Every product Amazon makes is designed to sell you something else. It's an open secret. That's why the company could lose money on the Kindle Fire -- yet still reap a profit. Now, Amazon is introducing the most irresistable moneysuck yet: a $US50 tablet.
The new $US50 Amazon Fire is just about as barebones as it gets. It runs the latest version of Amazon's Fire OS (a heavily-modified version of Android Lollipop) on a fairly mediocre 7-inch screen with huge black borders on every side.
There's a 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek processor, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of storage (with microSD slot for expansion), which also pale in comparison to most devices you read about on Gizmodo.
From left to right: Fire, Fire HD 8, Fire HD 10
But you've gotta remember: this is a $US50 tablet. This is competing against those no-name, bargain basement devices you only ever see at a god-forsaken drug store electronics counter, or that get trotted out as doorbusters for the poor saps who don't know any better on Black Friday each year. This is a $US50 tablet before it goes on sale, as most everything on Amazon will inevitably do. (Amazon's even planning to sell a six-pack of these tablets for just $US250 -- buy five, get one free.)
For a $US50 tablet, it looks pretty decent. Speedy, even.
This is not the $US50 Fire's screen. It's the Fire HD 8.
And once you buy it, you'll probably want some content, right? Some movies, games, TV shows, and books to read? While the new Fire OS 5 does make it a good bit easier to get at your Android apps on the homescreen -- and has a neat parallax effect when you scroll -- it's still basically a storefront that's jam-packed with suggestions for things you should buy from Amazon. It's an impulse buy filled with impulse buys.
Another thing Amazon's $US50 Fire will sell people on? The company's other new tablets. They look worlds better.
The Fire HD 8, in four colours.
For just $US150 or $US230 respectively, the new Amazon Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 are pretty much the same story as the $US50 Fire: each aims to bring a higher level of quality to a far lower pricepoint.
You're still not looking at the latest and greatest silicon here -- a 1.5GHz quad-core MediaTek and 8GB or 16GB of storage is the name of the game -- but in terms of build quality, these colourful slates are ahead of most devices this cheap.
The Fire HD 10.
Both measure just 7.7mm thin, house microSD slots and stereo speakers with Dolby processing, and boast the kind of bright, beautiful, air-gap-less screens you don't expect to find when you see a resolution of just 1280 x 800 on the spec sheet. They feel lightweight, and easy to balance in a hand. There's also 802.11ac wifi for faster downloads and streaming.
Plus, Amazon says they can take quite a beating, too. There's a metal backplane inside that glossy plastic, and Gorilla Glass protecting the screen. The company showed us an Fire HD 10 that had survived 200 cycles in the company's tumble tester with only some bruised corners.
The Fire HD Kids Edition.
If what you're really looking for is durability, though, the Fire HD Kids Edition is the one you probably want. Big, lifeproof rubber bumper, a 2-year no-questions-asked replacement policy, a kid-friendly web browser you can turn off or add whitelisted sites to, and 10,000 pre-approved titles for junior to safely watch.
Plus, you can turn off the kids' mode and remove the bumper if your little tyke grows up.
Lastly, a word about accessories: they look pretty slick. Is it wrong that I now want a magenta Fire 8 tablet and matching $US40 stand?
Or a clever three-position Bluetooth keyboard folio ($US100) where the keys can always line up with the bottom edge of the Fire 10 tablet? Even though I would almost certainly never use a cheap Android tablet for productivity?
There's plenty I haven't even begun to discuss about Amazon's new tablets, most intriguingly a pair of new software features called Word Runner (which lets you speed-read any book one word at a time) and On Deck, which will pre-load a couple of TV episodes or a movie it thinks you'll like so you'll never run out the door without something to watch.
But this post is long enough already, and you'd probably like to know when you can purchase these devices. The answer is September 30th.
Oh, and in case you're wondering, there's no update to Amazon's higher-end Fire HDX tablet -- though it and all of Amazon's other 2014 tablets will get updated to Fire OS 5 in October. Also, Amazon's not talking about the failed Fire Phone. Like, at all.