At $80, you can’t expect much from the Amazon Fire HD 8.
While the company is calling it a brand-new device, the Fire HD 8 remains largely unchanged. It retains the same design as its predecessor and there are slight hardware improvements. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Amazon isn’t competing with Apple’s iPad Pro or a Pixel Slate. This is a basic tablet running a customized version of Android (coined Fire OS). You get Alexa on board, and chances are it’ll be used for consuming content like shows from Prime Video or Netflix. Plus, it’s great for listening to music, web browsing, and even video chatting.
Special offers are a lot less discrete
The idea of selling a Fire tablet for less (supplemented by ads) is a neat idea, especially since it doesn’t interrupt the user experience.
In the end it can be a double-edged sword, since you do save some money up front, but said ads may inspire you to make more purchases down the line. It can be even worse if your shiny new tablet leads you down the path of an addictive game with in-app purchases.
One of the first things that struck me about these special offers is that they’re more in-your-face and encourage impulse purchases even more than in the past. They’re littered with bold, vibrant graphics and more explicit “buy now” or “download now” buttons.
While my unit had special offers, I could see myself paying the $15 fee to remove them. Especially if I intended to use the Fire HD 8 as an Echo Show-like device.
A basic design
The Fire HD 8 has a basic plastic design that screams cheap. Unlike other tablets that offer more grip, the HD 8 has a smooth and matte plastic back. You can get it in either black, blue, yellow, or red. I’ve been testing out the blue version, which is a dark navy. But if you’re looking for a pop of color, you should opt for the neon yellow.
Amazon also packed a rear-facing 2-megapixel camera in the left-hand corner. It seems like a strange addition for such an affordable tablet, but I’ll touch on that a bit later.
If you want an almost bezel-less tablet, you should probably stop reading now. The bezels are the first thing you’ll notice when you pick it up. They outline the 8-inch 1,280 x 800 HD display, which feels like an older-generation iPad minus the home button. The bezels are mostly there as a cost saver and to make it easier to hold the device. They also house the 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
The charging port, volume rocker, power button, and headphone jack are found on the top of the device. There are two sets of speakers on the left, and a microSD card slot on the right. The volume rocker on the top is a plus for watching a video while in landscape orientation.
Overall, it’s a comfortable tablet to hold. It doesn’t scream high-end, but at just 363 grams and 9.7 millimeters thick, it’s portable enough. I also found that watching movies and reading some news from the web browser was quite comfortable. Even better, it didn’t add too much weight to my backpack for commuting.
While the cameras got an upgrade and new features were added this time around, Amazon didn’t opt to update the processor. A 1.3GHz quad-core MediaTek still powers the Fire HD 8 2018 with 1.5GB of RAM. Simply put, it can handle the basics, but pushing it even a bit can lead to slowdown. It’s lackluster at best when it comes to gaming. (Forget about playing something like Fortnite or PUBG.) On Geekbench it scored a 530 on single core and 1,502 on multicore, which isn’t great.
Streaming Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime video should be just fine. The same goes for web browsing and light utility tasks. The processor can’t handle multiple taxing apps running at the same time, though. I had several apps crash while testing, so it’s best to play it safe.
The 8-inch HD display is still pretty basic. I would have liked to see some improvements with brightness and NIT levels, as well as the reflectiveness. For that reason, it can be hard to use outside when the sun is shining, but for watching videos indoors or in bed, you’re fine.
The speakers performed pretty well. Just be sure not to cover them up. It doesn’t get nearly as loud as an iPad Pro, but it presents a balanced mix that will be fine for a lot of people.
Go full throttle with hands-free Alexa
One welcome upgrade is hands-free Alexa, which means the Fire HD 8 is basically an Echo Show when it’s in Show Mode. So yes, at $80 you can get a cheaper Echo Show, albeit with some compromise. You’ll get a considerable amount of savings, given the $229 price tag for the second-generation Echo Show. It’s the most significant change and works pretty well.
However, leaving Alexa on can deplete your battery quickly. Moreover, while you can turn the feature on or off, Amazon says to expect a maximum of 8 hours on the 2018 version with or without Alexa. That’s down from 12 hours on the 2017 model. Heavy use will bring it a little under, but I found with Alexa on and with typical use you hit 8 hours easily.
With the feature enabled, you can talk to Alexa from the other side of the room, and the far-field microphones do a decent job. These speakers aren’t the loudest, but if you’re not an audiophile, this will remain a minor nitpick. Amazon also sells a Show Mode Dock for $39.99 that basically turns your device into an Echo Show. Bonus: It also solves the power problem as you can leave it plugged in.
If you’re hoping you can get any app your heart desires, you’ll be profoundly disappointed. Amazon is still at odds with Google, and the Google Play Store is not available on the Fire HD 8 or any Fire tablet. While you can side-load it through an APK, it’s a bit of a complicated task.
Instead, you’ll be stuck with Fire OS-compatible apps in the Amazon App Store. You’ll notice some big ones missing, especially as many developers aren’t as eager to go for this store. It usually takes a few weeks or months after they launch on iOS or Android before it arrives to Fire OS.
So, fair warning: while you can get Netflix, Hulu, and other big-name apps, indie options will be hard to find.
For media consumption and light tasks only
At the end of the day, you can’t complain much about an $80 tablet. You have a good idea of what you’re getting going in and the Fire HD 8 is a simple device. For media consumption, light tasks or casual gaming, and even using it as a kind of portable Echo Show, you’ll be fine.
However, this isn’t going to be a computer, iPad, Chrome OS, or full Android device replacement. For that, you’re better off looking at the $329 iPad or an older iPad Mini.
However, if you’re in the Amazon ecosystem with a Prime membership, you’ll get access to plenty of TV shows and movies from the get-go. Add in Kindle Unlimited, and you can do some reading. Just be sure that you’re OK with a limited app selection and performance that might be slower than you’d like.