Amazon is adding its digital assistant Alexa to Fire Tablets in the UK alongside some improved hardware.
As well as an updated Fire 7, Fire HD 8 and Fire Kids Edition tablets coming on June 7, Amazon says it will enable it’s digital assistant Alexa on existing Fire Tablets via a software update, however the company does not have a planned release date for this feature as yet.
As with previous improvements to service or apps, Alexa on Fire tablets has been available in the US since the tail end of 2016, leaving UK consumers waiting for updates already available in America.
When it does arrive, Alexa will be activated by holding down the home button, rather than by an always-on voice command. This, Amazon says, is to save battery life and avoid conflicts with existing Echo devices in users’ homes.
While somewhat understandable, those without an Echo may miss the ability to simply call out “Alexa” without needing to pick up a tablet, particularly as the likes of Siri and Google Assistant support always-on voice commands.
Once activated, Alexa can perform largely the same set of tasks as it can on the Echo, but with the added benefit of screen – similar to the forthcoming Echo Show with its 7in display.
Asking for a weather forecast, for example, not only results in an audio response, but also a card pops up on-screen showing the outlook for the week. Listening to songs brings up play, pause and skip controls, while a timer shows a countdown, avoiding the need to ask Alexa how long is left.
Unfortunately, only one card can be shown at any one time. If a user requests a song after starting a timer, for example, the timer card will disappear and will only reappear following another timer voice command. Cards are also dependent on developers implementing them. While all core Alexa functionality will support these cards, only a handful of third-party skills will at launch.
When the update is rolled out in the UK, Alexa will initially be available on the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 tablets. The Fire 7, which Amazon says is its most popular tablet, is now slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, and comes in blue, yellow, and red finishes in addition to black. Internally, it features a quad-core CPU, 1GB of memory, and either 8GB or 16GB of storage. The display still uses a 1024×600 IPS panel, but Amazon claims clarity has been improved. Dual-band Wi-Fi has also been added, and there’s an extra hour of battery life. The Fire 7 starts at £50/$50.
Meanwhile, the updated Fire HD 8 has the same form factor and 1280×800 8in display, but comes in cheaper at £80/$80. It too will be available black, blue, red, and yellow colours with either 16GB or 32GB of storage. There’s a quad-core CPU inside, along with 1.5GB of RAM and dual-band Wi-Fi. Amazon promises up to 12 hours of battery life.
Both the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 will be available in a more expensive Kids Edition that come bundled with a rubber case, a two year “no questions asked” guarantee and a year’s subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited, a selection of more than 5,000 games, educational apps, videos and books. The 16GB Fire 7 Kids Edition costs £100/$100, while the 32GB Fire HD 8 Kids Edition costs £130/$130.