Kindle Fire as a gaming tablet part 2: the Fire 7″ (2015)

Posted: June 26, 2016 by ryanlecocq in Features, Reviews, Technology

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Companion Video on YouTube

We’re going to try something new.  I am slowly moving towards my dream of turning the blog into a gaming variety show on YouTube.  The first baby step is this article which will be like the director’s commentary to the video above.  I grudgingly accept that the internet masses like reading huge blocks of text a lot less than I like writing them.  So now you can watch it and pursue further content if intrigued.

 

Way back when the original Kindle Fire released, I did an article on the feasibility of using a (at the time) dirt cheap $200 tablet for gaming and media.  This was in the ancient days, when the only cheap tablet options went without things like bluetooth and cameras to hit that “gift-able” $200 price point.  It turned out that the Fire’s (at the time) decent screen and competent chipset made it a clear winner in the bargain category.

Here we are in 2016 and the market has definitely changed.  There are now many tablets under $100, from such questionable manufacturers as DigiLand and Trio (they even have cameras!).  While the quality of these tablets is often laughable, they are tablets and they are less than 100 US dollars.  So Amazon doesn’t have to even do something that wasn’t possible before, they just have to make it slightly less horrible than the competition.  I can gladly say that the Fire 7 is more than slightly less horrible.  It’s actually pretty decent.

There are plenty of reviews for this tablet, as it came out last fall and isn’t remotely new at this point.  The only reason I’m writing about it is that it now goes on sale regularly for $35-40 and the XDA community have worked out all the bugs involved in fixing the things that suck most about this tablet.

 

Why the Fire 7 is worthy, when the others are not:

The Fire 7 has a lot in common with other cheap tablets; it has a low-res screen, it has a MediaTek chipset and it feels like a huge slab of plastic compared to more expensive tablets.  What sets it apart is that it somehow wears these features like a feather boa.  The screen is low resolution enough to save Amazon a lot of money, but tuned and optimized to easily outclass generic offerings.

I’ve tested quite a few generic tablets with MediaTek and Rockchip chipsets and they aren’t usually very pleasant.  Even ones that have decent raw performance are held back by terrible power and heat management, as well as a poorly optimized kernel.  Amazon has clearly thrown at least an afternoon of engineering into this thing, as it bears little resemblance in performance to generics running the same or similar SoCs.  In layman’s terms, that means it doesn’t crash, hang or freeze nearly as often as other cheapo tablets.  The performance is also generally smoother (while still being fairly weak), because it isn’t constantly throttled for power and heat.

Finally the rough plastic exterior is literally rough in every sense.  It feels like holding one of those plastic bobbers at the end of a lifeguard’s rope, but this thing is also one tough SOB.  What I really want out of a beater tablet is something I’m not afraid to take places I wouldn’t take my iPad.  The Fire 7 delivers.  It’s the perfect kick around tablet, even if you drop it in the bathtub, who cares?  It’s a $50 tablet.

 

The warty side and what you need to do to fix it:

The reason this tablet is better than others in the price range is pretty obvious if you’re at all familiar with Amazon.  The Fire 7 is of course loaded with adds and is primarily a way to sell Amazon content to even poorer people.  So Amazon doesn’t mind losing a few bucks on every unit sold.  These ads are annoying and even go so far as putting animated ones on your lock screen.  I’m the sort that likes to have my cake and eat it too, so I ain’t standing for that.  Fortunately everyone else at XDA feels the same way, so development for this tablet has been going strong since day 1.  I’ll provide a link to the index of topics for modifying the Fire 7 at the bottom of this section.  Be aware that you do this at your own risk and you do not have to do all of these things.  I went all out and replaced literally every part of my tablet’s software, besides the kernel.  The only Amazon logo remaining is on the back and at the first splash screen when booting.

  1. Remove ads and install Google Play store
  2. Root your tablet, so that you have full access and can do the rest of these things.
  3. Stop future updates, so you don’t lose your root access and workarounds.
  4. Install custom recovery
  5. Replace the Fire OS entirely with a custom ROM like Cyanogen Mod or similar.
  6. Install Xposed Framework or similar, to give you full control of your hardware and especially storage.

There is a small risk of rendering your tablet inoperable, but even that is fixable with instructions at the following link.

Fire 7 (2015) index of topics at XDA forums

 

How good is it when fully optimized?

As I mentioned earlier, I went all out and rooted, installed custom recovery, Xposed framework, CM12.1 ROM and finally Nova Launcher when I couldn’t get perfect performance out of the stock launcher.  So YMMV goes without saying.  In the end, I got a very reasonable 7″ tablet that was able to play every single game I threw at it, albeit not nearly as well as an expensive tablet.  What makes this product truly worthy as the ultimate budget tablet, was that it did all of this consistently and reliably.  My interface is smooth, without lagging or freezing.  My apps work correctly when I tombstone and reopen them.  It just plain works better than any other cheap tablet and once the Amazon induced drawbacks are removed, it does so without any glaring flaws.

This one is a winner, just like the first one.  I highly recommend this for children or the very poor.  If this is all you can afford, this is what you should buy.  On the other hand, if you are a developer and are looking for the lowest cost of entry on something that can be easily modified and used for testing, this is also your tablet.  Once running custom software, the Fire 7 is more capable in every way than a generic, or a used older tablet you could get at similar price.

 

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  1. […] Kindle Fire as a gaming tablet part 2: the Fire 7″ (2015) […]

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