Amazon Fire

The Quick Version

The entry level Amazon Fire (HD6) at US $99 - UK £79 is the cheapest way to get a home computer (of the ones that are worth having). Great quality for a very low price.


The Key Points

1. Cheapest way to get a home computer (of the ones that are worth having).

2. Excellent Security.

3. Built-in Backups.

4. Kids version that they will replace for free if the kids break it.

5. Some models have a free online support service (The Mayday Button), which is first class.

At just US $99 - UK £79 this is the cheapest tablet you can buy that's still any good (there are even cheaper tablets on the market, but they are about as good as hippo dung [as a computer that is, I am sure hippo dung is very useful for fertilising a crop or flinging at people you are not so keen on, but as a computer, not so much]). The Fire is a good quality tablet at a knock out price. In fact it's probably the cheapest price to pay for any kind of home computer that's worth having.

The only real disadvantage with this tablet is the screen size. It's a dinky 6", but hey, you asked for cheap and good and this delivers. If the screen size is too cozy for you it does have a facility to send its picture to your TV, so it can be as big as you like. In the olden days when TVs were small, expensive and black and white my dad would say "if it's not big enough, stand closer!". That's actually very easy with a tablet, you just hold it a bit closer to your face.

They even do a special kids version (US $149 - no UK version yet), if the kids smash it within the first two years they will send you another one, free, no questions asked. That's a cracking deal.

The Fires have never had a big market share, because the public attention is on iPads and Android Tablets, that's where all the adverting and press attention has gone to. The truth is, the Fires are actually very good.


Security

The Amazon Fire runs a modified version of Android, so you would think it would have the same level of security as all the other Android tablets on the market (like the ones from Samsung), but no. Amazon have changed Android around quite a lot and they have made it more secure in the process (see the Security Hierarchy for more details). So full marks to them for security, no need to worry about Viruses and Junk Software.


Backups

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In an act of immaculate timing Amazon just sent me a note today (as I was getting ready to write this page) telling me about the new backup facilities they are putting into the new version of the operating system for Amazon Fire devices (what they call OS 4). Of course that means I haven't had a chance to test it, because they have not actually released it, but it looks good in theory. It looks to put them on a par with the way Apple do it on the iPad, which is exactly what we need. If they do this correctly (and they are generally good guys who have done all their other stuff well) then it will be full marks for them on backups. You will be able to lose/break a device, get a new one, sign in and everything will be there.

It's such a blessed relief that the computer industry is moving in this direction after years of setting up normal folks to lose all their files in the event of a problem (if this has never happened to you consider yourself very lucky, it has happened to a scarily large number of people).


Functionality

Make sure you read The Key Trade Off, that will help you understand the whole process of moving from a traditional computer to a tablet as your main home computer.

Amazon don't use the main app store for Android computers (that's Google's Play Store), they have their own one. That's both a very good thing and slightly bad thing.

It's very good because Amazon have been stricter about what they let into their store. Consequently no nasty bad programs (what normal folks would call viruses, but geeks would complain if I called them that, because strictly speaking, it's not the right term in this case. Any how, you know what I mean, evil junk that means you harm). Fire is free from such nonsense and is very safe.

The slightly bad thing is that the Amazon app store doesn't have as many apps in it. That can be annoying if there is something that you want and you can see people with Android tablets who have it and you can't get it. Having said all of that, it's probably not that big a deal in real life.


Price

The bargain versions of the Fire is the Fire HD 6"  US $99 - UK £79 and the Fire HD Kids Edition. (US $149 - no UK version yet).

They have a more expensive HDX range that has a "Mayday" button. Press it and within a few seconds you are connected to a nice young person in a call centre who will answer your questions about the tablet and how to use it. You can let them see your screen and give them permissions to control the tablet. They don't even charge for it. I have used this for all sorts of questions on my own Fire and those of various customers and I can confirm, it's marvellous! (here's their AD TV showing you how it works). No other manufacturer has anything close to this. Amazon really don't get enough credit for it. It works beautifully and is very helpful. If you are at all worried about using a tablet (and not too shy to ask for help) this is great. The Fire 7" HDX US $179 - UK £199.

They have a large one as well (more like the size of an iPad Air) at US $379UK £329. Because all their other tablets are so cheap you'd expect this one to be as well, and it's not really. It's not expensive for what it is, it's just not cheap like the others.


Extras

Printer

It's possible that your existing printer might not work with a Fire. Chances are, if it's more than a few years old, it won't. 

If you are printing modest amounts I have had really positive experiences installing the Epson XP-410/412 (US $79 - UK £71). If you are printing more like an office then Epson's Workforce range is better (US $129 - UK £89). These printers will also work with PCs, Macs, Android devices, Smartphones and just about anything else you or anyone else in the family has. Printers are surprisingly cheap for what they are, because manufacturers hope to make their money on the ink.

This page is worth a look if you plan to print from a Fire.

 

Keyboard

The Fire has an on screen keyboard and that's fine for most people most of the time. But some folks have a lot of text to bang into the system (like me writing this page for example) and they need an old fashioned keyboard. Of course people who know about computers will say you can't have a keyboard on a Fire. As usual they are talking out of their bottoms.

Any bluetooth keyboard will work with a Fire. I normally go for cheap ones (US  $11 - UK £8). 

 

Stand

If you are going to use a separate keyboard you want a simple stand to go with it. A lot of the cases have a stand built in, but I have never gotten on with them when using it this way. A few dollars gets you a stand you have to leave in front of a keyboard on your desk and it's easy to drop the Fire into and remove (US $8 - UK £6)


WHAT'S WRONG WITH CHOOSING AN Amazon Fire?

If you choose the Fire HD 6" the small screen is going to be a snug place to work. It's really better suited as a secondary computer in the home, not because it lacks any power (people find it hard to believe that small machines are powerful, but even a basic smartphone has plenty of power for the sort of things that most people do with their home computers: Internet, email, Facebook, photos etc). However, cheap may be important to you and this delivers. If you can put up with the small screen, it will do everything you are likely to need.


Summary

Wow, what a great bargain the Fire HD 6" is. Admittedly it would be a bit of a chore to use is as your main home computer (mostly because of the screen size), but if you want to go cheap and are prepared to work around the screen size limitations, it's a lot of computer for not much money.



But this is all nonsense!

There's a staggering amount of misinformation and urban myth doing the rounds on the subject of home computers, often nonsense that is most definitely against your best interests. So let's prepare you for when someone "who knows about computers" comes knocking by covering the popular hogwash in advance.

What ever happened to the Kindle Fire?

They changed the name. All the machines I am talking about on this page used to be called Kindle Fires, Now they are Amazon Fires, because when people hear "Kindle" they assume it's only a device for reading books, whereas the Fire tablets are full on tablets that compete with iPads and Android Tablets. You certainly can still read books on them, but you can also read your email, watch videos, update Facebook, write an angry letter to the local council about your bins not being collected and lots of other things that you can't do on the basic Kindle reader.

By the way, Kindle is not only a device, it's also a piece of software that Amazon publish for all sorts of computers. You can for example, install the Kindle app on your iPhone. You can read a book on your Kindle reader in bed, then find yourself out and about waiting for a meeting the next day, whip out the iPhone and it will say "You got to page 233 on your Kindle, want to carry on from there?". It's very clever.

But you can't run Word, Excel and PowerPoint on it!

You can (see Word, Excel & PowerPoint for all the details). There are various apps in the Amazon App Store on the device for doing this. Amazon are currently recommending WPS Office, which is the one I like too.


Your Comments

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