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2017-03-27My review: Amazon Kindle Fire 7" 5th generation

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Amazon currently have their basic Fire on sale for thirty five quid, albeit with "offers" spam ads that are a further tenner to remove. That's still not a bad price for an entry-level tablet and I was kind of curious. So, having pushed my Nexus 9 towards someone who'll actually use it, but wanting something that's only role will be light media consumption and never leave the house, I figured why not. It's about the price of a no-name Chinese tablet but backed by a big brand, which means that the quality has to be saleable, or so my thinking went. How well does that hold up?

The screen is terrible by previous standards.

1024x600 means if you have average eyesight you're going to be able to see individual pixels, and small text is fuzzy and uncomfortable. It's not too big a deal if you only bought the tablet to watch videos on to doze off to, like I did, but if you had any intention of using a 7" screen to web browse on it's likely to be a very disappointing experience. It's much worse than some very affordable tablets that are a good few years old now.

Performance of the rest of the hardware is about what you'd expect too. It struggles to handle the built-in Silk browser responsively, and I wouldn't try to play games with 3D graphics on it. It's noticeably heavy and quite thick for a tablet of its size in 2017. If you aren't going to be using earphones the positioning of the mono speaker is acceptable propped up, but if you put it down on a flat surface it'll muffle the output the device itself is capable of.

The Amazon appstore is shit. Really shit. To plagiarise Douglas Adams, you just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly shit it is.

For instance, whilst no on-screen keyboard is very good if you're trying to enter much text the Fire 7" doesn't come with a swipe type one, meaning users have to ploddingly enter input a letter at a time rather than gliding between keys. Its appstore uselessly includes a 30 day trial of Swype Keyboard but the full paid-for version to carry on using it once the trial expires is "currently unavailable". Discussion on Amazon's Kindle support forum suggests it's been withdrawn because the company wants other companies to pay for inclusion on the appstore and monetise their apps. It similarly doesn't seem to include the paid version of ES File Explorer, and there don't seem to be any of the well-known Android web browsers available. YouTube at least is included as a shortcut to the mobile site, framed without any browser kibble, as is iPlayer.

The only real plus side is that Amazon haven't nobbled the OS to block sideloading of apps (very sensible to reduce too many avoidable returns of Fires) which means your best bet is to install Google's Play Services and carry on using the slew of apps you've probably already paid for on the official store if this isn't your first device.

https://www.howtogeek.com/232726/how-to-install-the-google-play-store-on-your-amazon-fire-tablet/

Welcome back ES File Explorer Pro, BSPlayer, Chrome and Gboard (Google keyboard). Unlike the dingo's kidneys Amazon posit as alternatives you don't fail me. I mean, I know people make and buy Kindle Fires with the expectation that Amazon will use them as a shop window, but the app choices available in their store are pathetic. If you want anything more than the built-in apps designed to sell you stuff, and don't want to have to do workarounds, I'd seriously have to say look elsewhere – and that obviously includes the pricier Fire models.

The launcher home screen is a mess.

It's used as the app drawer, as well as showing digital content bought from Amazon, so your only option to keep it a bit tidier is to dump install app shortcuts to folders.

You apparently can't use widgets on it either, and those are a notable strength of Android.

But in the Kindle Fire's defence, and trying to justify this...

For all that it isn't a patch on a 2nd gen Nexus 7 from 2017 the basic Kindle Fire does some things nicely. Battery life seems decent enough, and this is something where having a lower resolution screen actually helps. The built-in "Blue Shade" function to reduce sleep-disrupting blue light saves having to use a separate app, although the colours could be better customisable. The charge socket is on top and you can stick a microSD card in (I used an old 64Gb one) and that's a plus over Nexus devices. Amazon can be expected to supply security patches because as a household name it'll get pilloried if it doesn't offer support.

The home screen pages for books, videos and music, etc, are quite a handy reminder and method of quickly getting to stuff if you actually purchase content via Amazon – which I do occasionally, I just don't use their hardware for consuming it as a general rule. It's nice to have it brought to my attention, for example, that Christopher L. Bennett has released another Star Trek: DTI novella. (Time Lock, and whilst a bit short for the "cover" price, it is a very niche product).

Once you've got a few of your own decent apps on one, it's likely to suit basic usage. It's just a crying shame Amazon is trying and failing to present a usable app store and that their excuse for one in Fire OS (complete with "Amazon Coins" like some sort of crap RPG game) could be some people's first experience of Android. The screen on this entry-level model is the worst part, really, since there isn't any getting around it. But you aren't going to feel too guilty if you accidentally knock it out of bed and it ends up dinged or worse, and Amazon haven't cut corners too far since that'd reflect badly on the brand as a whole rather than just this device.


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