Last week there was a rumor going around that Amazon was going to announce a $50 tablet. I was concerned about this because usually cheap tablets mean low resolution screens, and in my opinion screen resolution has a huge impact on whether a tablet offers a good or mediocre experience.
As of yesterday my fears were confirmed. Amazon announced their new Fire tablet. Fire (that's the complete name, just Fire) has a 7", 1024 x 600 IPS display (that's a shoddy 171 ppi), 8 GB of storage space and a 1.3 Ghz Quad-Core processor. It has a battery life of 7 hours, but takes 6 hours to charge. On the plus side it does have a MicroSD card that you can use to expand the storage.
This thing is so cheap that Amazon is selling it in 6-packs. You can get six Fires for $250 (in other words, buy five and get a sixth free).
To make matters worse, Amazon has not updated it's HDX line. The Kindle Fire HDX 7" (and its gorgeous 1920 x 1200, 323 ppi screen) seems to be gone though the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is still available, at least for now. I will be sure to treat my HDX 7" with the utmost of care since it is my favorite tablet and it's a shame that Amazon has decided to turn the Fire tablets into a budget brand.
The $50 Fire isn't the only new tablet Amazon introduced. There's a Fire HD 8 with an 8", 1280 x 800 (189 ppi) screen, a 1.5 Ghz Quad-Core processor and either 8 GB ($149) or 16 GB ($169) of storage, and there's a Fire HD 10 with a 10.1", 1280 x 800 (149 ppi) screen, a 1.5 Ghz Quad-Core processor and either 16 GB ($229) or 32 GB ($259) of storage.
All of these models come with "Special offers" (ads on the home screen when you first wake up the tablet) and as of now anyway, there's no way to get a version without this feature. [Update: What Amazon used to call "Special Offers" they now refer to as "Sponsored Screensavers" and you can opt out of these during the check out process for an additional $15. My apologies for the error.] They all ship on September 30th, 2015.
So, overall, it's a sad day for Amazon Fire tablet fans.
In better news, Amazon also introduced a new version of the Fire TV and, on paper at least, it puts the Apple TV to shame. First of all, it's $100. It handles 4K output (the Apple TV does not) and it includes Alexa, the digital assistant software that powers the Amazon Echo. The Fire TV already supports voice search for shows, but starting next year Alexa and voice search will become integrated, allowing commands like "Alexa, search for drama movies with Matt Damon." (This feature will roll out to the existing Fire TV as well.)
According to Amazon's press release, universal search on the Fire TV currently supports Amazon video, HBO GO, Showtime, Hulu, STARZ PLAY, ENCORE PLAY, and Vevo, and Amazon says 10 more apps will be supported by the end of the year. (Siri on the Apple TV will launch with voice support across 4 third party apps.) Curiously some Alexa features, such as timers, won't be supported on the Fire TV but you can still get weather reports, sports scores and things like that. No word on whether "she" will continue to offer bad knock-knock jokes on the Fire TV.
The new Fire TV has 2 GB of RAM, 8 GB of storage, with a MicroSD card slot to add more. Amazon says the Media-Tek Quad-Core processor is 75% more powerful than that in the original Fire TV.
There's also a $139.99 Fire TV Gaming Edition that comes with a re-designed game controller (but no remote) and two games (Shovel Knight and Disney DuckTales: Remastered), and a new $50 Fire TV stick that includes the remote and Alexa voice search.
So the Fire TV product line is looking quite strong at the same time that the Fire Tablet line, in my opinion, is taking a turn for the worse.