A $50 TABLET CAN HANDLE THE BASICS, BUT THAT'S ABOUT IT

Compared to affordable phones, budget tablets aren’t a great value

The best thing about buying a cheap tablet is that it won’t cost a lot: $50 can get you a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet that can access the internet, video chat, and run popular apps, including social media and streaming services. That’s a fantastically low barrier to entry, and those capabilities match the scope of what a large percentage of people demand from a device, be it a tablet or a phone.

But, let’s get one thing straight from the start: you’re getting exactly what you pay for.

I checked out two new tablets to see just how far your money can take you at this point. One is Amazon’s latest $49 Fire 7 tablet, and the other is a $64 Walmart-exclusive device called the Onn tablet. They’re very different tablets, though they have a few things in common: they’re both sluggish, plastic-clad Android tablets with poor battery life, and their screens will turn counting pixels into a side hobby. Flaws aside, they might fit your needs perfectly.

OUR REVIEW OFAMAZON FIRE 7 (2019)

GOOD STUFF

  • It’s very affordable
  • Supports popular apps and games
  • Cameras are decent for video chatting

BAD STUFF

  • Limited app support
  • Plastic build feels flimsy
  • Screen is easy to smudge
  • Strange button placement

GOOD STUFF

  • Affordable price
  • It runs Android 9 Pie

BAD STUFF

  • Cameras are atrocious
  • The speaker is weak
  • Walmart’s nav button impacts usability

If you’re considering these two tablets, the first split in the road is software. Both come with a handful of preinstalled apps, but only one of these tablets has access to the Google Play Store, and with it, access to any app that you want to download. It’s Walmart’s Onn tablet. The Fire 7 uses Fire OS, Amazon’s heavily modified version of Android, which drastically cuts back on the apps available for you to download.

AMAZON’S APPSTORE IS LACKING IN GOOGLE-MADE APPS

Amazon’s “Appstore” offers several popular apps and games, like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Minecraft, and more. These official apps look and feel exactly how you expect them to. What you won’t find here, in addition to the sheer breadth of apps and games available in Google’s Play Store, are any of Google’s apps. Google Chrome, Google Drive, and Google Photos are pillars for most Android users, as well as people who use iPhones, but you won’t find them on Fire OS. Some convincing unofficial apps exist for Fire OS, like the “YouTube” app, which is merely a bookmark that opens a mobile version of YouTube.com on Amazon’s Silk browser. It works in a pinch, but it’s not ideal.

The Google app situation may improve in the future, since Google and Amazon patched up a dispute that will bring YouTube to Fire TV devices in exchange for Amazon’s Prime Video getting Chromecast support. It’s too early to tell if the bridge will extend to Amazon’s cheap tablets. No Google support out of the box will be a deal-breaker for a lot of people, even if you’re entrenched in Amazon’s services. It is possible to side-load Google’s apps to the Fire 7, if you’re willing to do the legwork and accept the security implications, but most people won’t want to do that and I’m evaluating this tablet on what it can do with the services included.

App scarcity aside, the user interface on the Fire 7 will take some getting used to if you’re accustomed to stock Android (software that closely matches Google’s original Android design), or iOS. At the very least, it’s effective at putting all of your Amazon content front and center, whether it be ebooks, Audible audiobooks, or Prime Video. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, using one of these tablets is a good way to take better advantage of it.

AMAZON’S TABLETS (NEW AND OLD) HELP YOU GET MORE OUT OF PRIME

Additionally, there are plenty of parental control options built into the software, making this a good fit for kids. Depending on their age, springing for the $99 Fire 7 Kids Edition tablet may be a smarter move, since it comes with a durable case; a subscription to FreeTime, Amazon’s repository for kid-friendly content; and a two-year damage protection plan. The Onn tablet, on the other hand, cuts you loose to find parental control methods of your own.

Walmart’s Onn has Android 9 Pie software, though not all is peachy. This budget tablet is slow to launch and run apps. The navigation at the screen’s bottom squeezes in a discrete Walmart button, which reveals the retailer’s preinstalled apps: Walmart, Walmart Grocery, Sam’s Club, Vudu, and Books. Is this page worth its very own button in the system navigation? I’ll never go to bat for preinstalled software, but this is especially egregious since it makes it even tougher to hit the back, home, and multitasking buttons without looking.

ONN HAS ANDROID 9 PIE, WITH AN UNFORGIVABLE WALMART NAV BUTTON

Onn’s tablet rises above Amazon’s Fire 7 by offering access to any app you can get in the Google Play Store (including Google’s own apps), and the $15 premium is well worth the cost if accessing those apps is vital. However, the Fire 7 feels a little faster, likely due to its pared-down version of Android. Not just that, it’s more responsive to touch, as well. It’s not surprising that the Fire 7 is a more polished experience than Onn’s. Amazon’s tablet venture has spanned several generations at this point, and following Apple’s practices, Fire OS software is made exclusively for Amazon’s tablets and streaming sticks.

Both the Onn and Fire 7 are clumsy in the hardware department. This isn’t surprising, given their low prices, but it’s still disappointing to encounter them. The screens on these tablets are pixelated and grainy. Onn’s 8-inch, 1200 x 800 LCD display looks slightly better than Amazon’s smaller 1024 x 600 LCD display, though both look washed out in terms of color accuracy. Neither of these tablet screens utilize an oleophobic coating, meaning that you’ll smudge them up with even the most brief and careful swipes and touches. Get used to polishing them with a microfiber cloth every time you use them. You can easily find glass screen protectors for the Fire 7 that have this coating, though the Onn tablet isn’t popular enough to have its own bespoke accessories.

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