Amazon Fire (2015) review - now with 16GB option
Processor: quad-core 1.3GHz ARM MT8127, Screen size: 7in, Screen resolution: 1,024x600, Rear camera: 2-megapixel, Storage: 8/16GB, Wireless data: No, Dimensions: 115x191x10.6mm, Weight: 313g, Operating system: FireOS 5.0
Amazon’s tablet range has struggled to find a place amongst other Android tablets in the past, primarily because the FireOS custom operating system was designed purely with Amazon’s services in mind, at the expense of app support and Play Store compatibility. Now, however, the company seems to have found its niche; incredibly cheap devices that redefine what customers can expect for their money.
The Fire is the epitome of this new approach – so much so you get a free one if you buy five at once. £50 will barely get you an eighth of an iPad Air 2, but here it buys a 7in tablet powered by a quad-core processor. There’s nothing else out there from a major brand that even comes close to this price, which could make the Fire the tablet bargain of the year.
When the tablet launched, it shipped with just 8GB of storage, although there was a microSD card slot to upgrade storage space. This is handy, particularly as a 32GB micro SD card can be bought for less than £10. However, going down this route means that you end up with two storage devices to save content to. Now, you don't have to worry about the card slot, as there's an optional 16GB Fire tablet, which costs £10 more (£60). That's not quite as good value as the micro SD card, but it's certainly less hassle. Ultimately, double the storage for £10 more is worth it, and 16GB is enough storage for light use and web browsing, whereas 8GB is really not enough.
Start using the Fire, however, and it’s clear to see how Amazon has been able to make it so cheap. There might be a quad-core processor running at 1.3GHz, but it’s beyond sluggish. In Peacekeeper, a test of browser performance, the Fire could only manage a pitiful 283 - easily the worst score of any tablet Expert Reviews has seen this year and a quarter of what Tesco’s £100 Hudl 2 is capable of.Even the two-year-old Nexus 7 managed over 100 points more overall. This translates to choppy scrolling, particularly on media-heavy web pages, with lots of re-draws if you have multiple tabs open at once. It doesn’t help that you’re forced to use Silk, Amazon’s own web browser, as Google apps such as Chrome aren’t available. It has most of the features you would expect, but performance doesn’t come close.
Everyday performance suffers on account of the underpowered chipset too. Geekbench single- and multi-core results of 356 and 1,143 respectively are amongst the lowest scores seen from a 2015 device, again falling behind the Hudl 2. Loading even simple apps can take several seconds, as will opening the Recent menu or returning to the Home screen. At first it’s easy to think you simply didn’t tap the right place onscreen, but after a while it’s clear the device simply can’t keep up with your inputs. Once you’re in apps things are mostly smooth, but animations and transitions are still disappointingly choppy.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a similar story when it comes to graphics. The Fire refused to run GFX Bench at all, and effects-heavy games like Blizzard’s Hearthstone stutter dramatically during gameplay. Simply drawing a card from your hand can cause slowdown at times, so this certainly won’t be the device to play 3D titles like Grand Theft Auto III. Less demanding 2D games will be smoother, but you’ll still have to wait a while for them to load.
At least battery life isn’t abysmal. With the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the Fire managed eight hours 43 minutes of video playback. This is about average for a 7in tablet, so for general use you should be able to last a full day away from home without having to reach for a mains socket.
Display & Camera
The Fire was never going to have an amazing screen given its bargain basement price, so in many ways a meagre 59.3% sRGB colour gamut coverage is unsurprising. It’s easily one of the lowest scores seen from a tablet, and twenty percent behind the Hudl 2. It’s a similar story in our other objective tests, with a fairly average maximum brightness of 330.2cd/m2 and a rather high 0.34cd/m2 black level that leaves darker images looking rather grey and milky. A contrast ratio of 959:1 isn’t terrible, however; it means images and video have a surprising amount of depth, even if the colours aren’t very accurate. Subjectively, the screen looks very grainy, and while viewing angles are respectable, the very low 1,024x600 resolution makes text look blocky and difficult to read in smaller fonts.
It doesn't exactly paint photos taken with the 2-megapixel rear camera in the best light, but then the sensor is fairly atrocious anyway. Outdoors, images are seriously lacking in detail and colours look very washed out. Everything appears incredibly grainy and zooming into any photo reveals noise and artefacts. There is an HDR mode, but it takes around a second to capture an image, making camera shake something of an issue, and the results aren't any more lifelike than photos taken with HDR disabled.
^ Outdoor images were mostly exposed correctly, but appear washed out and lack detail
^ The skies were nowhere near this moody when taking this shot
Unsurprisingly there's no flash, so you're reliant on natural light when shooting indoors. As soon as you dim the lights, noise levels fly through the roof and details plummet. It struggled to find any texture in the Expert Reviews still life when the lamps were switched off, leaving massive parts of the image in shadow. With the lights on results were a little better, but basically any modern smartphone will have a superior camera sensor.
^ Provide enough light and the camera is just about serviceable...
^...but with no flash dimly lit scenes are impossible to capture with any detail