Should You Buy The $50 Kindle Fire Tablet?

This is a review of the Kindle Fire with 7" Display and Special Offers by Amazon. In short, this is a tablet/eReader that a lot of people will want, as long as certain needs are extant and certain expectations understood. I have one, and I'm very happy with it. It would take very little convincing for me to get a second one.

One of the main reasons to give serious thought to getting one of these is the fact that it will put you back a mere fifty bucks.

Don't expect a brilliant tablet for fifty bucks. You may want a nice full blown Android tablet, or if you prefer, an iPad. That will cost you several hundred dollars, and may be worth it. The Kindle Fire reviewed here is not that.

This Kindle tablet has a processor that is slower than the faster processors, has a screen resolution about 20% lower than good quality typical tablets, and moderate but not overwhelming graphics capability. If you are going to rely on a tablet, use it all the time for all the things one might use a tablet for, get a Google Pixel C or, if you don't have $700 bucks, the also awesome Google Nexus 9.

Don't get the Kindle Fire with 7" Display and Special Offers to be THE tablet in your life. But, if you read Kindle books, and you want an eReader that is tablet-like (rather than electronic paper), consider a device that is 50% as fast as something that is so fast you can't tell how fast it is, 80% as crisp, but only 10% of the cost. Seriously, at $50, instead of $400 or $700, this is worth consideration.

I don't actually own an up to date super tablet. Rather, I have a phablet, a super phone (one of the most powerful out there) which is huge, and acts like a tablet well enough. For watching videos and reading eBooks using the Kindle reader, I have an iPad 2, which is essentially brain dead as a tablet (since it will not run the newer operating systems in any realistic way) but works OK for these two tasks. Adding the Kindle 7" eReader, which happens to be an Android tablet, made a lot of sense for me, especially because the iPad 2 actually doesn't work all that well as a Kindle reader.

Upsides and downsides

The display is fine. I tend to read with larger than average font size, and in that area I don't see any problem with the display resolution. If I had some masochistic need to read books in a tiny tiny font, I'd want a super high resolution display, but that is not me.

When I put my finger on the display, say of a web page, and scroll, I can see some jumpiness on the screen that I would find annoying if this was my main way of using the internet or doing other tablet or computer related things. But the Kindle eReader not scroll, it pages. And, by the way it pages fast, like it is supposed to, not when it feels like it, like the Kindle Reader operating on an old iPad 2 does.

This is not the ancestral unadulterated Android operating system. And, let me say, that in my opinion, your phone and your main tablet (if you have an Android tablet) should be plain vanilla Android, and not some storage-killing absurdly designed version of the Android operating system like this one. And, the Kindle tablet I'm talking about here is not that. It is an Amazonoid version of the Android operating system.

I think you can install Google Play Store on this tablet, but it does not come by default. Rather, you use the Amazon app store. The Amazon App store is roughly as annoying as the Amazon Prime Video interface, in that it never occurred to anyone at Amazon to organize things in a way that makes sense. But, you can actually get much of the software the Google Play Store has, that you would ever want, on Amazon once you dig past the games and fluff. Also, many apps on the Amazon App store are free-er or cheaper. And, if you buy stuff from Amazon generally you may occasionally be getting credits (=money) that you can use for buying things like apps.

If you like Amazon Music (I don't use it) or audio books, or Kindle eBooks that talk, etc., then this this tablet should serve you well.

The interface is a bit different than a regular tablet. Again, if you are looking for The Tablet to do Your Stuff, the interface will be a bit annoying. But if you want a machine that handles mainly ebooks or some other Amazon products like music, movies, etc, then this interface will be excellent for you. The interface scrolls/pages up and down within a given realm of stuff, and back and forth to go between apps, books, video, music. etc. (see the picture above). Amazon related things are bigger and up top. Once again, this device is best for, and good at, interfacing with Amazon.

And yes, generally, you can install and use Android apps of various kinds, so you can have a web browser, calculator, etc. etc. You can use this as a tablet, but the best use is probably to do some tablet-like stuff along side your Amazon focused stuff.

The cameras are mediocre.

The tablet has a descent amount of storage. You can add a micro-SD card. You can not put Amazon books on the micro_SD card but you can download movies from Amazon Prime to it for watching off line. You can have some (many, most) of the apps run off the card. You can put photos and videos you take with the on board cameras there as well. The micro-SD slot will handle a 64 gig card.

One area I intend to use this device is for bird books. Bird books are too small on a phone. Tablets are too big to carry around in the bush, or on a boat. But bird books that are either apps or that are actual e-books work well on this larger-than-a-phone device, which is still easy to carry it around. I am not likely to drop the Kindle Fire into a swamp. But if I do, I've dropped a $50 device, not a $500 device, into a swamp.

But is it a piece of crap or a well built machine?

The tablet seems well built. Maybe it will survive being dropped in to a swamp. We'll see!

I looked through many of the comments on the device on Amazon, to see what other people thought of it. The comments were divided mainly into two categories. Most were saying pretty much what I'm saying here, that the tablet is great for it's specified uses, given the price. A smaller number of comments hate it, but it seems like almost all of those comments are about broken tablets. So if you get a broken one, it will be, well, broken. Send that one back!

This could be great for kids

I'm just starting to experiment with this, but it has promise. You can set up individual accounts on this Kindle so different people in your family can organize their books and stuff separately. But even more interesting, you can set up a kid version of an account, that is isolated from the rest of the system by a passcode.

I will be setting up an account for Huxley, to see if it works for him. He only barely reads so far, but there are kid's games and learning tools that he will enjoy. The screen size of this Kindle is the same as his LeapFrog device, and he is quickly outgrowing the LeapFrog. Also, this may be a good transition into regular reading, since it can have regular books. I have mixed feelings about getting a kid reading into eBooks right away, but for some things it will be appropriate.

And that is probably why I'll get a second Kindle Fire 7". For the kid.

There are a few other reasons to own an Android tablet that have little to do with normal uses of tablets. Like running an Arduino Android shield. I assume the Kindle Fire will work for that, and if I ever do that I'll let you know!

The Special Offers

Obviously this is not a $50 tablet. It is probably a couple hundred dollars worth of tablet made cheaper by the fact that Amazon wants you to be a Kindle user, and Amazon eBook reader. Then, on top of that, this version of the table throws on ads, otherwise known as "special offers" to bring the price down to fifty bucks.

So, what are these special offers? There are only two things you need to know about them. First, they only show up on the home screen when the device wakes up after being turned off. Second, you can elect to limit them to be family/kid friendly. I've not chosen that option and have not seen anything non-kind friendly, so that may not be necessary.

The Special Offers are easy to ignore unless you are totally paranoid and walk around saying "you are the product, you are the product" all the time. If you are already reading eBooks, and using the Internet a lot, you are already part of the Borg and this tablet will change nothing.

But, if you want to get rid of the ads or not have them to begin with, you can just pay $15.

Should you buy a Kindle Fire 7" tablet with special offers for fifty bucks?

I'm reccomending this this Kindle Fire tablet and eReader for a lot of people, noting that the risks of being wrong are small, and there are many potential uses. If you have a need for a Kindle reader right now and aren not committed to ePaper, even better. If you lack a larger tablet or you have a tablet that sucks anyway, yet another reason. If you have a concern that your expensive eReader is going to be trashed because you are going on a long and dangerous trip or spend a lot of time in swamps, get one. If you want to experiment on your child with a tablet, this is a good way to do it cheaply. If you are hobbyist who wants an inexpensive Android tablet this may (or may not) be good. (If you take it in that direction, let me know how it goes).

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I examined the device and discarded it as "junk." Besides being constantly clogged with spam ("offers"), the device did not process audio nor video fast enough (to my expectations).

I love my Kindle Fire HXD 3rd Gen as a tablet; Paperwhite is still the awesome ebook reader.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 03 Jan 2016 #permalink

In general, what bird books for the Kindle have you found that you feel will be useful? In particular, any that cover Botswana? (And, thanks for Sungudogo!)

By Charlie Dorian (not verified) on 03 Jan 2016 #permalink

Only interested in using it as a reader; price sounds right for me. Maybe u can help me:

How is it for ease/speed of moving to footnotes, or back to refresh one's memory of something read earlier?

How is it for PDFs?

I have a Kindle Touch, if that helps u know where I'm coming from

By John Salmond (not verified) on 03 Jan 2016 #permalink

Excellent questions. I'll address them when I'm at my computer, prob first thing in the AM

I have a big Fire with all the bells and whistles but still bought the $50 Fire and set it up as a controller for my SONOS stereo system. I move it around to where I am working in my work room and no longer have to rely on the PC. With the optional SD card the puppy has more than enough storage and is plenty fast enough to be most intelligent remote controller I have ever had for any electronic system.

The non-spam version is $65. I like Greg's point that this device is good for traveling with if a person is worried about losing or damaging a more expensive device; one would wish to not put any private information on the less expensive device, and the Fire comes with several layers of password protection and encryption.

The screen resolution, and audio, are not good for videos if one is used to other tablets and desktop devices. As an ebook reader it is very good, though it renders PDF files very poorly (one must "zoom in" to read PDF--- the format and layout stays the same).

By Desertphile (not verified) on 04 Jan 2016 #permalink

In reply to by Joe J (not verified)

Tablets are interesting things. Sales are down because people
a) Don't see a single overwhelming need for them the way they do for phones
b) People who have purchased a decent or high-end tablet already don't see the need, or have the desire, to upgrade as often as cell phone owners do

I traded my original Nexus 7 to my son for a speaker when I bought my Note 4 - its screen is large enough for me to do 90%+ of the communication and file viewing with students. Any program attachments (R, Minitab, etc.) I have to view on a computer, but a laptop wouldn't remedy that either. I'm not a big gamer, nor do I watch a lot of videos (and the ones I watch I can cast to the tv with my Chromecast), so I don't miss a tablet.

That said: I will be involved in another faculty's informal study this semester. We're moving to requiring all student work to be submitted electronically, and she's interested in how beneficial tablets are as aides in grading and replying to students when we're not at a computer. It should be interesting. (Unrelated - the system we use is Blackboard, and it is as unfriendly to mobile technology as anything can be, so it will be a painful experience.)

OK, here are a few points.

Regarding PDFs, what Desertphile says, but, this is a tablet, so you can get an android PDF reader that you like for PDFs. There is an Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader in the Kindle app store. That is the advantage of a tablet over a Kindle Reader: you have access to piles of software.

There are books that simply work better on a tablet. Some books have enhanced features and embedded thingies that work on a tablet but not on an eReader.

Moving around and navigating and such is fine, not slow. My references above to the relatively slower processor don’t apply at all to reading books. The processor is plenty fast for this relatively low-demand work. However, if you have a favorite high-demand video game that you use an Android device to play, you may not be overwhelmingly happy.

On video: This depends on what you are comparing it to. It is a 7” screen, so even if it was like one of those iThing screens with the super amazing resolution, it is still a 7” screen. What I’ve not yet done is to test out the device’s ability to project to a TV. In theory, one should be able to watch a video and show it on a larger screen with HDMI. I don’t know why that wouldn’t work. Also, as far as quality goes, I can’t really test that because I only have sucky TVs. So maybe someone else would know that.

The main, big, and possibly only advantage of a reader, and it is a big one, is that it uses the electronic paper, thus allowing you to read under a wide range of lighting conditions (but you must have light ... you can read a tablet in the dark, obviously). But what the screen shows you will not be as good (beyond text) as a tablet.

Notes about bird books:

First, there are “bird books” that are not books, but rather, apps. So I have the Aydibib bird guide on this Kindle. I selected to “move to tablet” so 35 megs is on the tablet internal storage, and 45 megs are on the SD card. There are other bird related apps that are not kindle books. If you want All The Bird stuff on one device, then the Kindle Fire Tablet lets you have your Kindle books as well as your Android apps in one place (but not your iPad/iPhone apps, of course, if there are any only available for that platform).

I have the The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds as Kindle Book and it is quite nice. There is a long section in the beginning with organized/grouped pictures that send you to the appropriate part of the book with a click.

I have the Kindle Birds of Minnesota Field Guide.

This, like some other bird guides, is not fully reformatted for the Kindle so you get pages that look nice, but you don’t get to chose text size, etc. But it looks good and works fine.

As far as Botswana goes, you can get Newman's Birds of Southern Africa, which IS reformatted for the Kindle. You can also get Princeton’s Birds of Botswana , which is a great book, but does not seem to be reformatted for the Kindle, yet works fine.

Again, by “not reformatted” I mean the text has not been Kindleized so you can control font size. But the layout and everything on those books is not messed up.

Performance of the Fire as a book reader depends on how many books you have. The early Fires can handle largw numbers much better irrespective of Gigabites. With close to 1000 books and 100 collections the recent Fires are atrocious, no scrolling, poor searching, awful indexing, lose books. Very ok with few books though.