Oh, and by the way, the lock screen is essentially advertising space, depending on how much you want the new Fire to cost you. For $15 or £10 more than the $50/£50 base asking price -- so, $65 or £60 in total -- your Fire won't show "sponsored" lock screens that plug products (like tablet accessories), apps and other content. You can choose to opt out of these special offers after the fact, too, if you find them more irritating than you'd originally anticipated, but I really wouldn't bother. Paying extra to have a custom lock screen doesn't seem worth it when the rest of Fire OS is basically advertising anyway.
The whole reason Amazon is able to sell the Fire at such a low price is because it's making little to no profit on the device itself. The idea is you'll use the Fire to shop on Amazon, as well as get your content via Amazon's various services, and the company will pad its bottom line that way. And Fire OS is designed with that strategy in mind. To the right of the home screen app list, Fire OS has eight additional panels that showcase many of Amazon's products and services: e-books, video content, games, online shopping, apps, music, audiobooks and magazines/newspapers.
The reality is you can completely ignore all of this and use the tablet however you choose, but the downside to the Amazon-first UI is that you're often a few more taps away from on-device content than you'd like to be. This is particularly true for video, which is probably why Amazon added a "My Videos" shortcut to the app list for getting straight to your on-device catalog. But, as much as you're hard-sold in that direction, an Amazon Prime subscription might be worth a look if you're not invested in a multitude of streaming services already. For $99 or £79 per year, a Prime subscription affords you unfettered access to Amazon's TV, movie and music streaming platforms, as well as the Kindle free e-book lending library, among other perks.
The only service you might want that a Prime subscription doesn't cover is FreeTime Unlimited. From $3 or £2 per month (for Prime members), the subscription grants free access to kid-suitable books, apps, games, movies and TV shows, all packaged in a colorful, simpler UI. Bear in mind, though, that you don't need to pay anything to take advantage of all the robust parental controls built into Fire OS.
As far as the core experiences go, Amazon's Fire OS doesn't include any of Google's services, but the equivalent Silk browser, calendar, email and file manager apps are completely adequate substitutes. Amazon's own Appstore isn't quite as well-stocked as Google's, but nowadays, you'd be unlucky not to find whatever it is you're looking for (or at least an app that does the same job). In some respects, I actually prefer Amazon's Appstore, purely because there are so many free apps you have to pay for elsewhere constantly in circulation. And if you really, really need an app it doesn't stock, you can download the Android APK file and install it yourself, minimal technical know-how required (i.e., nothing a quick Google search won't teach you).
Performance and battery life
At its heart, the new Fire is powered by a quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor (MT8127), paired with 1GB of RAM, which is more or less what you'd expect from an entry-level tablet. You've also got 8GB of internal storage, but only 5GB of that is available to the user, so it's a good thing the Fire's microSD slot supports cards as large as 128GB (Amazon's also releasing a software update soon that'll allow downloaded Prime Music tracks to be stored on the microSD card). As you'd expect with this kind of internal horsepower, the Fire doesn't offer the same level of performance as top-tier slates do, but you're not completely sacrificing usability for a bargain-basement price. Navigating around Fire OS is a pretty smooth, slick experience; it's only loading times and responsiveness that stand out as a little slower than you'd see if a beefier processor were tasked with the same job. The auto-screen rotation mechanism takes a few seconds to correct, for example, but the Fire isn't annoyingly sluggish by any stretch of the imagination.
Apps might not load instantly, and the on-screen keyboard takes a heartbeat to appear when you call upon it, but you're never left waiting long. What I like most about the overall user experience is that it's extremely consistent: It's not so much slow as it is measured. The Fire rarely stutters or hangs; it doesn't feel... clunky. The Silk browser, for instance, takes a second or two to load, and websites need a few more before all the various elements find their rightful places, but from then on, it's smooth sailing -- no jerky scrolling, major tiling issues or zoom lag.
You'd think the Fire would be best suited for more casual tasks, like browsing, email, social networking and the rest, but I'm impressed with how it handles more intensive exercises. There was always a chance processor-testing apps would expose the Fire as a low-end device that crumbles under higher workloads. However, 3D titles like Real Racing 3, Goat Simulator and Ravensword: Shadowlands mostly run smoothly on the new Fire, dropping only a couple frames here and there.
In terms of connectivity, the Fire only has the basics: Bluetooth 4.0 and single-band WiFi (802.11b/g/n). There's not a great deal more you absolutely need, though, and the WiFi chip manages to keep a strong, unwavering two-bar connection in places where my first-gen iPad Mini can't even see my home router. According to Amazon, the Fire's 2,980mAh battery is good for up to seven hours of mixed usage, which in my experience, is an understatement. In our standard 720p, looping-video battery-rundown test (at 50 percent screen brightness), the Fire lasted nine hours and 20 minutes before dying, with all battery-saving modes disabled. That doesn't quite match the iPad Mini 4's 13-hour stint, but it's almost two hours longer than Samsung's Galaxy Tab S2 was able to stick it out for.
In everyday use, I'd say the battery life is more or less consistent with our rundown test results. The Fire burns almost no juice when standing by, so you can use it lightly over several days before you even have to think about recharging it. Falling asleep while watching a Twitch channel happens to me more often than I care to admit, and the Fire's the kind of tablet you wake up to six hours later to find still connected and streaming.
Unless you want to roll the dice with a no-name 7-inch tablet, of which there are many available through sites like eBay and Amazon, it's practically impossible to find a $50 slate. Even budget-friendly slabs from manufacturers like Archos and Alcatel are significantly more expensive despite being lower or similarly specced. You could always seek out a second-hand or refurbished device, but even then you're still looking at paying upward of $50 for an old, used tablet.
The fact is, Amazon's pushing the boundaries of affordability with most of its Fire range. If it's a cheap Android tablet you're after and you don't mind the look of Fire OS, Amazon's a good place to start. The new Fire HD 8 and HD 10 tablets start at $150/£130 and $230/£170, respectively, so I wouldn't really consider those competition given the price leap. Even the Fire HD 6, launched last year, is markedly more expensive at $100/£80, with the main trade-off being a smaller screen size for a higher pixel count.
There isn't a great deal more to say other than that the $50 Fire kind of stands in a league of its own -- there isn't another tablet that offers a similar user experience and spec sheet at the same rock-bottom price.
Amazon's new Fire isn't aimed at graphic design graduates, and it isn't made for videophiles needing 1080p as standard -- it's for everyone else. The overwhelming majority of people use tablets for exactly the same basic tasks: prodding out the odd email, browsing, playing puzzle games and watching Netflix in bed. The Fire is perfectly capable of doing all these things without a grumble, and it only costs as much as you'd spend on a couple of rounds of drinks at your local bar. If you want a cheap Android tablet for all your standard use cases, why would you bother to look elsewhere? Heck, buy five of the things to distribute amongst your whole family, and you'll get a sixth free that you can leave in the living room for general use (but, seriously, you can buy a six-pack for $250/£250).
The Fire is no design icon, and it doesn't have a high-definition display; loudspeaker audio is of poor quality; Fire OS is a giant advertisement; and the cameras aren't very useful. Yet with all these shortcomings, the tablet offers respectable performance and good battery life, all for the paltry sum of $50. With that price tag, it's impossible to be disappointed by what you get, because the Fire is a master class in value for money.