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 has never had an 8-inch tablet in its lineup before, but going big makes sense now, given that phones keep getting larger. For a starting price of just $149, the HD 8 comes in multiple colors and features new Fire OS software that provides personalized content recommendations. However, Amazon cut more corners than it should have in terms of the display and performance.
While I appreciate Amazon's break from the average black-backed tablet by wrapping the Fire HD 8 in playful colors, the plastic shell felt a bit cheap. My review unit was an attractive magenta, but the tablet also comes in blue or tangerine (as well as the traditional black).
The rectangular slate (8.4 x 5 x 0.3 inches) is a little longer and thinner than the average tablet, due to the screen's 16:10 widescreen aspect ratio for a more immersive movie experience. The iPad mini 2 measures 7.9 x 5.3 x 0.29 inches. The Fire HD 8's 11 ounces is on a par with the iPad mini 2 (11.7 ounces), Asus ZenPad S 8 (10.56 ounces) and the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 (11.2 ounces).
A thin bezel surrounds the 8-inch screen, with a 5-megapixel camera on top, backside. Two Dolby Atmos speakers sit along the left edge, when the tablet is in portrait mode, while a covered microSD slot is on the top right edge. Otherwise, all the buttons and ports are on the top edge. That includes the power button, up and down volume buttons, a micro USB power port and a headphone jack.
The placement of the speakers and volume controls reinforces the idea that this tablet was designed with video consumption in mind in landscape mode. If you hold the tablet in portrait mode, which volume button raises the sound level and which lowers it gets a bit confusing.
The low 1280 x 800-pixel resolution on the Fire HD 8's 8-inch screen makes sense, considering the budget $149 starting price. The $129 Lenovo Tab 2 A8 has the same resolution. But the more expensive $199 Asus ZenPad S 8 and the $269 Apple iPad mini 2 offer a much crisper 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution.
Still, for a device intended for content and video consumption, the low-res screen does this tablet a disservice. While the sand-filled, orange skies and post-apocalyptic vehicles in a 720p version of Mad Max: Fury Road looked exciting enough, the details of Max's tattooed back were a bit fuzzy. A trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy looked even worse. The device struggled to render parts of Chris Pratt's jacket, showing pixelated squares from time to time. However, at nearly 90 degrees, I saw no color reversal, so two people could easily watch.
Reproducing 82.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, the Fire HD 8 shows fewer colors than the average slate (90 percent). The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 showed 94 percent, while the ZenPad S 8 displayed 91.7 percent. However, what colors the Fire HD 8 does show are pretty accurate, with a Delta-E error rating of 0.76 (lower is better). The ZenPad scored 6.7 and the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 was 5.3.
The 8-inch display is made with Gorilla Glass, which is designed to be more durable than the average screen. Amazon claims its HD tablets were two times more durable than the latest generation of iPad Air tablets. The tablet feels solid, but we're curious about how well the plastic back would stand up to the sidewalk.
As long as you're holding the Fire HD 8 to face you, the dual Dolby Atmos speakers put out plenty of sound, provided the volume is all the way up. When it was facing away from me, though, I struggled to make out the lyrics to Regina Spektor's "Samson." Her breathy vocals sounded warm and full when the tablet was pointed toward me. While the bass could have been stronger on Mark Ronson's Uptown Funk, the horns brightly piped away.
Amazon tablets, including the Fire HD 8, run the new Fire OS 5. It's a skin of Android, but doesn't look anything like normal Android. The biggest change in the newest version, other than the overall look, is the prominent Amazon recommendations for content you might like, based on previous searches.
In the new design, across the top are pronounced tabs for Recent, Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audiobooks and Newsstand. Each of those opens a section dedicated to that content, driven by the company's recommendation engine, which draws heavily on Amazon Prime.
For instance, in the Books section, the top of the screen shows the most recent four items added to my library. Below that are five recommendations from Kindle Unlimited, above even more Amazon recommendations. Based on my recent searches for the Amazon Echo, all the recommendations were related to ones I made via the smart speaker, which didn't come out of left field. Its music recommendations were actually spot on, offering up Motley Crue, Santana and Sinead O'Connor.
With Fire OS 5, Amazon added Word Runner to help you read e-books faster by keeping your eyes center screen -- words appear on the screen at an adjustable pace -- rather than making your eyes roam from left to right on a line. While effective at speeding up my reading, I found myself nervous about blinking, fearing I'd miss a few crucial words in a line. But by tapping the screen I could pause the scrolling list of words and rewind.
Amazon also lets Fire tablet owners share a family library, linking your account with your spouse's so you can easily share apps, games, videos, audiobooks and e-books. That's helpful, since the tablet only comes with 8GB or 16GB options. Our 16GB review unit offers 11.65GB of usable space. You can add up to 128GB of storage via a microSD card -- something the iPad mini can't do -- but the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 can. Amazon offers unlimited cloud storage for Prime members.
Thanks to a technology called ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction), Amazon movies and TV episodes adapt to your viewing habits so the tablet can predict which movies you might want to watch. The tablet instantly pulled up Mad Max: Fury Road when I tapped the screen.
Amazon says that it will release another similar feature called On Deck later this fall. That will automatically download Prime Videos (assuming you're a Prime member) and the first episodes of Amazon Original Series while the tablet is idle, so there's always engaging videos already queued up and ready to watch. It will delete videos as new space is necessary.
The Fire HD 8 comes preloaded with the Amazon Appstore, which defaults to the Amazon Underground version of the store. The Amazon Appstore is a curated version of Google Play, which means a smaller selection. I found most of my must-haves, including Facebook, Spotify, Evernote, Netflix and Monument Valley. But you won't find some standards such as Instagram or Google Drive.
All told, you'll have access to 300,000 apps, and through the Underground, more than $10,000 worth of those normally paid items are free, including in-app purchases. Getting Heads Up for free, including all in-app upgrades, was a nice bonus, but any Android user can also get the Underground version of the store by going to www.amazon.com/underground.
Amazon's Fire HD 8 offers quad-core MediaTek processing power via two 1.5-GHz cores and two 1.2-GHz cores. The purpose of the split is to load balance and increase power efficiency. But those CPUs are backed up by just 1GB of RAM. The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 is powered by the same chips. The ZenPad S 8 uses a quad-core, 1.3-GHz Intel Atom Z3580 chip. The iPad mini 2 has a 2.3-GHz A7 chip.
On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the Fire HD 8 score of 1,518 is worse than its competitors and the tablet average (2,471). The Lenovo also performed worse than the average (1,781), while the two-year-old iPad mini 2 was faster (2,519). The Asus ZenPad S8 was the top performer at 2,858.
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Games, such as Monument Valley, ran smoothly with no lag. However, it did take a noticeable second to load books and apps. Switching the camera from front facing to rear took three taps, and about a second. Snapping a picture took about a second as well.
On the 3DMark graphics performance test, the Fire HD 8's score of 10,159 is nearly double the Lenovo Tab 2 A8's score (4,959). But it still lags behind the iPad mini 2 (14,128), the Asus ZenPad S 8 (13,041) and the tablet average of 18,974.
The Fire HD 8 comes with Amazon FreeTime. These advanced parental controls encourage kids to read and keeps them away from potentially dangerous sites. You can also limit how long and at what time of day your child uses the tablet, or specific features of the tablet, which works seamlessly.
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.
Helpfully, Amazon offers tech support directly through its HD tablets via a service called Mayday. It lets you chat with a live person over a video feed. That customer representative can share your tablet's screen and write on it to indicate how to solve your problem. However, they cannot see you.
Integration with Other Amazon Devices
For Amazon die-hards, the Fire HD 8 offers some additional functionality, assuming you own a Fire TV and/or an Amazon Echo. With Second Screen you can turn your Fire TV into the primary screen for watching a movie, while your tablet shows you X-Ray information about the film. It worked seamlessly in my New York apartment. Second Screen is also available for PlayStation 3 and 4 owners.
The Amazon Echo can also communicate with the Fire HD 8, but the voice recognition can be a bit finicky. You must know the precise name of your tablet, which you can change in Settings under Device Options. By default, Amazon preloaded Anna's 4th Fire as the name of this device.
Asking Amazon's Alexa voice service to send the date and time for the next Kansas City Chiefs game to my Fire HD 8 tablet didn't work. But when I simply said to send it to my tablet, when she asked if she should send it to my Fire tablet, she specifically asked about my 4th Fire. I said yes, and a notification appeared with the information. However, that seems to indicate more of a problem with the Echo's voice recognition than the tablet.
The 5-MP rear camera on the Fire HD 8 didn't produce particularly sharp pictures. Purple mums popped on a sunny fall day, but the words on a barrier of a nearby bar are fuzzy around the edges.
It was difficult to catch a still shot of a cat just waking up because it took so long for the shutter to snap the indoor shot. Her fur wasn't particularly well defined.
The 720p front camera produced one of the grainiest selfies ever, offering very little detail. The strands of my curls mushed together and my acne just looked like pink splotches.
The Lenovo Tab 2 A8 also offers a 5-MP rear camera, which we found very sharp. It also offers a 2-MP front camera that comes with a feature called Face Beauty Mode for automatic retouching. We also had no complaints about the iPad mini 2's 5-MP rear and 720p front cameras, citing both as clear and crisp.
Amazon claims the Fire HD 8 should last for 8 hours on a charge. If that proves true on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, that would be below the 8:48 tablet average. By comparison, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 lasted 11 hours and 32 minutes on a charge and the iPad Mini 2 lasted 11:06. However, the Asus ZenPad S 8 lasted just 6:47. (Editors' Note: We will update this review when we have full battery test results.)
I'm all for functional tablets that don't cost a fortune. However, I expect those budget-friendly slates to live up to a bare minimum of standards. The Fire HD 8 misses the mark, due to a low-resolution display, sluggish performance and a cheap overall design. Alternatively, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8, which has similar specs, lasts longer on a charge, costs less and performs better. The one thing that might turn heads back to Amazon's 8-inch tablet is its tight integration with Amazon's content. But since you can access most of that on any Android tablet, the Fire HD 8 doesn't have a lot to recommend it.
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||1280 x 800|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||720P|
|Ports||3.5mm audio jack|
|Card Reader Size||128GB|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||8.4 x 5 x 0.3 inches|