Amazon’s Fire tablets offer a lot of bang for the buck. With list prices starting as low as $50, they’re cheaper than any iPad, and more affordable than most Samsung tablets. They often go on sale for even lower prices (this week Amazon is running a sale that lets you save up to $55 on Fire tablets).
But despite their low prices, Fire tablets tend to have decent displays, good battery life, and acceptable performance (considering the low price tag).
They also ship with Amazon’s Android-based Fire OS, which is probably fine if you’re looking for a simple device for web surfing, watching videos, and maybe playing some light games.
But Fire OS doesn’t ship with the Google Play Store and Amazon doesn’t make it easy to change your keyboard, lock screen wallpaper, or many other settings. That’s where the unofficial Fire Toolbox app comes in.
Developed by xda-developers forum member Datastream33, Fire Toolbox is a Windows application that makes it easy to hack a Fire tablet by doing things like installing the Google Play Store, replacing the default Fire OS home screen and launcher, sideloading apps, removing pre-installed apps, and making other changes to Amazon’s tablets.
While you cannot install custom ROMs on most recent Fire tablets, Fire Toolbox provides you with a way to make Fire OS feel more like stock Android.
Folks have been finding ways to modify Fire tablets for years, typically with command line tools. Fire Toolbox combines many of those tools into one application and makes the process a little more user friendly thanks to a graphical user interface with a series of menus that you can explore.
Among other things, Fire Toolbox lets you:
- Install the Google Play Store and Google services.
- Change the default launcher app (you can use something like Nova launcher to make Fire OS look more like stock Android).
- Change your screen density options (to make text and graphics look larger or smaller).
- Uninstall some or all of Amazon’s pre-installed apps (I suggest using the manual option and just checking the apps you know you don’t want or need).
- Enable or disable automatic updates, over-the-air updates, or change other system settings.
- Sideload apps (install applications downloaded to your PC from trusted sites like APK Mirror if they aren’t available in the Amazon Appstore and/or you don’t want to install Google Play).
- Backup all data on your tablet to your PC, or restore from a previous backup.
- Move files to and from your tablet.
- Record a video or save a screenshot.
The most recent version of Fire Toolbox, as of early April, 2021, is version 13.1 which adds a few new features including a System UI menu that lets you do things like hide or show the battery percentage in the status bar, show, hide, or modify the system clock, and hide or always show the bottom navigation bar (with the home, back, and recents buttons).
Fire Toolbox 13.1 also supports themes, so if you don’t like black and white, you can opt for blue and white.
Fire Toolbox has been around for years, but it’s picking up new features all the time. Some other recent changes include:
- New tool for installing custom keyboards
- Option to disable the lockscreen
- Automatic check for updates upon startup
- Built-in web browser that you can use to search for apps you may want to sideload if they’re not available from the Amazon Appstore or Google Play (although you can also do this manually using any browser and the app store of your choice)
There’s also a tool that lets you remove lock screen ads from Fire tablets – but when doing so, you’ll see a warning message that makes it clear that the official way to do that is to pay Amazon $15, but you know, if you bought a used tablet on eBay or something and didn’t know that there were “special offers” on the lock screen, maybe it’s not entirely illegal to remove them yourself? Maybe?
Note that the Fire Toolbox will also frequently recommend you block automatic updates from Amazon in order to ensure that hacks you make using the tool aren’t overwritten by future Fire OS updates. Just keep in mind that if you go down that road you may also be blocking potential security updates, so proceed with caution.
In order to use Fire Toolbox on a recent Amazon tablet, you need to:
- Download and install the latest version of Fire Toolbox on a Windows PC.
- Enable USB debugging on your Fire tablet by following these steps:
- Open the Settings app on your Fire tablet.
- Scroll down until you find Device Options and tap it.
- Tap the serial number 7 times until a message pops up saying that you’re now a developer.
- Tap the back button to return to the previous screen.
- Tap the new item that says “Developer Options.”
- Slide the toggle to enable Developer Options.
- Scroll down until you find “USB Debugging” and slide the toggle so that it’s enabled.
- Plug your tablet into the Windows PC using a USB cable.
- Run the Fire Toolbox app on your PC.
- A box should appear on the tablet. Click OK.”
You can find the latest version of Fire Toolbox at the xda-developers forum.
This article was originally published Nov 30, 2020 and last updated April 1, 2021.