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This week’s tablet and smartphone news has been largely dominated by
Apple and iOS 9
, but Amazon is bidding fair to change that with a new, ultra-low-cost Fire tablet. The e-commerce giant was arguably the first manufacturer to successfully challenge Apple in the tablet market with its 2011 Kindle Fire, and it’s continued to push device costs downwards
without compromising performance
. Today, with the Fire Tablet, Amazon is pushing its price points well into two-digit territory.
Whether or not that’s a good deal, of course, depends on your hardware needs. Amazon’s basic comparison chart is below:
Sources indicate that the SoC inside the Fire is a MediaTek MT8127. That’s a quad-core, Cortex-A7 CPU clocked at 1.3GHz with an ARM Mali-450 MP4 GPU, 1GB of RAM, hardware support for H.265 playback, and 1080p H.264 support baked-in as well. The screen resolution should be serviceable, given the device’s small size, but it’s not going to clock in as Retina-class. If you’re hoping for an ultra-cheap mobile gaming platform, we’d recommend looking to a different tablet — the Mali-450 MP4 has been on the market for several years at this point and will be thoroughly outclassed by any modern SoC.
Then again, this tablet costs $50. it was only five years ago that a $99 Maylong tablet of roughly this size got the tech world buzzing — right up until people actually tried it. When Amazon introduced the original Kindle Fire in 2011, it was hailed as a groundbreaking “cheap” tablet, despite debuting at $199. The CPU and GPU specs on the new Fire are stronger than either the debut Kindle Fire or the 2012 refresh, its cameras are better, and it weighs less. Toss in the fact that it’s also 1/4 the price of its ancestor, and you’ve got a potent combination for the right kind of buyer. The company claims up to seven hours of battery life, reviews will likely come in a bit under that mark. Expandable storage is available via microSD slot.
Plugging you into the Amazon economy
Amazon is so certain that you’ll love the $50 Fire, it’s offering to sell them in six-packs of $250. That works out to $41 per device or, if you prefer the sales pitch, “Buy 5 tablets and get the sixth one free.” Nobody else is crazy enough to try a stunt like that — though to be fair, nobody else sells a tablet people might plausibly want to own for $50, either. The point of Amazon selling an ultra-low-cost tablet is to hook you on all the things you can impulse-buy with a $50 Amazon tablet. It’s the razors-and-shaving blades model for the modern era, except instead of selling you razors at roughly half the price of gold, Amazon will sell you TV shows, movies, ebooks, and other goods, both real-world and digital, for various amounts of money.
Unlike Apple, which earns billions of dollars on hardware sales, Amazon has no great interest in making money off Fire itself. Fire, Fire HD, and Fire HDX, are all designed to encourage customers to buy Amazon Prime subscriptions. According to the company, Amazon Prime customers spend nearly 2x more at Amazon than non-Prime customers. Research by Consumer Intelligence Review Partners, conducted early in 2015, showed that Prime customers bought an average of $1500 per year, compared to non-Prime customers, who spent $627.
From Amazon’s perspective, putting a $50 tablet in as many hands as possible makes a great deal of sense. If that tablet drives $51 in additional sales throughout the year, whether for content or physical goods, then it’ll be a net revenue gain for the company. Granted, Amazon won’t make a net
if a $50 device only generates $51 in sales — but Amazon has never been about turning a profit in the first place.
The Fire Phone wasn’t discussed at all in today’s announcements, implying that the project is
well and truly dead