First Look: The $50 Amazon Fire Tablet

With the new $50 Amazon Fire tablet, the Internet retailer is following the razor-and-blade marketing strategy. It’s selling the device (razor) at a very low price with the hope that sales of its many content offerings (blades) will provide greater potential for profit. And that’s not a bad thing for consumers.

After taking a first look at the 7-inch Amazon Fire tablet—by far the least-expensive tablet so far—we can tell you it’s a great deal. It’s no iPad, of course, but it stands up to other tablets that cost much more.

The hardware. The Amazon Fire tablet is not the most elegant piece of hardware. It doesn’t provide that “ahh” feeling you get when you hold a stylish tablet like, say, the very thin Sony Xperia Z2. The Fire's case is made of textured black plastic and feels kind of thick at 0.4 inches. But like many of the top tablets, the device weighs just under 0.7 pounds, a big plus when you’re holding it for long stretches.

The display dims by about 50 percent when viewed at a 45-degree angle, and it didn’t do well in bright sunlight, but beyond that, the Amazon Fire tablet has a lot to offer. The color quality compares favorably to that of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 2, a $400 tablet with an OLED display. And the 1024x600 resolution (171 pixels per inch) provides a respectable high-def picture. Finally, there’s enough processing power in the Amazon Fire tablet to play HD videos without a glitch.

Speaking of power, the Amazon Fire tablet performed as well in our benchmark test as the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7 ($300) and the LG G Pad F 8.0 ($250). The Amazon Fire tablet also displays better graphics than you’d expect from an inexpensive tablet.

You get only 8GB of storage, but you can add 128GB more via a memory-card slot, a feature not present on many other tablets.

The software. As with other Amazon tablets, you’re limited to shopping in the Amazon app store, which has fewer offerings than Apple and Google. Still, 300,000 options is not too shabby. And subscribers to Amazon Prime ($99 a year) can access lots of free and low-cost content, including movies and TV shows.

A couple of quibbles. The speaker placement on the Amazon Fire tablet isn’t optimal. When we laid the tablet flat on a table while watching a video, the sound was very muffled. You might want to use a case or a stand to prop up the tablet and avoid that issue.

Although the camera takes adequate photos, you see quite a bit of graininess when you zoom in on the images.

Mayday—Amazon’s free, almost-instantaneous tech support—is not part of the bargain. It's available on other models, but not on the Amazon Fire tablet.

The bottom line. As with many of Amazon's low-cost devices, the Amazon Fire tablet includes “Special Offers,” which means it comes with an ad feed on your lock screen. Still, it would be hard to find a better deal. For $50, you get a tablet comparable in many ways to models that will set you back much more.

The decent performance, HD picture, and abundance of content (especially if you add the Prime subscription) outweigh the Fire's shortcomings. And if you need to buy cool gifts for your extended family, you can pick up a six-pack for $250, lowering the per-tablet cost to less than $42.

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