Pick up a Amazon Fire tablet, and the on-board operating system is only loosely based on Android: You’re actually dealing with a modified OS, cut off from Google’s apps and services, but it’s not particularly clear exactly what that means for your choice of apps and options. Allow us to add some clarity.
If you’re weighing up whether to go with Fire TV or Android TV for your home setup, for example, then you need to know what’s in and what’s out as far as apps and content are concerned; likewise if you’re thinking about choosing a Fire tablet rather than any other Android tablet (or Chromebook). Here’s the state of play.
Video streaming on Fire OS
Google isn’t involved with Amazon’s Fire OS fork of Android, so access to Google apps is limited. There is now (again) an official YouTube app for Fire TV devices, but the app hasn’t yet made it to Fire tablets. It’s the same story with YouTube TV, which is on newer Fire TV hardware but not the Amazon Fire tablets.
You can watch standard YouTube through the web browser on Fire tablets, and even sign into your Google account, but it’s not ideal. Meanwhile, Google Play Movies & TV isn’t (officially) available on any Amazon devices at all, but you can get at your previously purchased movies and shows through the YouTube app (on Fire TV devices) or the YouTube website (on Fire tablets).
Otherwise, video streaming is very well covered, though again there’s a disparity between the Fire TV devices and the Fire TV tablets: Apps including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Roku, Hulu, Plex and Disney Plus are available on both, but the likes of Crackle, Sling TV and Apple TV Plus are only available on the streaming sticks and boxes. The very few omissions in this category include popular Plex alternative Kodi and HBO Max (though we’re hoping it will appear soon, as HBO Go and HBO Now are available).
Music streaming and audio on Fire OS
Music streaming is as well served on Amazon Fire OS devices as video streaming: You’ll find big name apps like Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Deezer and of course Amazon Music here. However, there’s no YouTube Music, and no Apple Music, at least not in terms of an official app — you can play Apple Music through Alexa voice commands on your Amazon devices, as its one of the services Alexa supports, but this is a bit of a hack.
TuneIn Radio is available on Amazon Fire TV devices and Amazon Fire tablets as a standalone app, so you’ll have no problems tuning into online radio from around the world. It’s often when you start to dig underneath the mainstream app categories — to podcast apps, for example — that gaps in Amazon’s selectiveness starts to appear.
Here’s another example of that: If you’re a Sonos user, you can install the app on a Fire tablet and use it just as you would on a regular Android device, but it’s not available on the Fire TV for big screen devices. Not everyone will have a Sonos system they need to manage, but it’s these smaller groups of users that sometimes aren’t fully catered for by Amazon hardware.
Productivity and utilities on Fire OS
We’ll focus on the Amazon Fire tablets here, as these are the main devices you’ll be using for productivity — can they stand up to the iPads and Android tablets for getting work done on the go? Or are they basically just media consumption devices? Spend a few minutes browsing around the app store and you’ll see it’s largely the latter.
You don’t get Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, and as with Android in general, there’s no chance of getting Apple Pages, Numbers, and Keynote any time soon. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are missing too (although Outlook is here, strangely enough), and other productivity apps such as Slack, TeamViewer and Trello are absent as well. On the plus side, there are official apps for Dropbox and Evernote.
It is possible to get by, just about — the OfficeSuite package made by MobiSystems is fine for a bit of work on the go, but Fire tablets really aren’t the devices to get if you need access to all your usual productivity apps away from your desk. At the time of writing, the third most popular free productivity app on the Amazon App Store is an ‘Instant Live Call From Peter Rabbit’ app, which just about sums it up.
Gaming and Kid Stuff on Fire OS
There’s a decent selection of games on Fire tablets — Clash of Clans, Asphalt 9, Stardew Valley, Gardenscapes, SimCity BuildIt, Minecraft, Crossy Road, Alto’s Odyssey, Monument Valley, and PUBG are some of the biggest names here, though most don’t appear on the Fire TV as well (Crossy Road is one of the few exceptions).
There are plenty of gaps too. Games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty Mobile, the GTA ports, Thimbleweed Park, Super Mario Run, Sky: Children of the Light, and Temple Run can’t be found in the Amazon-run app store. We found more top-tier games than we expected to, but the Google Play Store has a vastly bigger selection.
However, kids are well catered for on Amazon Fire tablets, especially if you go for the Kids Edition models — they bundle in a 1-year subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, which includes thousands of apps and games from the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, and Sesame Street. You’ve got Netflix as well, but you don’t have access to YouTube Kids.
Communication and social media on Fire OS
You’re maybe not going to be using your tablet as a communications device as much as your phone, but you might still want to keep in touch with people on your Fire tablet (we’re assuming you don’t really need communication and social media apps on your Fire TV).
You won’t find Google Duo, Snapchat, Signal or WhatsApp on the Amazon Fire tablets (or FaceTime, obviously), but Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom and Skype are present and correct, so more social media and communication tools are available than you might have expected.
The less well-known the app, the less likely you are to find it on the Amazon App Store. You won’t find the up-and-coming Microsoft Teams for businesses and families, and you won’t find the increasingly popular Houseparty video chat app here either. TikTok is available on Fire OS, however, so you can still get your fix of short video clips.
The Fire OS verdict
The selection of apps on the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire tablet devices is a lot better than you might think considering you’re dealing with the Amazon App Store and not the Google Play Store. The selection of apps and games is smaller, unsurprisingly, but Amazon’s alternative has some big names to offer as well.
Everyone’s app use is different, but the category where Amazon holds up best is in video streaming — you can get just about everything on the Amazon Fire TV devices, though the selection on the Fire tablets is a little more limited. The most obvious discrepancies between Fire OS and Android are probably in the ‘serious’ app categories like productivity, where you’ll struggle to find the most commonly used apps.
Social media, chat apps, and games are well catered for in the Amazon App Store, with some exceptions — assuming your phone is your main messaging app then you can probably live without Snapchat, WhatsApp or Signal on your tablet (these are all apps that can only be run on one device anyway, which is perhaps why Fire OS versions don’t exist).