fire_tabletLook out, everyone! On Forbes, Patrick Moorhead exposes the cheap $50 Fire’s dirty little secret! Spoiler warning, go no further if you don’t want to ruin the surprise!

Ready? It’s…cheap.

Seriously, Moorhead wrote a whole column about how the $50 Fire tablet is fairly feature-poor and low-performance compared to tablets that cost five or ten times as much. Which…well, it’s the sort of “revelation” that you would expect anyone with the rudimentary grasp of economics of a seven-year-old to have figured out on their own, but perhaps it’s still worth reminding people just in case they think a $50 tablet will bring about world peace or something.

Looking at Moorhead’s points of complaint, we find:

  1. It has Amazon’s ubiquitous “Special Offers.” (They’re advertisements! Soylent Green is people!) So, yes, it will show you a “special offer” on the screensaver if you don’t pay $15 extra to disable it. So what? Most people don’t sit around staring at the screensaver all the time, and it won’t advertise at you while you’re using the tablet normally. Nothing says it will brainwash me into going out and buying whatever’s advertised, and more than once on my Kindle Touch with Special Offers I’ve been notified of some awesome sale on a book I actually wanted. And, of course, if you change your mind, you can just turn the ads off for that same $15 at any time. But you can’t get $15 back for turning them on again.
  2. It has a fairly low-end Mediatek MT8127 quad-core processor. Yeah, so maybe it’s a bit wimpy. So what? My Zeepad, which cost twice as much, had a Cortex A8 single core chip, and it cost twice as much. My Nook HD has a dual-core Cortex A9, and cost twice as much (when I bought it; several times as much new). Generally speaking, CPU horsepower doesn’t tend to count for as much in the low-end tablet space. I predict that this CPU will be plenty fast enough for browsing the web, reading e-books, surfing the net, reading social media—oh, and playing regular media, since…
  3. Its hardware specs are pretty low. 1 GB RAM, 8 GB (5 GB available) storage, 1024×600 display resolution. Do I need to point out that’s still better than what the Zeepad had? Yeah, it’s not going to have a great video image, but it’ll still be okay for web surfing, reading e-books, and so on. And the nice part of having a low display resolution is that the low-end CPU should be able to show video on it decently enough. What’s more, it has something that my much-more-expensive 2013 Nexus 7 lacks—a built-in SD card slot for expanding the memory. Heck, you could get several cards and keep different things on each one, then slot the specific thing you want to see when you want to see it. SD cards are pretty cheap these days, too, especially when there’s a sale on, and they usually come with a USB reader so you can treat them like USB memory sticks for transferring files back and forth from a computer.
  4. It’s stuck in Amazon’s walled garden and can’t install regular Android apps from the Play store. Yeah, I’m not so thrilled about that one either. But the trick is to think of this not as a regular Android tablet, but as an Amazon-subsidized cheap media consumption device. In return for Amazon making it super-cheap, they get to put some restrictions on it. But you know what? It’ll still work just fine for a lot of generic purposes, like surfing the web or sending email, even within those restrictions. If you don’t like the restrictions, pay more and get something less-restricted.

Moorhead admits, on page 2, that “what do you expect from a $50 tablet?” is a fair point, but he wants to make sure that people realize that “some great deals are truly too good to be true.” So far, nothing he’s said about this tablet has led me to believe that someone who pays $50 for it won’t get at least that much of his money’s worth.

And just consider—if the tablet costs $50 new, how cheap is it going to be in a few months or a year or so once they start having refurbs available? They’ll practically be able to throw them into cereal boxes.

Heck, remember all the speculation a few years back that Amazon might give out free Kindles with Amazon Prime subscriptions? When devices start getting this cheap, who knows what could happen? Maybe Amazon will finally do something about throwing them in. Might it give them away free or cheap with some other service? (“Subscribe to Prime Fresh and we’ll give you a Fire tablet at no extra charge to keep your shopping list on!”)

We’ve never had a respected-name-brand media tablet this cheap before, even a low-end one. It’s always been Chinese OEM stuff, or brands you’ve never heard of at Fry’s that were probably made by Chinese OEMs. Here we have one that carries the imprimatur of one of the most trusted names in consumer media and shopping. I look forward to seeing what this does to the digital divide.


  1. Ah but Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and cost/benefit ratios are difficult to calculate. Will a person spend more and get less over time by virtue of the Amazon lock-in? Repairs?Then there’s “opportunity cost,” the cost of what must be forgone and how those things might be valued.
    Focusing exclusively on initial cost can be very misleading.

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