It was only $30 on Black Friday, and the 4″ screen on my iPhone 5 wasn’t particularly kind to my eyes. Facebook on a small iPhone is not a great experience, Clash of Clans and Euchre 3D, about the extent of my gaming, can be hard to read. Ideally, I’ll have an iPhone 6S someday (the Plus is too big to use as a phone but great around the house), but for $30, I decided to give the Amazon Fire 7 a try.
I have very mixed feelings about it. The 7″ screen is its best feature, and being able to read Kindle books on a genuine Kindle device beats reading on a 4″ iPhone screen or using the Mac app by a lot. Facebook is better than on my little iPhone, but there are some features of Facebook and Messenger that I just don’t care for on the 7″ Fire.
Here is a brief rundown of the Fire 7’s specs:
- CPU: 1.3 GHz MediaTek MT8127B quad-core ARM Cortex-A7
- Display: 1024 x 600 171 DPI IPS screen
- RAM: 1 GB
- Storage: 8 GB plus a Micro SD card slot (add up to 256 GB)
- Camera, rear: 2 MP
- Camera, front: 0.3 MP (640 x 480 pixels)
- Weight: 10.4 oz / 295g
- Dimensions: 7.6 × 4.5 × 0.4 in / 192 × 115 × 9.6 mm
- Price: $50 for 8 GB model with ads
The fact that this device has four cores means that it can theoretically do a better job handling multiple tasks at once than a dual-core device. The 1.3 GHz speed makes it a bit slower than the original iPad Air (2013), which has a 1.4 GHz 64-bit Apple A7 processor with 1 GB RAM. The 2013 iPhone 5S and the 2014 iPad mini 3 use the 1.3 GHz dual-core Apple A7 chip.
Fire 7 Compared with iOS Devices
All things being equal – fine in theory but rarely true in practice – the Kindle Fire 7 and iPhone 5S should have comparable performance. Never having owned an iPhone 5S, I can’t make the comparison, but I can compare it to my iPhone 5 and the iPhone SE that replaced it.
The 2012 iPhone 5 was Apple’s last 32-bit iPhone design (the 5C is exactly the same hardware but in a colorful plastic enclosure). The iPhone 5 has a dual-core Apple A6 processor. The performance was a big step up from my 2011 iPhone 4S.
Here’s a quick comparison of Geekbench 4 multi-core scores:
- iPhone 4S, 800 MHz dual-core, 491
- Amazon Fire 7, 1.3 GHz quad-core, 1196
- iPhone 5, 1.3 GHz dual-core, 1207
- iPad 4G, 1.4 GHz dual-core, 1330
- iPad mini 3, 1.3 GHz dual-core, 2106
- iPhone 5S, 1.3 GHz dual-core, 2144
- iPad Air (original), 1.4 GHz dual-core, 2253
- iPhone 6, 1.4 GHz dual-core, 2307
- iPhone 6S, 1.85 GHz dual-core, 3811
- iPhone SE, 1.85 GHz dual-core, 4088
Needless to say, it’s disappointing for a quad-core CPU running at 1.3 GHz to perform so poorly. The iPhone 5 has comparable power, and it’s a dual-core device. Then again we’re comparing a device designed for a $50 price point to devices selling for $329 (iPad mini) and up. Considering the Black Friday price of Fire 7, the iPad mini 3 originally sold for 11 times as much!
One thing to bear in mind is that Amazon still ships Fire tablets using Android 5.1 as its core operating system – and then puts its Fire interface and adware features on top of it. Android 5.1 Lollipop came out in March 2015, so it is almost 3 years old. At present, almost 25% of Android devices connecting to Google are running Android 5.0 or 5.1, so it’s not an uncommon choice.
Lollipop was the first version of Android to support 64-bit hardware, which is becoming more and more popular – in fact, the other two Fire tablets are 64-bit devices. Google is pushing to have all apps in the Play Store available in 64-bit by 2019 – not that 32-bit apps are going away. This is akin to Apple leaving behind 32-bit devices with iOS 11 – devices running iOS 10 and earlier will continue to work, but as software progresses to 64-bit only versions, users of 32-bit iDevices will not be able to run the latest version.
Pros of the Fire 7
The screen is wonderful. It’s not Retina, but it is very easy on the eyes with good color. For Clash of Clans and Euchre 3D, it makes my aging eyes very happy.
The price is incredible. $50 normally, $30 on Black Friday, $35 on sale maybe a few times a year, and the only drawback is that it shows you an ad every time you turn it on. That’s a small price to pay.
In portrait orientation, it fits my hand very comfortably, and it’s pretty light.
It uses a standard Micro USB connector for charging, the same as most Android devices.
It has a Micro SD memory card slot that can accept up to 256 GB of memory. It can store music, photos, videos, documents, and some apps on the memory card, but not all apps will run from the memory card under Android 5.1. You can pick up a 32 GB memory card pretty reasonably these days – mine was $13 at Walmart.
Cons of the Fire 7
The most frustrating feature of the Fire is that it is the one device in the household most likely to lose its connection to our WiFi network. My old iPhones and iPod touch stay connected. My broad range of Macs with AirPort and AirPort Extreme stay connected. The Roku 1 and Android Fire and PlayStation 360 stay connected. But the Fire seems to lose its way from exactly the same location where my iPhone works without a hitch.
The biggest downside of an Amazon Fire device is that it is not a full-fledged Android device. Amazon puts its own interface on the devices and leaves out important Android features, such as the Play Store. If you want to run genuine Android apps and not be limited to software especially made for Fire, you’ll need to install and run 4 programs to let you access the Play Store and use genuine Android apps.
This article by former Low End Mac columnist Alan Zisman has links to them. Last week I reset my Fire 7 to factory defaults and verified that these links work. Install exactly the versions linked – newer versions may not work with Android 5.1. If you need to update afterward, it will tell you.
Because it’s a semi-Android device, once you hack it to run legitimate Android software, you never know if any problems you encounter are due to the app itself or the fact that it’s running alongside Amazon’s Fire environment. This is especially a problem in Euchre 3D (an Android app), which is very stable on my iPhones but quits regularly on the Fire 7. I was also unable to create a second user account with the Play Store installed.
Because it runs Android 5.1, it doesn’t automatically support running apps from a Micro SD card. You need Android 6 Marshmallow for that to happen automatically.
With only 8 GB of storage and much of that used by Android, you pretty much need to buy a Micro SD card for storage, an extra expense.
The Fire 7 is a remarkably slow device considering that it has a 4-core processor. Apps are slow to load, switching plods from one app to the other, and you’ll think you’re using an iPad 1 or 2. It will also hesitate while you’re trying to do something, such as choosing and playing a card in Euchre 3D.
I have not found a way to hold the Fire 7 comfortably in landscape mode for an extended period of time. Every time I use landscape mode, I wish it was maybe 4.0″ wide instead of 4.5″. Going to 4″ should be possible while retaining a 7″ display, but smaller than that would have to mean a smaller display. (There is a good quarter-inch along the sides of the viewable area.)
The “selfie” camera is horrible. 640 x 480 VGA is so 1987. Literally. Think the Mac II and the original IBM PS/2 line of computers, introduced in March and April 1987 respectively. The iPhone 4S (2011) has a higher resolution user-facing camera. In the age of the selfie, less than 720p quality is unacceptable, yet Amazon uses this resolution in its entire current line of Fire tablets.
Paying $20 more to boost the built-in memory from 8 GB to 16 GB is ridiculous. You can add a 32 GB Micro SD card for less than that and probably get 64 GB for a bit more than $20 through Amazon.com. (Beware memory cards from wish.com. I ordered a 128 GB Micro SD card for the crazy low price of $6, but when it came in and I started to use it, I discovered that the faux Verbatim card reports itself as 128 GB yet is full when you install 1 GB of files. At least I got a refund.)
Amazon is working on Fire OS 6, which is based on Android 7.1.2 Nougat, to replace long-in-the-tooth Fire OS 5, which it has used since September 2015. At present Fire OS 6 is only available on new Fire TV hardware. It is not offered as an upgrade to existing Fire TV devices or Fire tablets.
Whether we will ever see Fire OS 6 on the current tablets is a big unknown, but we can hope that Amazon will do so. That will let us automatically use a Micro SD card as though it is built-in memory, which would be especially nice on 8 GB devices such as the base Fire 7.
Amazon makes three Fire models. The base model is the Fire (a.k.a. Fire 7), which has a 1.3 GHz 32-bit quad-core processor with 1 GB of system memory and a 1024 x 600 screen. The Fire HD 8 has a 1.3 GHz 64-bit quad-core processor with 1.5 GB system memory and a 1280 x 800 screen (the same as the 13″ MacBook line). The top of the line is the Fire HD 10, which has a 1.8 GHz 64-bit quad-core processor with 2 GB system memory and a 1920 x 1200 screen. Prices start at $50 with 8 GB RAM, $80 with 16 GB RAM, and $150 with 32 GB RAM respectively for the “with special offers” version. The “without” version sells for $15 more, and if the ads bug you, you can pay Amazon $15 to remove them from your device.
For browsing the web, reading email, doing Facebook, and playing games, the Fire 7 works pretty well. I haven’t watched video on it, but I’m sure it does that well enough. If you don’t have high expectations, the Fire 7 gives you a lot for your money.
If you do buy an Amazon Fire tablet, I strongly recommend that you do the 4-program Play Store hack that lets you load and run full-fledged Android apps. It takes maybe 10 minutes and gives you access to so much more software.
At the Black Friday price, this was an absolute steal. It does go on sale for $35 every now and then, which is also a very good value. If you can wait for a sale price, do so and spend the savings on a Micro SD card. That 8 GB of storage fills up quickly!
- Low End Android group on Facebook
keyword: #amazonfire #amazonfire7 #fire7
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