Amazon’s totally got the right idea with its tablets: don’t bother trying to compete with the iPad and instead just bash out dirt-cheap, almost-throwaway devices that get the job done.

The new Amazon Fire 7 is exactly that kind of device. It costs £50, fails to compete with the iPad in almost any regard, but generally gets the job done well enough.

What’s more, the new version also has Amazon Alexa built in. Every home should have one.

Design: A solid plastic rectangle with a screen

The word ‘design’ usually brings to mind attractive people in thick-rimmed black glasses sat in front of those desks that slope down at an angle, dreaming up quirky little touches that add flair and character.

The Fire 7 tablet might well have been designed in such a setting, but it’s not obvious from looking at it. The front is just screen plus some fairly chunky bezels all the way round. The back and sides are made from durable-feeling plastic, but it’s pretty chunky and utilitarian. Other than an Amazon logo on the back it’s entirely devoid of any flair or character at all, although it does at least come in three funky colours, and also black.

But, but, but… none of that really matters. This is a tablet designed with one thing in mind: function. And in that regard, it’s a champion. The 7in form factor works really well, whether you’re using it one-handed in portrait mode or two-handed in landscape, and it’s comfortable to hold. It feels really well built, too - even if it didn’t only cost £50 you wouldn’t worry too much about dropping it. That said, both the back and screen of my review sample have already picked up scratches - sorry about that, Amazon.

On top you get power and volume buttons, plus a microUSB port for charging and a headphone socket. There’s also both front and rear cameras - neither of which are very good - and a microSD slot for adding to the 8GB or 16GB of built-in storage.

Display: You get what you pay for

The Fire 7’s screen is obviously the biggest compromise here, and anyone used to a decent full-HD-or-better display - ie everyone - will notice the difference at once.

The Fire 7’s 1024 x 600 resolution is only part of the problem. Contrast is poor, colours are muted and viewing angles very limited. The combined effect is that unless you’re watching almost directly face-on, it’s as if you’re viewing through a filter of some kind. It doesn’t help that the tablet is particularly prone to fingerprints, further adding to the feeling that it’s all been smeared in vaseline.

It’s far from unusable, though. Brightly coloured games fare better than more pared-back TV shows and web browsing is fine, with the 7’s relatively big screen giving it an advantage over most phones in terms of fitting lots in. Just don’t expect it to replace your TV or rival an iPad.

Amazon Alexa: She’s gone portable!

I’ve owned an Echo Dot for about six months now and can’t imagine living without it. Alexa controls my lights and heating, updates me on the weather each morning and acts as a DJ. She occasionally even gives a useful response to a question. And now she’s available wherever I am.

This isn’t quite a first for Alexa, but it’s close. While Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s nameless Assistant have all lived inside phones and tablets for years, in the UK at least Alexa has been restricted to the non-portable Echo and Echo Dot, the non-portable new Fire TV Stick, and a limited number of phones, among them the Huawei Mate 9 and HTC U11. And useful though Alexa is, you’re not going to buy a £600 phone just so you can get a mobile version of her.

In truth you probably wouldn’t buy a £50 tablet just so you can get her either, but it’s a nice bonus to have. But do bear in mind that Amazon has updated all older Fire tablets back to the 2014 models so that they also now have this functionality, so it’s not in itself a reason to upgrade to the 2017 version.

The good news is that Alexa can do everything here that she can in her Echo guise, making the Fire 7 an easy and cheap way to get a multi-room Alexa setup. The bad news is that she won’t do your bidding via voice command alone: you have to first hold down the home key.

This isn’t a disaster, as you’ll often have your tablet in your hands when you want to ask her to do something anyway, and it’s therefore particularly suited to opening apps or voice searching for info on the web - especially as it'll present results to you in handy cards rather than just speaking to you. However, I still found asking my Echo Dot to be more user-friendly than picking up the tablet and fiddling with the buttons.

Basically, if you don’t already have an Echo device and want a new tablet, the Fire 7 will give you a two-for-one deal. But if you don’t need a tablet, you’re still much better off buying an Echo Dot, which is itself a mere £50 too.

Power: Prepare for a bumpy ride

The Fire 7 runs on a quad-core 1.3GHz processor, but it’s not a particularly beefy one and there are times when that shows.

Opening apps can be a long-drawn-out process. I timed how long it took to open Netflix on both my phone (a Huawei P10) and the Fire tab: my phone powered it up in about 1 second; the tablet took almost 10 seconds.

Be prepared for crashes, too. Real Racing 3, about the most intensive game I trusted it to run, would typically die about once every hour or so. In-between that, it worked fine, with no obvious lag in either graphics or control input, so it’s not like you can’t use this device for gaming - more that you should save regularly.

Storage is a paltry 8 or 16GB, and with around 2GB taken up for system software, that’s not going to get you very far. Fortunately, you can add up to 256GB extra via microSD card, and I’d suggest that’s a must if you go for the 8GB option at least. You do also get unlimited Amazon Cloud Storage for any photos taken with the device and any content - films, books etc - that you buy from Amazon.

Battery life is, unsurprisingly, not great either. Amazon describes it as having “up to 8hrs of mixed-use battery life”, but presumably its definition of “mixed-use” doesn’t include much in the way of games or video. I found it was good for only about 4-5hrs of continuous video or gaming, or for maybe 2-3 days if I was dipping in and out for an hour here, an hour there. There’s no fast-charging option, either, so juicing it back up again is a lengthy process. On the plus side, it’s microUSB, so you won’t ever be far from a charging cable.

Which other tablets should you consider?

There’s really no obvious rival to the Fire 7. The next cheapest tablet that’s also half-decent is Amazon’s next-step-up Fire HD 8, which costs £80, and after that you’re into the £130-odd range of the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 and its ilk.

One thing is clear: this is no iPad competitor. The difference in quality between any iPad and the Fire 7 is like the difference in brain power between Stephen Hawking and Katie Hopkins. So if you want a truly excellent all-round tablet experience, go for the £620 iPad Pro 10.5. Or if you can’t stretch to that, then try the £340 standard iPad.

Still too much? There are plenty of options in the £150-£200 range, among them the Nvidia Shield K1 and Amazon Fire HD 10. You’ll find them reviewed in our Best Cheap Tablets group test and any of them will do a good job.

They're all still 3-4 times the price of this tablet, though, so the Fire 7's real main rival remains Amazon’s own Fire HD 8. That model costs only £30 more but has a bigger screen with a better resolution, more storage space and a beefier battery. It's probably just about worth the extra cash.

Stuff says... 

Amazon Fire 7 (2017) review

The Fire 7's far from the best tablet but it's easily the best ultra-cheap tablet
from
£49.99
Good Stuff 
That price
Solid build
Loads of content for Amazon users
Great for kids
Bad Stuff 
That screen
Prone to crashes
Lacks some big apps