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We have gotten so used to paying $400- $500 for the average iPad or tablet, that when Amazon came out with their $50 Amazon Fire tablet, many of us questioned its quality. Did Amazon cut the quality and skimp on features? Could a $50 tablet be worthwhile? After a few weeks with the Fire tablet I can tell you that the new Fire tablet is actually a very good value proposition.

Hardware

This tablet has almost everything that you would expect in a tablet. A good 7″ IPS display (171 ppi / 1024 x 600) display, 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, accelerometer, rear and front-facing cameras, 720p HD video recording, 8 GB of internal storage, Bluetooth, and location-based services via WiFi. It also features a microSD card slot for up to 128 GB of additional storage and a battery that lasts about 7 hours.

The Fire itself looks like a typical small black tablet. It measures 7.5″ x 4.5″ x 0.4″ (191 x 115 x 10.6 mm) and weights in at 11.0 ounces (313 grams) making it easy to hold, even for long periods. Build quality seems good, although the volume control button had some unexpected “play” in it.

Amazon Fire Tablet

The 1024 x 600 display surprised me as being very good and easy on the eyes, perhaps because of the IPS in-plane switching technology and polarizing filter. I found the screen to be crisp and clear and my only complaint was that the whites had a slightly yellow tinge, which was not particularly noticeable when viewing videos and movies.

Amazon Prime

The $50 Fire comes with Amazons “Special Offers” which means that the lock screen will show you Amazon product promotions. I have gotten as used to that as with television commercials. The tablet also comes with a 30-day free trial to Amazon Prime which give you free two-day shipping on Amazon, unlimited streaming of thousands of movies and TV episodes, unlimited streaming of more than a million songs and access to the Kindle Lending Library where you can borrow one book per month free. After the first month, Amazon Prime costs $99 a year.

Amazon Fire Tablet Updated Operating System

The Fire comes with Amazon’s updated Fire OS 5, which is a customized OS built on an Android base. It has improved nicely over the past few years, offering quick access to content in a pleasing visual display.

Amazon Fire Tablet

This tablet also comes with free access to Amazon Underground which is filled with free apps, even some that have a cost attached on other devices. Most amazing is the fact that even in-app items that would be additional purchases on other devices are free in Underground. This can be a real plus for the casual gamer. Amazon also has a Family Library feature which lets families share games, apps, and books. Amazon also has a curated for the kiddies.

Fire OS 5 has several new features.  Second Screen allows you to fling your Fire screen to an Amazon Fire TV or recent Play Station. Word Runner is an interesting feature that actually lets you read faster. It is quite unusual in that it presents each word in the middle of the page and since the words move to match the speed you choose, your eyes don’t have to move at all, supposedly increasing your reading speed. It not for everyone, but it is certainly worth a try.

Amazon Fire Tablet

Blue Shade

 I was really intrigued by another new feature called Blue Shade. This is supposed to automatically adjust and optimize the backlight for a more comfortable nighttime reading experience. It also minimizes blue light which is prominent in electronic screens. Since I have been researching the effects of Blue light, I was really excited to try it. However I couldn’t find it on my $50 Fire tablet. Several calls to Amazon resulted in varying information. The bottom line was that Blue Shade is available in Fire OS 5.1.1. My tablet shipped with 5.0.1. No one at Amazon could give me access to the newer OS. They said it would appear automatically. When?? No one knew. Amazon showed this feature prominently on their website as being a feature of this tablet. They could have said “coming soon” or give some other indication that not every tablet would have it available immediately.

Did Amazon Cut Corners with a $50 Tablet?

Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, did Amazon cut corners to get the price down to $50?

Amazon did do a little skimping, but they did it in areas that most users won’t care much about. For instance this tablet has only a VGA Front-facing camera and a 2 MP rear-facing camera. Amazon is obviously betting that with the increased photographic capabilities of today’s smart phones, most folks will be using their smart phones for taking photos and not their tablet.

Another downgrade in comparison to other tablets is that Amazon put only mono speakers in this tablet. Again, this may not be a big concern in that you can easily still listen to music in stereo with a set of earphones, earbuds, or a Bluetooth speaker.

While other Fire tablets have a Mayday button where you can get immediate assistance from Amazon right on the tablet, the Mayday button is missing on the $50 Fire. Amazon assures me that they will still provide this service for this tablet, but you will have to call Amazon for assistance instead of pressing a button.

The last downgrade is that this tablet comes with only a 90-day limited warranty. Amazon offers a two-year warranty for an additional $17 and I have seen other companies with even less expensive additional warranties. In fact, I have seen many deals on the $50 Fire tablet. Recently HSN advertised two Fires for $99 with covers and additional software. They were offering their own 2-year protection plan for both tablets for less than $20.

Conclusion

While I don’t usually advise getting maintenance agreements, with only a 90-day warranty, the low price of the extended warranty might be worth the added expense.

In spite of my being upset with their blatantly false advertising on the Blue Shade feature, I give this tablet a thumbs-up. It give you a lot for your money and actually makes the iPad seem way-y-y-y-y overpriced.

 

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up’s Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.