Amazon Fire 7 (2017) Review: Looks Good, Costs Less

by Reads (1,625)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 6
      • Performance
      • 6
      • Features
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 6.33
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Great screen
    • Well built
    • Low, low price
  • Cons

    • No official access to Google applications
    • Just adequate performance
    • Poor speaker placement

Amazon offers a pair of tablets designed to make it easy to access this company’s ebooks, video service, and online shopping mall. The Fire HD 8 is the larger model, while the new Fire 7 stands out for its $49.99 pricetag.

This is the replacement for 2015’s Amazon Fire, and is the first in this size to come with built-in support for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-driven digital assistant.

Can even Amazon make a good tablet that’s this affordable? Read on to find out.

Amazon Fire 7 2017

Fire 7 Build and Design

With its 7-inch display and average-size bezels, this tablet works out to be 7.6 x 4.5 x 0.4 inches and 10 oz.  That makes it just barely pocketable, as it will fit in a rear pants pocket and some jacket pockets. It fits easily in a purse, and takes up hardly any room in a backpack.

It’s just a bit smaller than than the Fire HD 8, which comes in at 8.4 x 5.0 x 0.4 inches and 13 oz.

Some tablets in this price range are cheaply made. They almost have to be to leave any room for a profit margin. By contrast, Amazon seems to be selling the Fire 7 at cost, making its profits off Prime memberships, ebook sales, etc. That’s the best explanation we can come up with for how this company can sell a tablet of this quality for so little.

That said, the Fire 7 has the all-plastic casing one expects of a budget model. And more expensive models with metal casings are slimmer and lighter. But still, this is a well-built product for its price, flexing only slightly at our attempts to bend or twist it.

Those plastic casings come in black, punch red, marine blue, or canary yellow.

Fire 7 Display

Fire 7 with Silk web browser

The 7-inch touchscreen has a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, giving it 189 ppi pixel density.  That’s not particularly high, but is good enough for text to look smooth and images clear.

The Fire 7 has 21.3 in² of screen area, while Amazon’s 8-inch tablet has 28.7 in², so the 8-inch model’s display is 34% bigger.  Although the larger device is a somewhat better option for watching video, the 7-inch display outdoes any phone screen. And the Fire 7’s display is very well suited for an ebook reader.

The screens on older budget tablets were often dark, with muddy colors. By contrast, Amazon used a bright, clear display. The company wants its customers to enjoy the videos they purchase so they’ll buy more. In our tests, we found this tablet to be usable outdoors while in the shade, but not easy to see in direct sunlight.

Ports, Buttons, Speakers, and Cameras

The Fire 7 has a micro-USB port that can be used for a variety of purposes. The most obvious is charging the device, but flash drives with the right connector can be plugged in as well. And, with a USB-A/micro-USB adapter, other accessories like external keyboards and mice can be used.

Amazon included a microSD memory card reader, making it easy and inexpensive to expand the storage capacity. This tablet supports up to 256 GB cards, but the most we tested it with was 64 GB.

There are a minimal number of physical buttons, just power and volume controls. Most buttons are virtual, on-screen ones.

The single speaker is capable of putting out enough sound to enable watching video in a somewhat noisy environment. However, the speaker is located on the back of the Fire, 7, which is literally the worst place to put it. Setting the tablet down face up will significantly muffle the volume.

There’s a 3.5 mm headset jack for external speakers.

Another area where inexpensive models tend to perform poorly is their cameras, but the 2 MP one Amazon used is capable of taking for taking nice photos… as long as there’s good lighting. No flash is included. This camera is also up to recording 720p video. The front-facing VGA webcam is acceptable for Skype.

Rear camera sample image

Fire 7 Performance

At the heart of the Amazon Fire 7 is a MediaTek MT8127 processor with four CPU cores, each running at 1.3 GHz. This is chip designed for budget tablets like this one. In real-world use it offers acceptable performance but no one would call it speedy. There’s a half-second delay while opening many applications that’s not present in more expensive models, and booting up from being completely shut down takes about 30 seconds.

We tested this computer with Geekbench, and then compared the multi-core score to other similarly-priced tablets:

A 600 MHz Mali-450 GPU serves as the graphics processor.

Amazon included 888 MB of RAM in this Fire 7–a small amount, but that’s to be expected in a low-lost product like this one. Its operating system was designed to run well on 1 GB of RAM, so this isn’t an issue.

It’s available with either 8 GB or 16 GB of storage. Our test unit has 8 GB, and only 5.6 GB of this available to the user; the rest is taken up by the operating system.  Amazon includes 5 GB of free cloud storage, and users can add additional local capacity with microSD cards. Going with the 16 GB option bumps the price up to $69.99.

Fire 7 Software

Fire 7 and Fire HD 8

At the time of this writing, the Fire 7 runs Fire OS 5.4. This is a modified version of Android 5.x Lollipop, but the look and function of almost the entire operating system has been modified to emphasize Amazon’s stores and services. That’s fine for those who are are heavy users of this ecosystem, but is surely going to frustrate and irritate those who aren’t.

Prime subscribers should seriously consider a Fire 7, or the larger Fire HD 8. These tablets are inexpensive and better than any smartphone at displaying all the video content included in this service.

Because Fire 7 users are expected to get their software, videos, books, and music from Amazon, there’s no official access to the Google Play store. This is an inconvenience, but most third-party games and other applications are available in Amazon’s app store. Notably absent, however, are Gmail, Google Books, Chrome, Google Maps, etc. There are alternatives, of course, but these generally aren’t as good.

Amazon offers a discount off the cost of any Fire model if the user is willing to view special offers. These are non-intrusive, with an advertisement functioning as the Fire 7’s unlock screen, visible only when the device’s display is first activated. They certainly don’t do anything obnoxious like pop up an advertisement while an email is being typed, for example. Those not willing to accept these offer will have to pay $64.99 for this product.

One of the standout features of the Fire 7 is built-in support for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled virtual assistant. Unlike this company’s smart speakers, though, one can’t just start talking to the Fire 7 and have it respond; it’s necessary to hold down the Home button to activate this service. This extra hassle means this tablet really isn’t an alternative for a smart speaker. Still, Alexa is nice, with voice commands saving time and typing when performing routine tasks.

Fire 7 Battery Life

The MediaTek MT8127 processor doesn’t draw much power, and Amazon promises that this tablet will last for up to 8 hours on a single charge.

We put it through our torture test, in which the computer is asked to stream video over a wireless connection with the backlight on at 100%. In this test, the Fire 7 lasted 4 hours and 52 minutes, indicating what’s likely the shortest time to expect between recharges.

Battery life listed in minutes:

To be clear, in more typical use, such as a mix of web, games, ebooks, and video with the backlight lowered, the Fire 7 will last significantly longer.  We judge Amazon’s promise of 8 hours to be not unreasonable.

When this tablet is shut down, plugging it in will cause it to automatically boot up, which isn’t the most efficient way to charge it.

Fire 7 Final Thoughts

The Fire series is popular–Amazon is the fourth biggest tablet maker in the world–and this device makes it easy to understand why.  It has a lovely screen, decent performance and battery life, and an extremely affordable price.  Alexa support is nice, but not game-changing.

The Fire 7’s very strong ties to the Amazon ecosystem are a benefit to Prime users, but will certainly turn away those who aren’t big fans of this company.

At just $49.99 with 8 GB of storage and Amazon special offers, it would be hard to argue that this tablet is overpriced. It competes strongly with the Barnes & Noble NOOK Tablet 7, which is also $49.99. The RCA Voyager III is $41, but the Fire 7 generally outperforms this rival.

Pros:

  • Great screen
  • Well built
  • Low, low price

Cons:

  • No official access to Google applications
  • Just adequate performance
  • Poor speaker placement



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