Thursday, October 22, 2015

First Impressions: Amazon Fire Tablet

I am a tech junkie--or rather, I'm a cheap tech junkie. Whereas some people drool over the announcement of the new $1500 Macbook or the Microsoft Surface book, I get excited whenever a decent piece of tech breaks a new low price barrier. I'm fascinated by Chromebooks, Raspberry Pi computers and both Windows and Android tablets that are priced at a point where most people can afford them.

So, I did a spit take when Amazon announced their new family of Fire tablets, along with a new $50 tablet called simple the Amazon Fire. I grabbed one a couple weeks ago, as I had to see for myself whether or not this ridiculously low-priced tablet was more than a paperweight. And I'm happy to report, while the Fire does make some compromises to get its insane price point, it's a fantastic tablet that is definitely worth checking out.

The Amazon Fire package comes with tablet and charger.

One thing that makes the Fire almost worth getting alone is the fact that it has expandable memory. You can increase the memory of the $50 Amazon Fire by up to 128 gigs via a micro SD card. That's a lot more books, comics, games and apps than the 8 gigs the tablet comes with. That may sound like not such a big deal, but you can't do that with an iPad.

Another great thing about the Fire tablet is that you can install the Google Play store on it pretty easily. There are a ton of articles n how to do this (here is a good one), but even the least tech savvy person out there shouldn't have a problem. You don't need to, of course, but if you want your YouTube, Gmail, Hangouts, Drive and Chrome browser on your Fire, you'll need to install the Play store. Of course, you don't need to install the Play store unless you really want those Google apps. The Amazon App Store has gotten much better since its launch, and despite some obvious omissions, many of the apps you or your kids would want are on that store now.

But if you're getting an Amazon tablet, it's probably because you are already a fan of Amazon's ecosystem. It goes without saying that if you're already an Amazon Prime member, this $50 tablet is a no-brainer. It's made for consuming books, video and music. Heck, you could join Prime for $100 and the $150 total for the tablet and the subscription would still be way less than most tablets out there. The iPad Mini 2 is currently $269, so you could get two years of prime and still be below that price point. Samsung's mid-range Galaxy Tab A is around $230 right now, so you could make a similar value comparison with that.

Actual screenshot of an awesome book from my Fire.

So what's downside? Well, it's a $50 tablet. The construction feels cheaper than the other Kindle Fire tablets (which are very solid), and design-wise, it's nothing special to look at. The screen is only 1024x600 with 171 pixels per inch (ppi), so it's not quite HD. There is only one speaker, so the speaker audio isn't great (though I'm usually wearing headphones, anyway). If you are looking for an HD experience, this is not it.

BUT, if you are looking for a device to consume content with--especially Amazon content--this tablet does that and more. Amazon is actually running a deal where if you buy five tablets, you get a sixth one free. Six tablets for $250.

What's most exciting to me about this move by Amazon is the potential for this tablet to make it's way into classrooms. For $1250, you could equip a classroom of 30 kids with a tablet. And with apps like Overdrive, where you can access library books, there is a ton of potential to get kids ready a wide array of books that a school might not have access to alone.

The Amazon Fire is also a pretty solid choice for a child's first tablet. If your kid breaks a $400 iPad, it's a big deal. A $50 Fire--not so much. And there's a kid's version of the Fire for $100 that comes with a 2-year replacement guarantee.

So to recap--the Amazon Fire is a great value for the price, and a complete no-brainier if you're already a Prime member. It's not the blazing-fast, HD experience that true technophiles will be looking for, but it's damn impressive what Amazon has been able to pull off at this price point. I've already gotten $50 of use out of mine in the first two weeks.

Fire design specs, via Amazon.