Are Amazon Fire tablets any good? It's a question we are asked often, and more so since Tesco discontinued its great-value Hudl 2. As there's no Hudl 3 coming, should you buy an Amazon tablet instead? Here's everything you need to know.

Amazon Fire tablet buying guide: They're not Android tablets

The confusing thing about Fire tablets is that they run a customised version of Android. In some people's eyes this makes them Android tablets, but what's important to know is that you can't install Android apps (not easily, at any rate) and you won't find any Google apps on them, such as YouTube and Gmail.

 

Instead of the Google Play store which you'll find on most Android tablets, Fire tablets have Amazon's Appstore. There's a good range of apps to download - many free - but the app you need may not be available.

This is true with some of the latest games - Plants vs zombies 2, for example - and apps for hardware, such as some activity trackers and smart home gadgets, including security cameras and thermostats.

You can install some Android apps and we've explained how to side-load apps onto an Amazon Fire if you're happy to get a little technical.

Amazon Fire tablet buying guide: the 2015 range

In September 2015, Amazon launched three new models: Fire (which you can buy for £49 from Amazon), Fire HD 8 (£129.99) and Fire HD 10 (£169.99).

As well as an updated operating system, based on Android Lollipop, these new models also have microSD card slots. This is crucial as it means you can add inexpensive storage on which you can install apps as well as store videos, photos and music.

 Amazin Fire tablet buying guide

Previously no Amazon tablet had expandable storage, and the 8GB models in particular would fill up almost instantly. Unless you find an older model at an exceptional price, it's worth avoiding those and opting for one of the new models.

You can read our full review of the £49 Amazon Fire, but the HD 8 and HD 10 are pretty much the same except with larger screens and more powerful processors. The numbers tell you the screen size. The cheapest Fire has a 7in screen.

When you look at the specifications you might think the screen resolutions are quite low (even the 8- and 10in models have only 1280x800 pixels) but this isn't a deal-breaker. Unlike some cheaper tablets, Amazon uses IPS screens which means good viewing angles and good contrast. And resolution is a better trade-off than image quality.

In reality, you don't really notice the low resolution, and it's hard to complain when most other good-quality 10in tablets cost twice as much - or more.

Amazon Fire tablet buying guide: why are they so cheap?

You might not consider the HD 8 and HD 10 cheap, but the £49 model certainly is. Amazon has already discounted all three tablets for Black Friday, and is sure to do so again at some point.

It has to make them affordable to persuade you to buy one instead of an Android tablet - or an iPad.

Effectively, the tablets are a storefront for Amazon's many services, including Prime Instant Video, Amazon Music, it's Appstore, Kindle books, Audible audiobooks and, of course, physical goods from the main Amazon store.

It's much like an iPad which is locked into Apple's world. But like Apple's walled garden, Amazon's isn't a bad place to be trapped inside.

For £79 per year (again sometimes discounted) you can subscribe to Amazon Prime which gives you streaming video, music, ebooks loans, and free one-day delivery on physical goods marked with the Prime logo. That's roughly the same price as a Netflix subscription, so it's better value for most people.

 Amazin Fire tablet buying guide

You don't have to use any of Amazon's services or buy any of Amazon's products, though. You can use a Fire tablet just as you would an Android or iPad.

 

You'll find all the apps you'd expect pre-loaded including a web browser, email app, calendar, calculator and more. The only omission is a mapping app, but you can use the Silk web browser to get to any website you like, including Google Maps.

 

And you can use YouTube, Gmail and other Google services through the browser, too.

 

Just bear in mind that the base prices for each tablet are for the smallest amount of internal storage - 8 and 16GB respectively for the HD 8 and 10 - and you'll see 'special offers' on the lock screen. If you don't want adverts, you have to pay an extra £10 when ordering.

 

 

 

Amazon Fire tablet buying guide: conclusion

 

Cynics will see Fire tablets as a marketing and advertising tool for Amazon's products and services, but you could accuse Android tablets and iPads of the same for Google and Apple.

 

The bottom line is that while they may not be the best quality tablets available, they're pretty good value - especially the Fire for under 50.

 

You'll get the most benefit if you use Amazon's services and even with a Fire TV box or stick (where the tablet acts as a handy second screen) but you can use a Fire just like an iPad or Android tablet. Just remember that not all the apps you might want are available for them.

See also: Best budget tablets to buy right now