Amazon's £50 tablet has a pitcher's mitt full of catches - but don't be put off

AMAZON has undercut Apple and just about everyone else in the market with an iPad clone that sells for just £50. So, where's the catch?

The garish plastic makes it look like a toy, but Amazon's Fire 7 tablet is a real bargain
The garish plastic makes it look like a toy, but Amazon's Fire 7 tablet is a real bargain

Actually, the Fire 7 tablet comes with a pitcher’s mitt full of catches - yet none should be significant enough to put you off getting one.

Amazon’s strategy has always been to sell hardware with the express purpose of making you use it to buy their content. This was true of the earliest Kindle e-book readers and it’s no less true of this latest generation of tablet.

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To this end, it has jettisoned the Google apps usually found on Android devices, in favour of its own. These are designed to point you in the direction of books, music, streaming video and everything else it purveys, preferably by way of a £79-a-year Amazon Prime subscription. The heavily reworked home screen means you can’t customise it yourself, and the promotion is so in-your-face that until you get used to it, it’s hard to steer clear of the paid-for stuff.

Amazon has also replaced the usual Google Play store with its own version, offering a far smaller choice of apps. Many users have reported being able to add Google Play themselves, but the process is hit-and-miss.

Yet none of that ultimately matters, because the Fire 7, despite its almost toy-like plastic casing and its adverts for Amazon merchandise on the lock screen, is a perfectly good tablet - with or without a Prime subscription.

At seven inches diagonally, its screen is an inch smaller than the iPad Mini and three inches smaller than the full-size iPad. It’s less powerful and has a lower resolution than either of those. It’s also an inch smaller than the Tesco Hudl 2, the previous holder of the Best Value tablet crown. The Hudl 2 had double the memory and a better-defined screen - but it also cost twice as much as the Fire 7, and following Tesco’s withdrawal from the market, it’s no longer available at any price.

In any case, we are now learning that the Hudl 2 suffered from long-term reliability issues which would have made it pretty much unsaleable, had Tesco not already un-sold it.

It remains to be seen whether the Fire 7 will be any more reliable in the long-term, but at less than the price of a meal out with wine, it’s never going to be much of a write-off.

In day-to-day use, the Fire 7 is less fast than the Hudl 2 but speedy and slick enough for most purposes. However, you will have to get used to Amazon’s Silk browser instead of Chrome, and you may not find dedicated apps for Google Photos or allied services.

The good news is that you can try before you buy, because although the Fire 7 is sold and distributed by Amazon, it’s also available to take away on the high street, from Argos, Currys and all the other big multiples (yes, including Tesco) at the same prices.

You can choose between models with 8 gigabytes of storage or - for an extra tenner - 16gb. Either way, you can add an SD card of up to 128gb. If you manage to time your purchase to coincide with one of Amazon’s promotional periods (Spring Bank Holiday weekend is one such), you could get the smaller model for just £40.

Given the £220 price of even the cheapest iPad Mini, that’s one cheap tablet.