We live in a world full of boring black rectangles, but every now and then, we come across a device that stands out from the crowd. Amazon’s Fire HD 6 is the brightly colored peacock of the dirt-cheap tablet underground. The chunky little tablet sports a 6-inch screen and comes in cheerful, exciting colors. Sure, it’s got mid-to-low-end specs and isn’t the fastest slate out there, but it certainly is cute. It’s the kind of tablet you’d give a kid for Christmas.
Still, there are a lot of other low-cost tablets out there and it’s hard to know which one to get. The Fire HD 6 may be one of the smallest and cheapest options, but is it the best one?
Bright, but bulky design
Sometime you look at a tablet and you think, “Gee, that’d be great for kids.” The Fire HD 6 is one of those tablets. It’s sturdy, well-built, and comes in bright colors, such as magenta, citron, and cobalt, as well as the standard black and white. The end result is a cute, chunky little tablet.
The Fire HD certainly isn’t particularly thin or light, but it is fairly comfortable to hold in one hand, thanks to an angled ridge on the back of the tablet. The bezels around its 6-inch screen are wider than most and add extra bulk to the device. I tested my comfort level by reading Pride and Prejudice for an hour or two. My right hand got tired after a short while and I had to switch to using two hands.
The Fire HD 6 measures 169 X 103 X 10.7 millimeters and weighs 290 grams, making it slightly lighter than the 2013 Nexus 7, but much heavier than the 180 gram Kindle Voyage ebook reader. Even though the 6-inch Fire HD isn’t as lightweight as a regular Kindle, its appeal lies in its ability to act as a fully-fledged tablet.
Take the Fire OS carousel for a spin
Like most of Amazon’s devices, the Fire HD 6 runs a forked version of Android called Fire OS. The latest version, called Fire OS 4 a.k.a. Sangria, features the familiar Amazon carousel app menu, which continually morphs to place your most recently used app in the forefront. If you scroll up, you can see all the apps you’ve downloaded onto the device, even ones that aren’t in your carousel. The camera app is hiding there, too. Other options like shop, games, apps, music, videos, Web, photos, and more are listed at the top on the device in subtle, white print.
Its appeal lies in its ability to act as a fully-fledged tablet.
Underneath every app and book you download is a row of suggested apps or books from Amazon’s store. Although it’s clear that Amazon wants to sell you stuff, the small suggestions weren’t as annoying to me as banner ads or pop-up video promos would be. Fire OS is certainly odd, especially for people who’ve been using Android or iOS constantly. People who are entirely new to mobile OSs may not find it so odd, though.
Users have access to all of the apps in the Amazon App Store, which includes many popular apps like Facebook, Twitter, Duolingo, Netflix, and many more. Of course, you won’t find YouTube or many other well-known apps in the store (nothing by Google), so be aware that app selection is somewhat limited. Even so, you can access the Web, answer emails, and use a number of apps on the Fire HD 6, just as you would on any normal tablet.
If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, you’ll have full access to music, books, TV shows, movies, and more on the Fire HD tablet. Of course, all those same features are available in apps on Android tablets and iPads, too.
Amazon’s tablet is best for people who already use Amazon services a lot, or have a strong desire to convert.
Not too bad under the hood
Amazon packed the Fire HD 6 with a bunch of decent, mid-range specifications. The small tablet’s 6-inch screen has a 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution, which works out to a pixel density of 252ppi. That’s just 12 pixels per inch less than the iPad Air 2. Although it’s not as sharp as the iPhone 6 Plus’ screen, the Fire HD looks pretty damn good when streaming video from Netflix. The screen size is also ideal for reading, as anyone with a regular Kindle already knows.
Powering the phablet-sized tablet is an ARM Cortex-A15 quad-core processor, running at 1.21GHz. Amazon added 1GB of RAM and offers 8 or 16GB of internal storage, which isn’t much, especially if you like to download tons of books, movies, and TV shows. Unfortunately, there’s no MicroSD card slot on the tablet, so you’re stuck with the amount you choose when you buy it. In terms of connectivity and sensors, there’s 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope.
If you want to take pictures, you should pull out your phone, not this tablet.
For those of you who are curious about benchmarks, the Fire HD 6 scored 6,158 on the Quadrant test. In comparison, the 7-inch Dell Venue 7 3000 series tablet managed a score of 10,284 on the same test. Google’s 2013 Nexus 7 had a similar core of around 6,000 on the Quadrant test, though, so the Fire HD’s results aren’t too shabby, especially given its low price.
In our tests, we found the Fire HD 6 reasonably fast for a mid-range tablet. Most of the apps took a second or two extra to load and image-heavy apps like Facebook took even longer. Web searches were pretty zippy, though and most apps respond well after they’ve loaded. While streaming video, I ran into some slight buffering upon occasion, but most videos loaded quickly and played smoothly. The Fire HD certainly suffers from lags and slights delays, but for $100, it’s entirely forgivable.
Terrible cameras take care of the bare necessities
We typically discourage people from taking pictures with their tablets, but Amazon’s Fire HD 6 is actually small enough that you could get away with it – if the cameras were any good. Unfortunately, Amazon’s cost cutting measures ensured that the Fire HD has terrible cameras. It has a wimpy front-facing VGA (640 x 480 pixel) camera that’s clearly only meant for video calls and a 2-megapixel back camera that takes fuzzy photos.
HDR mode helps improve the quality of the photos somewhat, but there’s only so much you can do with a camera that’s this low-resolution. Basically, if you want to take pictures, you should pull out your phone, not this tablet.
Amazon says you can get 8 hours of battery from the Fire HD 6 and we found this to be true in most scenarios. The tablet usually lasted through a full day, but watching lots of videos can cut down on that number.
At just $100, the Fire HD 6 is a true bargain and it’s not pretending to be anything other than what it is: a cheap and chipper tablet. If you’ve got a grandma or a 7-year-old who’s been nagging you for a tablet, this little guy is inexpensive and sturdy enough that you won’t bat an eyelash when it inevitably lands on the floor with a thud.
There are other tablets out there like the Dell Venue 7 3000 series that are almost as cheap as the Fire HD, but not as solidly built, and you’d do well to check them out. On the other hand, if you’re charmed by the Fire HD 6’s colorful look and don’t need a top-tier device, it’s a great option for the price.
- It costs $100
- Bright color options
- Ideal for kids
- Sturdy build
- Bad camera
- Kind of heavy for its size
- Laggy performance
- Limited apps and storage