Amazon’s Fire tablets are some of the most affordable tablets worth buying. While they tend to have fairly slow processors, they also have decent screens, an acceptable amount of storage, and hard-to-beat prices – the Fire 7 tablet sells for $50 and up, the Fire HD 8 has a starting price of $90, and the Fire HD 10 goes for $150 and up, although all three are often on sale for less than list price.
But they also ship with a custom version of Android called Fire OS and an Amazon Appstore instead of the Google Play Store. That means you may have a hard time finding some apps you’re looking for or synchronizing your data between your tablet and your phone.
Fortunately Amazon’s tablets tend to be hackable.
It’s pretty easy to install the Google Play Store by changing a setting and downloading a few apps. But there’s also an unofficial Fire tablet hacking tool called Fire Toolbox that can make things a lot easier, while also helping you control many settings, install or uninstall many apps and features, and make other changes to most Amazon tablets.
Version 9.0 was released in October, 2020, conveniently just ahead of Amazon Prime Day, when the Amazon Fire HD 10 will be on sale for $70 off, and the Amazon Fire 7 Kids Edition will be discounted by $40.
The latest version of Fire Toolbox supports most Amazon tablets released since 2014, including the most recent additions, the 2020 Amazon Fire HD 8+ and Fire HD 8.
Once installed on a Windows PC, you connect your tablet to your computer with a USB cable and use the Toolbox to do things like:
- Install Google Play Services and the Google Play Store.
- Sideload applications that may not be available in the Amazon Appstore or Google Play.
- Backup your tablet’s software, settings, and data to a file on your PC (or restore from that system backup).
- Install a third-party Launcher app to make the tablet feel more like an Android device and less like an Amazon one.
- Adjust the display density settings.
- Change the lockscreen wallpaper.
- Enable or disable Amazon apps and services (such as Alexa, the Appstore, Newstand, the Silk browser, and more).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the most part these are things that you could also do by installing Google’s Android Debug Bridge (adb) and running a series of commands in a command prompt. But the Fire Toolbox makes the process a lot simpler.
Since the last time I wrote about the toolbox, the developer has also made some major updates to the backend, including:
- There’s a new system update tool that makes patches smaller, quicker, and more efficient.
- System backup and restore tools have been updated with improved stability, reliability and performance. This lets you backup your tablet’s software state to a PC and/or restore from a backup. New in version 9.0, you’ll also see the backup save location after a successful backup.
- A new Welcome Tour shows key aspects of the toolbox on first run.
- Screen capturing now allows you to show screen touches while recording.
- Privacy Controls allow you to enable or disable device and app usage data, interest-based ads, and other privacy features.
There are also a number of new features and usability improvements. For example, hovering over a button will bring up a description at the bottom of the screen, giving you a better idea of what that feature does. When sideloading apps, you can now grant all requested permissions automatically. And there’s support for managing multiple Google accounts on a single device.
You can find details for other new features, behavior changes, bug fixes, and performance notes in the changelog at the xda-developers forum, or just go ahead and click that same link to download and install the latest version of the Toolbox to start hacking your tablet.
Keep in mind that there’s always some risk involved with using this sort of tool, so you may want to make sure to save any important data stored on your tablet before getting started. But if you recently picked up (or are thinking of picking up) an Amazon Fire tablet but don’t want to be limited to using Amazon’s apps and services, the unofficial Fire Toolbox may help you to get more out of the tablet.
If you just want to install a few apps that aren’t available in the Amazon Appstore and don’t want to jump through the hoops above, the easiest way to do that is just to enable installation of unknown apps on your tablet and then download and install APK files from a trusted source such as APK Mirror using the tablet’s web browser.
You can allow installation of unknown apps on an Amazon tablet by:
- Open Settings.
- Select the Security and Privacy option.
- Find and select the option that says “Applications from unknown sources.”
- Tap the Amazon Silk browser option.
- Slide the toggle that allows Silk to install apps from unknown sources.
This article was original published September 24, 2020 and last updated October 9, 2020.