Amazon just launched a new version of its wildly popular $50 tablet

Amazon Fire 7AmazonThe new Amazon Fire 7 tablet.

Amazon on Wednesday refreshed its most popular Fire tablets, launching updated versions of the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8. Both devices are up for pre-order now, and, as before, they’re both dirt cheap.

The Fire 7 costs $US49.99, while the Fire HD 8 now starts at $US79.99, down from its usual $US89.99.

The upgrades here are very modest. Amazon says the new Fire 7 is a pinch lighter and thinner than the the last model (it’s now 9.6mm thick, versus 10.6mm before), and that it will have slightly better battery life this time around (it’s rated at eight hours per charge, up from seven).

Amazon is adding dual-band WiFi support, too, though there’s still nothing for faster 802.11ac connections. The tablets also come in red, blue, and yellow, as well as the standard black.

Most notably, Amazon says the Fire 7’s 7-inch display will have “sharper text” and higher contrast than before, so it should look a bit more vibrant. That said, it’s not upgrading from a very good display, and Amazon says the screen’s resolution will stay at a fairly low 1024 x 600. We’ll have to see how it holds up in testing.

Other than that, all of the Fire 7’s vitals are the same. You still get the same matte plastic design, with the same processor and 1 GB of RAM, and the same Amazon-heavy software that was on the previous models (Alexa support and all). It should run very similar to the last model
— which is to say, decent, for a $US50 tablet.

The Fire HD 8, meanwhile, looks to be near exactly the same as before. It’s just $US10 cheaper, and comes in new colours. You can now add a little more storage with a microSD card, but otherwise, compared to the Fire 7, your extra $US30 still goes toward a bigger and sharper 8-inch 1280 x 800 display, a beefier 1.5 GB of RAM, up to 12 hours of battery life, and more starting storage. (The Fire 7 comes in 8 GB and 16 GB options, and the Fire HD 7 gets you 16 GB or 32 GB of space.)

Amazon is also refreshing the “Kids Editions” of these tablets, which still come with more durable designs and a year’s subscription to the company’s kid-friendly “FreeTime Unlimited” content service.

Amazon Fire HD 8AmazonThe new Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet looks just about identical to the Fire 7.

The main reason to get any of these is still price. Previous iterations of these slates, the Fire 7 in particular, have been popular enough to send Amazon flying up the sales charts at a time when the market for traditional tablets has slowed. The company now sits fourth in overall market share, according to research firm IDC, though its once-massive growth has taken a dip as of late.

As you can guess, these Fire tablets are not “premium” like the iPad or Microsoft Surface Pro. Instead, they’re Trojan horses — their software makes it very easy to buy things from Amazon’s e-commerce store and use first-party services like Alexa and Prime Video, so Amazon wants to get them onto as many couches as possible.

The upshot for consumers is that, even if you ignore all the Amazon stuff, the last Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 were competent enough to be a good value for anyone who only uses their tablet for casual reading and video viewing. The former should be a bit better now, but we’ll see if Amazon hasn’t saturated the market completely.

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