB and the $69.99 model shipping with 32GB. Luckily, you can add up to 512GB of external storage to either model via the microSD slot if want to download movies and TV shows for offline viewing.
Even with the internal upgrades, the 2019 Fire 7 is painfully slow. It takes several seconds for the keyboard to pop up, screen transitions lag, and if you want to watch something on Amazon Prime Video, be prepared to wait: During our tests it took an average of 14 seconds for the app to open. While the Fire HD 8’s hardware is only slightly more powerful with 1.5GB of RAM, the overall experience is much more enjoyable.
Battery life on the Fire 7 is also underwhelming. During our battery drain test, which streams video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, the Fire died after just 4 hours and 11 minutes. More conservative settings may help you eke out a few more hours, but if you’re taking a long trip you’ll want to pack an external battery. A micro USB cable and 5W charging adapter are included in the box, but it’ll take a while to reach a full charge as there’s no fast charging option.
Amazon Fire OS
The 2019 Fire 7 runs a heavily modified version of Android 7.1 Nougat. In fact, the UI is so heavily modified it bears little resemblance to Android at all. Amazon’s Fire OS was built from the ground up for media consumption, to drive Amazon Prime subscriptions (since many of the Fire 7’s features rely upon it), and to sell you products from Amazon.
When you turn on the tablet, you’re greeted with ads on the lock screen unless you pay $15 to remove them. Swipe up to show the home page with a selection Amazon’s custom apps and any new items you’ve purchased. At the top of the screen there’s a search bar and below it you’ll find close to a dozen tabs that direct you to books, videos, games, and the Amazon store. You can either tap on these icons or swipe between pages to get where you need to go.
One major thing that’s missing from Fire OS is the Google Play store; it’s been replaced with Amazon’s own app store. It carries many of the same apps you’ll find in the Play store, with the exception of any Google apps. That means no YouTube, Gmail, Google Calendar, or even Google Play Music. Aside from YouTube, Amazon offers its own custom apps to replace the regular suite that comes on Android devices. They’re not nearly as polished, but they work in a pinch. If you’re adventurous, you can sideload apps, but you risk the possibility of viruses and malware.
There are some nice additions to the latest version of Amazon Fire OS, however. Now that it uses Android Nougat as its base, picture-in-picture mode is available. Amazon has also added hands-free Alexa mode, meaning you can use the table for Alexa voice commands and get audio and visual feedback, similar to an Echo Show.
At $50, the 2019 Amazon Fire 7 is the most reliable inexpensive tablet you can buy. But while this year’s updates are welcome, they aren’t quite enough to make it feel like you’re using a fast, modern device. While it’s $30 more, the Fire HD 8 is a much stronger value all around and our Editors’ Choice. It offers a much better display, faster performance, and dual speakers that make using apps and streaming multimedia much more enjoyable.