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Amazon's $50 Fire tablet is bad — you can get a much better version for just $10 more

Key Points
  • Amazon's Fire 7 tablet was recently released and seems compelling for $50.
  • But you shouldn't buy it. The screen isn't good, the battery life is bad and it's sluggish.
  • Spend just $10 more and get the Fire HD 8 instead, which has a better screen, better speakers and longer battery life.
Amazon Fire 7 tablet
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Amazon recently refreshed its $50 Fire 7 tablet with new colors, support for calling up Alexa by name and twice the storage as its previous version. It's so affordable I hopped into a Best Buy and picked one up last week.

But, after testing it for a few days, I can't recommend it for anybody. Instead, if you're interested in Amazon's Fire tablets, which are generally quite good for the price, buy the $60 Fire HD 8 instead.

Here's what you need to know about the new Fire 7.

What's good

Amazon Fire 7 tablet
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Fire 7 tablet is the smallest tablet Amazon sells that gives you access to Amazon's services, like Audible, Amazon Photos, Alexa, Amazon Prime video and the Amazon store.

Amazon generously included 16GB of storage instead of the 8GB it used to offer for tablets at this price, but most people will still want to buy a microSD card to add more. The 16GB won't let you store many TV shows and movies offline if you have a lot of apps. It's really only adequate if you plan to stream a lot.

It's easy to set up — you just sign into your Amazon account and you're good to go. Like Amazon's other tablets, it listens for when you say "Alexa" so you can talk to the voice assistant whenever you want, without having to tap a button or open an app. This worked OK for me, though sometimes I had to say "Alexa" more than once to get it to wake up.

The most notable thing about it is the $50 price tag. You'd be hard pressed to find a better tablet for $50. But I still think you should spend the extra $10 on the Amazon Fire HD 8, which is better in many ways.

What's bad

The Amazon Fire 7 tablet has a single speaker that's blocked by your hand when you hold it.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You get what you pay for.

The battery life of the Fire 7 is pretty terrible and didn't get me through a full day. It even seems to drain battery faster than other devices while sitting idle in my bag, which was annoying. Amazon promises 7 hours of battery which is fine if you have a quick plane ride, but that's three hours shorter than the Fire HD 8.

The screen is a throwback. It's not HD, which has been fairly standard on devices for almost a decade, and you can see the pixels when you look at it. The Fire HD 8 has a sharper screen and, while you can still see pixels, it's better for movies and reading text.

Also, the Fire 7 has a single speaker on the left side, which you'll block if you're holding the tablet in portrait mode. Again, the Fire HD 8 has a better option with stereo speakers that come out of both sides of the tablet.

Amazon Fire 7 tablet
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The cameras on the Fire 7 are adequate given the price. Just don't expect them to be close to what you get on a modern phone.

Also, the Fire 7 feels sluggish at times. I noticed some lag while moving around apps, and sometimes even just while scrolling through the system. That's probably because it only has 1GB of RAM versus 1.5GB in the Fire HD 8. The latter isn't very fast, either but seems a little more fluid.

Should you buy it?

Amazon Fire 7 tablet
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Skip it.

Fifty bucks is enticing for a product that gets you quick access to Amazon's movies, TV shows and plenty of apps like Netflix and Hulu.

But the Fiire HD 8 costs only $10 more and offers three hours more battery life, a bit more RAM to help speed things up, a larger and sharper display, and better stereo speakers. I've purchased both of these tablets, and I think everyone should just spend the extra $10 for the Fire HD 8.

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