Fire OS 5 aids content discovery; Good parental controls; Mayday customer support; Expandable storage
Lower-resolution display than competitors; Design feels cheap and picks up fingerprints fast; Sluggish performance
Amazon's low-price 10-inch tablet makes it easier than ever to find content, but it isn't the bargain it seems.
EDITORS' NOTE: In early December 2015, Amazon rolled out a software update that offers a host of kid-friendly features that parents will appreciate. See below for more details.
Amazon's history with hardware has been hit and miss. It perfected the e-Reader, and its Echo is a clever take on the Bluetooth speaker, but the company failed miserably with the Fire phone. The Fire HD 10 is more miss than hit. While this Android tablet is a fairly affordable $229 and offers a more refined Fire OS, its cheap-feeling design, low-resolution display and sluggish performance make it feel a generation behind other budget slates.
At a time when other major tablet makers such as Samsung are migrating to a 4:3 aspect ratio (much like the iPad), the Fire HD 10 uses a wider 16:10 format that's better for watching movies, but not as good for productivity tasks. No matter -- this is a tablet meant for consumption, not creation.
Judging by the placement of the front and rear cameras -- as well as the massive silver Amazon logo on the back -- the Fire HD 10 is meant to be held primarily in portrait mode. Yet, both speakers are on one of the long ends, so if you're listening to something when holding the tablet vertically, the sound will only come from one side. Regardless of how I held it, though, the shiny black back quickly picked up fingerprints.
Both the power and the volume rocker sit on the top edge when the unit is in portrait mode. In landscape mode, they're easily reachable by your right index finger, but your thumb will completely block the front-facing Web camera, which is located on the middle of one of the short sides.
However, the Fire HD 10 is one of the lightest 10-inch tablets on the market. At just 15.2 ounces, it's lighter than both the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 and the Acer Iconia Tab 10 A3, which both weigh around 1.1 pounds.
The Fire HD 10 runs Fire OS 5, the latest version of Amazon's take on Android. This customized interface is designed to surface not only content you own, but also music, movies, books and apps that Amazon thinks would appeal to you. While it's a nice level of personalization, it feels like the main goal of Amazon's tablet is to get you to buy more stuff. Oddly, Amazon recommended three different versions of a book I had already downloaded.
Across the top of the Home screen a search bar brings up results from the Web, Amazon and whatever content you have.
Below that is a row of categories: Recent, Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audiobooks and Newsstand. Swiping right or left brings you to each category, and shows you icons of that type of content -- items that you own, and ones recommended to you by Amazon based on your habits.
Word Runner is a new feature that displays the text of a book one word at a time in the center of the screen. You can adjust the speed at which words appear, and Word Runner will automatically slow down for longer words and punctuation. I found this feature too jarring. It was like running outside versus running on a treadmill; it forced me into a set rhythm, instead of allowing me to read at a natural, albeit more irregular, pace. Plus, having each word flash abruptly on-screen disrupted the smooth flow between words that occurs when you can see the entire text of a page.
Overall, I found Fire OS to be better than ever for searching through all my Amazon stuff, but there are still aspects of the interface that feel dated when compared to regular Android. For example, when you swipe down from the top to reveal quick settings, they awkwardly take up a small section of the center of the screen.
Apps and Amazon Content
As it runs a type of Android, the Fire HD is compatible with most Android apps. However, you have to go through Amazon's app store, and not Google Play. Still, I was able to find almost all of the most popular apps, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, Google apps, such as YouTube, are not available.
Amazon Underground is the edgy moniker the company gave to a feature that essentially gives you free stuff. A number of games and apps, as well as in-app purchases, are free to Amazon tablet owners, and have the somewhat cloying label "Actually Free." I counted 774 such titles in the store, which spanned the gamut from Farming Simulator 14 to a game called It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. However, these deals are also available to any Android device owner who downloads the Underground store app.
The real benefit of owning the Fire HD 10 -- or any Amazon hardware, for that matter -- comes with its integration with Amazon content, especially if you're a Prime member. With the membership ($99 per year), you get unlimited access to tens of thousands of movies and TV shows, around a million or so songs, and 800,000 books. Prime members can also share videos with other family members -- even on Android and iOS devices.
A new feature called On Deck (not yet released at the time of this review), will automatically download Prime videos and the first episodes of Amazon Original Series when the tablet isn't in use.
Parental Controls and FreeTime
Like previous Amazon tablets, the Fire HD 10 has the most comprehensive parental control software found on any tablet. Once enabled, you can not only limit the type of content your child can view, but also set limits on how long and the time of day the child can access that content. You can also block your kid from using features such as the cameras, email and sharing via social media.
The parental controls even let you block different types of content, and password protect purchases, video playback and location services. And, you can set up profiles for up to four children, each with their own privacy settings.
FreeTime Unlimited is Amazon's kid-friendly subscription service. For $4.99 per month for a single child, or $9.99 for a family plan, you get unlimited access to books, apps, movies and TV shows. This service is broken down into two categories: ages 3 to 5 and ages 6 to 8.
A new update to Fire OS 5 brings with it a new kid-friendly browser that features more than 40,000 curated, age-appropriate YouTube videos and websites, which parents can customize further. Amazon also revamped its parental-notifications section for FreeTime, which the company now calls Activity Center. Through a tablet, smartphone or PC, parents will be able to see not only how much time kids are reading, playing or watching videos on the Fire tablets, but also what books, videos and games the kids are using. Last but not least, the Blue Shade mode makes reading at night easier on the eyes.
Amazon's high-tech customer support, Mayday, lets you chat via video with a customer representative, with whom you can share your tablet's screen. The representative can then walk you through any issues you may have with the tablet. However, the Fire HD lacks a dedicated Mayday button, which appears on Amazon's more premium HDX tablets. Instead, you have to open the Help menu, select your issue from a few drop-down menus, and then ask to be contacted via email or phone.
Display and Audio
Considering Amazon gave this tablet the "HD" moniker, I was disappointed to learn that its 10.1-inch display has a resolution of just 1280 x 800. By comparison, less expensive tablets such as the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 and the Acer Iconia Tab 10 both have 1920 x 1200-pixel displays.
Still, a 720p version of The Dark Knight looked very good. I was impressed with the color fidelity, and didn't see many artifacts in the darker scenes.
The screen's brightness of 370 nits was on a par with the Lenovo (380 nits) and the Acer (369 nits). Its Delta-E score of 1.21 means that the colors were more accurate on the Fire than the Lenovo (2.4) and the Acer (3.1) -- numbers closer to 0 are better.
The dual speakers on the bottom of the Fire HD 10 (in landscape mode) produced excellent sound. The soundtrack, dialogue and explosions in The Dark Knight resonated clearly and loudly. However, "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon sounded compressed, with little separation between the instruments and vocals.
The quad-core MediaTek processor and 1GB of RAM in the Fire HD 10 worked well enough when doing single tasks, but couldn't stand up to more strenuous activity. When downloading a movie in the background, it would take about a half-second for the tablet to register that I'd pressed the Home button, and then another second before I was brought back to the Home screen.
Even when nothing else was open, the tablet felt sluggish. It took nearly 3 seconds to open the camera app, and switching between menus, or opening recommendations in the app store took longer than expected. When I was playing Ultimate Robot Fighting, the game would occasionally freeze for a split second in the middle of a battle.
Benchmark tests bore out my experience. The Fire HD 10's multicore score of 1,514 on Geekbench, which measures overall performance, was about 1,100 points lower than the average tablet. The Lenovo Tab 2 A10, which also has a MediaTek processor, but 2GB of RAM, scored a much higher 2,371.
On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi at 150 nits), the Fire HD 10 lasted 9 hours and 5 minutes. While that's better than Amazon's own claim of 8 hours, the Acer Iconia Tab (7:57) and the average tablet (8:48), the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 lasted an excellent 12 hours.
The rear 5-MP camera on the Fire HD 10 produced worse images than you'll find on budget smartphones.
The white fur in an indoor photo of my cat was blown out, and other colors in the picture had a dull, washed-out quality. Enabling HDR mode did little to improve the image, and it took an excruciating 3 seconds to capture a single shot.
Photos from the front-facing 720p camera were rife with grain -- it was almost as if I had added a pixelating filter. Plus, its location on the short side (in landscape mode) made it difficult to angle the tablet.
My review unit of the Fire HD 10 costs $229, and comes with 16GB of storage (of which 11GB are available to the user). For $30 more, you can purchase a version with 32GB of storage. Regardless of the capacity, I like that the Fire HD 10 has a microSD card slot, which you can use to expand the storage by as much as 128GB. The Fire HD 10 comes in black or white.
Like other Amazon tablets and e-readers, the Fire HD 10 comes with sponsored lock screens -- advertisements for products. Removing these costs $15, and can only be done by calling customer service post-purchse.This removal option is available only on the black version of the tablet.
There are inexpensive tablets, and there are cheap tablets. A chintzy design, low-resolution display, lackluster cameras and sluggish performance make the Amazon Fire 10 feel less than the sum of its parts. For less money, the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 has a higher-resolution screen, better design and much longer battery life. If you don't want to risk your kid destroying your iPad, the Fire HD 10 and its parental-control software could be a good alternative. But if you're merely looking for a low-cost tablet, there are better options in this price range.
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|CPU||1.5 GHz MediaTek quad-core|
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||1280 x 800|
|OS||Fire OS 5|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||720P|
|Ports||3.5mm audio jack|
|Card Reader Size||128GB|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||10.3 x 6.3 x 0.3 inches|