Amazon Prime’s subsidized smartphones & tablets

Recently, Amazon Prime announced plans to offer a number of devices at a significant discount that came with ‘special offers’. These weren’t going to be bottom of the barrel hardware devices either. They launched the 7″ Fire Tablet (available in a number of colours) for just $50US last fall and a few weeks ago they unveiled the BLU R1 HD Android smartphone would be available for just $49US in the 8gb configuration ($10 more for the 16gb model with double the onboard ram as well).

Amazon Prime Fire Tablet

July 12th was Prime Day – Amazon’s annual one day blow out sale. I picked up a number of items including the even further discounted 8gb Fire tablet in black for just $33US. I also ordered the 16gb BLU Android phone for just $59US. Both came with ‘special offers’ which are basically some preloaded software and lockscreen ads.

Note that I used Amazon.com (which I’m a Prime member of) rather than Amazon.ca because of the much wider offerings of .com and the fact I live 20 minutes from the border where I have a lot of Prime packages shipped to a mailbox I have in Lynden, Washington. As of this writing, neither of these devices is available in Canada or on Amazon.ca.

So what do you get for these deeply discounted prices? Quite a lot actually.

Let’s start with the Fire tablet

Amazon Prime Fire Tablet

I wanted to get a newer Android tablet to replace my 2012 Nexus 7 tablet which I’ve pretty much stopped using because it’s just too sluggish and slow for just about anything I try to use it for. The Prime day price of $33 was just too good to refuse and I was also curious about the way they’d handle the ads.

Like most Amazon Kindle products, the Fire tablet came preconfigured with my Amazon account info so I literally just booted it up and it was ready to use straight out of the box. Also like other Fire products, it didn’t come with the Google Play store, but rather you use the Amazon Marketplace or the Prime exclusive “Amazon Underground” which is their own app store within an app store with a difference – all the apps and games are 100% free, including in-app purchases. Of course, it’s a lot more limited in selection than the full blown Play Store. You’re not blocked from side loading applications though. More on this in a bit.

Amazon Prime Fire Tablet

The lock screen ad wasn’t as bad as I was expecting…at least for now. For the most part, I’ve mostly just seen Amazon-themed ads for their products or services. Some of them I might actually buy/download since it seems to be based on my shopping history since it’s all tied to my Amazon account.

Amazon Prime Fire Tablet

This might be a good/bad thing for other people but it doesn’t bother me at all since it’s simple enough to unlock the tablet and skip past the ad. But it’s definitely something to consider when buying a tablet like this for such a low cost since you’re giving Amazon your usage data in addition to viewing the lockscreen ads. I was able to opt out of data tracking but it wouldn’t let me launch some of the apps I had downloaded from the Underground store.

amazon prime underground

A simple google search revealed lots of websites explaining how to remove the ads and also side load the Google Play store. I followed the steps and was easily able to add the Play Store although the ad system wasn’t removed but I had read there was a 50% success rate in being able to do this depending on the version of the OS it shipped with. Amazon also seems to have gotten more aggressive with the updates to prevent these scripts from removing the ads although the Play Store remains intact. I’m fine with the ads and you can also pay $15 to remove them if they really bother you.

Amazon Prime Fire Tablet

The tablet itself isn’t the thinnest or lightest on the market but compared to other low-end Android tablets at even double or triple the price it performs quite well with no noticeable slowdowns or general sluggishness I’ve seen on other devices. It’s still an incredible value for a fairly capable device that has a microSD card slot that can support up to 128gb of storage. Combined with adding the Play Store, I was easily able to add things like Kodi and VLC to make it a great media playing/streaming device.

BLU R1 HD

BLU Android Phone

I’m fortunate to have access to a lot of different smartphones regularly but most are loaners from various manufacturers. I’ve wanted a dedicated Android phone for a while now and since I already own an iPhone 6s+ as my daily driver, it was too tempting to resist buying the BLU R1 HD at these prices.

blu-back

I opted for the 16gb model with 2gb of ram. It’s a dual sim, unlocked phone that works on most carriers. Like the Fire tablet, it’s not the prettiest or thinnest device in it’s class, but it runs Android 6.0 Marshmellow very well. I actually find it to be very comfortable to carry, it’s pretty lightweight and feels solid rather than cheap. I added a 64gb microSD card to the onboard slot and it’s been able to run everything I’ve thrown at it.

BLU is a Miami based company making a bunch of great, low cost phones for a number of platforms. They all feature unlocked, dual sim card slots and varying specs depending on the price point.

blu-win

This isn’t my first BLU phone. Last year for a project, I needed a Windows phone so I picked up their ‘Jr” 3G handset from the Microsoft store which still is a great little phone for the money ($80 last year) if for nothing else than it’s built in GPS software that works offline.
blu-slots

blu-lockscreen

Also like the Fire tablet, it has a lockscreen ad and some preloaded apps. But it came stock with Android 6.0 and the Play store so that wasn’t an issue like the Fire tablet. There is a simple way to remove the lockscreen ads but upon rebooting, you have to reapply the ‘hack’.

By default, after applying the hack, you get a static lockscreen ad minus the ‘buy’ button and it can’t be changed. A workaround is to use a lockscreen app. But like the Fire, I can live with this…even when ads were fully enabled (and I suspect a future update will reinstate them on my phone), it wasn’t very intrusive and any other notifications would shrink the ad down.

Of course, you can just buy the phone for basically double the price to remove the ads if they bother you. The device is still a great deal at the full price but is that much sweeter at $49/59 with the ads.

The preloaded apps are the usual Amazon apps along with Goodreads, Audible and a few others. These can be removed from your homescreen but not uninstalled. Again, not a big deal as I use most of these already.
blu-apps
The R1 HD has a decent 8mp rear camera, front facing 5mp camera (with LED flash!), GPS and a great 5″ screen. It’s snappy and like the Fire tablet, has performed admirably with any and all apps I’ve thrown at it so far. It doesn’t have NFC which is a slight bummer but I can live with that. Someone commented on Facebook that this might be the ultimate burner phone and while it’s price makes it seem disposable, it’s anything but.

Despite the above somewhat glowing praise, it’s worth noting that neither of these devices feel as nice or as refined as devices from Apple or Samsung but that’s not the point.

At these prices, it’s worth having either of these devices to dabble in Android land if you’re an Apple user or if you need an inexpensive yet capable phone to replace a damaged or lost phone. The quality of these devices might even make you wonder why you’re paying so much more for those other devices.

I don’t have kids but the Fire tablet seems like it might be a great device for kids assuming you don’t have issues with the ads – you can create a switchable kid profile on the Fire tablet which may minimize the ad space as well as the shopping damage they could do if you want to save some money. You might even want to give them the BLU phone instead of your more expensive smartphone even just to watch Netflix, YouTube or just to play games without a sim card since you don’t have to activate it on a cellular network to use it.

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