Fire HD 8 Tablet Review
What is the Amazon Fire HD 8?
The Amazon Fire HD 8 is one of the cheapest tablets you can buy from a recognisable brand. It costs around £59.99, and unlike similarly priced Android slates it’s not completely terrible.
If you consider yourself a tech-head and aren’t buying for someone else, you may want to consider spending a little more. However, the Fire HD 8 is perfect for those with more modest expectations, and easy to recommend to family buyers that aren’t after something as fancy as an iPad.
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It’s the perfect way to binge on some Prime content, and the addition of Alexa finally gives it something other tablets simply don’t have.
Amazon Fire HD 8 – Design
One of the best aspects of the Amazon Fire HD 8 is that while it is a cheap tablet, it doesn’t appear instantly dated like some others in this price category. It isn’t thick or heavy, and it doesn’t sport an ultra-wide screen surround that can make a tablet seem bulky and old-fashioned.
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Just look at the space to the left and right of the screen; there’s enough room to fit your thumb, but not so much that the Amazon Fire HD 8’s footprint appears much larger than the display at its centre. It’s a little thicker than the last Fire HD 8 at 9.2mm, however.
Its build is solid for the price. There’s just the tiniest bit of casing flex under significant hand pressure and the display doesn’t distort when you press down on the front.
The top-most part of the plastic casing does move inwards by about a millimetre under finger pressure, but this is more likely to be the battery cover. While non-removable, it’s mostly there to look nice and take the brunt of any impact; the real structure of the Amazon Fire HD 8 is inside.
I’m looking at the red version of the Amazon Fire HD 8. It’s a pleasant shade and has a textured finish that both looks and feels better than glossy plastic. The tablet is also available in a wide array of hues, including a vivid new yellow that I have a soft spot for.
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Amazon Fire HD 8 – Screen
The screen, however, may put a few folk off. Its specs are basic, as is the case with all the lower-cost Fire tablets, but what is most evident is the lack of display contrast in a well-lit room.
The screen is highly reflective, making blacks appear quite grey. This isn’t the usual symptom of the LCD screen’s backlight showing through, but is a result of the different layers of the screen’s structure reflecting a small amount of ambient light.
As such, the Amazon Fire HD 8 will look quite low energy compared with your smartphone, unless you increase the screen brightness by quite some margin; this will make the contrast seem better. There’s no Auto brightness setting here, so you have to make any alterations manually.
Amazon is hyping up the new IPS panel used here, which should be improvement over the previous model. Yet, the difference seems very minor and while viewing angles are marginally better it’s not the most noticeable switch.
This is one area where the more gadget-savvy among you may be disappointed, given that Amazon calls this an “HD” tablet. It’s only just sharp enough to avoid looking awful, and small fonts in the browser are unflatteringly pixellated.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 display goes pretty bright too, which is handy to combat all those screen reflections if you’re going to use it outdoors.
SPECS, PERFORMANCE AND FEATURES
At its heart the Fire HD 8 is a streaming device. Amazon pre-loads it with apps for Kindle, Amazon Video, Amazon Appstore, Amazon Games, Amazon Music… you get the idea. While a decent enough web browsing tool, the Fire HD 8 is intended as a portal to Amazon content. An Amazon Prime membership is therefore not just preferable; it’s pretty much essential. Without one, you’re locked into the Amazon ecosystem without the key to unlock anything.
The specs of the device reflect that it’s best used for media streaming or low-requirement games. The processor is a 1.3GHz quad-core with 1.5GB RAM – basically enough for the types of content you have access to. The tablet is generally responsive, but its quickest when dealing with Amazon’s own apps. Stray into apps like Facebook or the Silk browser and things chug a little slower.
We used the trial month of Amazon Prime that is promoted when you set up the tablet, and found that it was a breeze to boot up tons of films and TV shows, sync all of our existing Kindle books and hook it up to our (non-Amazon) email account. You don’t have to get Prime if you just want to use it as a Kindle, though.
The Fire HD 8 is a pure media consumption device. The mentioned 2Mp camera will not win you the Pulitzer, and the awful front-facing VGA camera is barely good enough for video calls – it does work, though this is more dependent on a decent Wi-Fi connection than anything else.
While it is capable of recording video in 720p HD, the 2015 generation of Fire HD 8 had a 5Mp camera, which hints at some of the corners cut to keep the new version under £100.
We also enjoyed the ability to download Prime content direct to the device. Our sample had 16GB, which isn’t bad, but the attraction is to stick a micro-SD card in it. Then you can download a plethora of video, music, books and more to the device for offline playback. Video in particular looks great if you choose to download in 720p HD, but you can also choose from two lower quality picture files to save storage space.
The two speaker grills give surprisingly crisp, clear audio, but their position is slightly annoying – either end of either the top or bottom edge when held horizontally. As with most tablets, we’d recommend a decent pair of headphones (none are included) to best watch films or TV.
All that capability is packed into a device that weighs 314g, just a sliver over the weight of Apple’s 299g ipad mini 4 Amazon cites 12 hours of battery life with regular use, which we found accurate in extended use.
Be aware that even with the bundled power adaptor, it takes the Fire an annoyingly slow 6 hours to fully charge. You’ll have to remember to plug it in overnight if you’re nearly out of juice, or carry round a power bank.
SOFTWARE AND APPS
As the tablet runs Amazon’s own Fire OS, you don’t have access to the full wealth of content available to users of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Play Store. This isn’t to say that the Amazon Appstore is completely limited, it just takes us back to the necessity of amazon prime membership should you wish to justify purchasing the Fire HD 8.
However, if you really didn’t want to buy into Prime but like the price, apps available to you from the Amazon Appstore include Facebook, BBC iPlayer and even Sky Go or Netflix mean that you can still use the HD 8 as a basic Internet device with third-party streaming services.
But given the prominence of Amazon’s services in the interface and the ease at which it allows you to access them with a subscription, we’d still recommend pairing the HD 8 with Prime if you want to be fully satisfied with it.
At this point it’s worth noting that Google apps are not available from the Appstore. This means it’s hard to recommend the Fire HD 8 as a work or productivity tool (although the Evernote app is available) because you can’t sync existing Google calendars and Google Drive.
Although access is blocked to the YouTube app on Fire TV and Echo Show, it’s still working on Fire tablets.
You can also access YouTube through Amazon’s Silk browser, but the browser is a bit clunky and unrefined, and highlights again that the Fire HD 8 is best when simply streaming via Amazon Prime Video.
Nor can you download popular apps like Microsoft Word. However, if you want a tablet that allows easy streaming of your favourite TV shows with the bonus of access to social media, Skype and online banking, the HD 8 is well worth considering.
A software update has now added hands-free Alexa to the HD 8, so you can use it like you would an Amazon Echo.
When the tablet is charging or the screen is on, Alexa will respond. You can control video and music too, as well as all the smart home features an Echo can handle. It’s great to see on a tablet this cheap.
It works surprisingly well, and the voice itself sounds more natural than Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. In the Alexa app, you can link to your Google calendar, Spotify account and more to add to what it can do.
For general question on weather, web searches and more this is a great feature to have on such a cheap tablet. Good work, Amazon.
Another good feature of the Fire HD 8 is Amazon’s Fire for Kids app. Should you wish to entertain your children with the tablet, you can set up a separate profile for them to use.
This allows you to set parental controls, restrict what content they can access and even set time limits to prevent square eyes. It cleverly time limits games and videos but leaves unlimited time for reading, helping you to encourage the right balance of learning through a tablet they might want to regularly get their hands on.
This and other features, such as a kids camera mode and a Bed Time feature which encourages routine make the Fire HD 8 a good choice for a parent who wants access to their own Prime subscription on the same device, but with the ability to mould their child’s use of the tablet around different, web-safe preferences.
One thing to note is that Amazon cheekily (or maddeningly, depending on your temper) doesn’t let you give your child access to specific Amazon Prime content without first signing up to Fire for Kids Unlimited, but given you already may spend £59.99 per year on Prime membership, it’s pretty annoying. It does highlight how often Amazon’s adverts and extra payment options encroach unpleasantly on the user experience.
SHOULD I BUY AMAZON FIRE HD 8?
The Good–The latest Fire HD 8 delivers faster performance, a bigger battery and more base storage than the previous version for almost half the price. Its 8-inch screen is bright, the speakers are loud and it offers expandable microSD storage and ample parental controls. Amazon Prime members can access gobs of free video, music and other content with their subscription.
The Bad–Display isn’t as sharp as that of the iPad Mini; to truly take advantage of what the tablet has to offer, you need an Amazon Prime membership; slow charging (takes 6 hours to fully cap battery).
The Bottom Line–Despite some small drawbacks, you just won’t find a tablet with these features and performance at this price