Would you believe you can buy a solid business tablet for less than $100? With the Fire HD 6 tablet, Amazon is out to prove that an affordable tablet doesn't necessarily have to look or feel cheap. Compared to competing budget tablets, the Fire HD 6 packs a sturdy build, a surprisingly sharp display and good battery life. Of course, you'll make some big concessions by opting for this pint-size $99 slate. In fact, with a 6-inch display, it barely even qualifies as a tablet. And Amazon's Fire OS operating system, a highly customized version of Android, has some glaring limitations. So is the Fire HD 6 good for business?
Even if you're expecting the Fire HD 6's screen to be small, prepare to be surprised by its size when you first get your hands on the device. For a tablet, the 6-inch display is downright puny. In fact, phablets like the 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4 feature similar screen dimensions at higher resolutions. But the Fire HD 6 still sports a bigger display that the average smartphone – which is probably what you're looking for, if your smartphone is just too small for work tasks. Even if it doesn't sound much bigger on paper, editing spreadsheets and documents feels a lot more comfortable on the 6-inch Fire HD 6 than on the 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy S5, let alone a smaller phone.
The upside is that the Fire HD 6 is more portable than bigger slates, and in some ways easier to use. I especially enjoyed the ease of typing while holding the device in portrait mode. The Fire HD 6 is just narrow enough that I could comfortably reach all the keys with my thumbs, allowing me to type the same way I do on my smartphone. It really feels great to seamlessly transition between browsing and two-handed typing on a tablet. Compare that to larger slates, which force you to grip the bezel with one hand while tapping each letter with your other hand.
Screen size aside, you'll probably mistake this device for a smartphone. Compared to sleek phablets like the iPhone 6 Plus and the Galaxy Note 4, the Fire HD 6 sports a thick, chunky build and wide bezels around all four sides of the screen. It's not a slim device, though I was able to slip it into the front pocket of my jeans.
The rest of the tablet's matte plastic body is reasonably attractive for a budget slate. As with other Amazon tablets, the edges of the Fire HD 6's back are angled in slightly, which adds a bit of flourish to the otherwise boxy design. Overall, it feels more solid and durable than other cheap Android tablets. In fact, Amazon says it's built to withstand drops of up to 1 meter without sustaining damage, and I believe it.
The Fire HD 6 provides pretty good performance for the price. The slate's quad-core processor allowed me to open and close apps quickly, and delivered good responsiveness overall. Switching between apps using the multitasking tray (more on this later) also proved to be smooth and reliable. It's not a speedy slate, but the Fire HD 6 provides enough power for business users with basic computing needs.
One big downside is that the tablet includes a measly 8GB of onboard storage, and there's no microSD card slot to add more storage. Most users will run out of room fast. Fortunately, Amazon provides unlimited cloud storage for documents, multimedia and other files, though that content will only be available when you're connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi.
If you've expecting the Fire HD 6 to feel like any other Android tablet, you're in for some surprises. Like other Amazon devices, it runs on Amazon's Fire OS, which is based on Google's Android platform but has a unique layout.
The first thing you'll notice is the "carousel," a persistent content rotator on the home screen that gives you quick access to recently viewed apps, files and more. Just swipe to the side to cycle through additional content. If you frequently access the same apps, the carousel could come in handy. Otherwise, just swipe up from the bottom to access the rest of your apps in a familiar grid view. To access your notifications and settings, just wipe down from the top of the screen. And switching between apps is pretty easy, too. When you're using an app, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to view the recently used app drawer. Fire OS is probably a bit different from the setup you're probably used to, but veterans of Android or iOS should have no trouble adjusting.
The most notable difference between Fire OS and Android actually has nothing to do with the interface. Instead, it's all about apps. Like all Amazon tablets (as well as its sole smartphone, the Fire Phone), the Fire HD 6 isn't compatible with Google Play, the main Android app store. Instead, you're limited to the selection in the Amazon Appstore, which has a much smaller library. In fact, Google Play has more than five times as many apps available to download. It sounds dramatic, but for many users it might not make much of a difference. Many of the best productivity apps, like Evernote for note-taking and Splashtop for remote desktop access, are readily available on the Fire HD 6. And Kingsoft Office is a good alternative to Google's mobile office suite. Check out our top eight Amazon Appstore picks for more ideas.
The inability to install many Google apps might be a problem for some users, though. Gmail, Maps, Docs, Drive and other Google apps just aren't available through Amazon's store. In particular, I missed the powerful spam filtering in Google email app; Amazon's app just lumped in annoying promotions alongside important emails in my inbox, which really cluttered things up. If you're determined to use Google services, you can still bookmark the Web versions inside the browser and access them that way, though that's admittedly a rather clunky workaround.
Fire OS does have a few highlights to point out, though, including the ability to set up individual profiles. Each user can have his or her own password-protected home screen with a personalized set of content and apps. That's a plus for business users who want to share the device with family during off hours, but don't want to risk their business data being tampered with.
The real draw of the Fire HD 6 is, of course, its price tag. The slate retails for just $99, making it one of the best bargains in all of mobile tech. If the screen is just too small, Amazon also sells a 7-inch version, dubbed the Fire HD 7, for $139. Screen size aside, it features identical specs.
So how do those prices match up to the competition? The 7-inch Asus MeMo Pad 7 is a solid, budget-priced alternative, though at $150 it's a bit pricier. Meanwhile, a premium 7-inch tablet like the Nexus 7 starts at $229, while Apple's 7.9-inch iPad mini 2 starts at $299.
The Amazon Fire HD 6 offers great battery life for a budget tablet. It lasted about 8 hours and 30 minutes in a battery test involving continuous Web browsing via Wi-Fi – with average use it will last a lot longer. Overall, the Fire HD 6's score is better than the tablet average of 8 hours and 20 minutes, which is good news for business users who want a slate they can use through the end of the workday and beyond.
Until now, it was virtually impossible to find a decent business tablet for less than $100. But Amazon's Fire HD 6 actually fits the bill. Its display may be tiny, but it's sharp and bright. And the super-portable tablet offers decent performance and good battery life. If you can deal with its software limitations, the Fire HD 6 is a solid business companion at the right price.
Originally published on Business News Daily.