Consumers looking for an affordable media tablet may be familiar with Amazon's Fire line, which has always offered low prices, but often with trade-offs such as poor performance. Amazon's new Fire HD 8 changes this story, as under-the-hood upgrades make it an even better deal than prior models. Once $150, the Fire HD 8 now starts at $90, and it comes with twice as much storage as before, moving from 8GB to 16GB.
The Fire HD 8 is supposed to mark the arrival of digital assitant Alexa, but that's not happening immediately (it's due "in the coming months"). Still, the company's 8-inch slate is worthy of your attention, even with small issues like poor color output and a lack of native Google apps. With its terrific battery life and improved performance, the Fire HD 8 is a solid tablet and a great deal.
The Fire HD 8 comes in black, blue and magenta as well as the tangerine color on the unit we reviewed. While the slate has a plastic back, it feels solid and reliable, and that shell only flexed slightly when I applied modest pressure.
Weighing 12 ounces and measuring 0.4 inches thick, the Fire HD 8 is lighter and thinner than the bumper-guarded Amazon Fire Kids (14.3 ounces, 1 inch) and lighter than the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (17.6 ounces, 0.4 inches). The $50 Amazon Fire (11 ounces, 0.4 inches) is a similar size.
The tablet's 3.5-millimeter headphone jack and microUSB port sit on its top edge, next to the volume and power buttons. Amazon placed the tablet's 0.3-megapixel selfie camera in the middle of its top bezel, its 2.0-MP rear shooter on the top left corner of its back and its stereo speakers on the left side.
The Fire HD 8's 1280x800-pixel panel isn't impressive, but it's good for the price. I got the best output using apps such as Amazon Prime Video to watch Mr. Robot and Netflix to watch Jessica Jones. These apps offer clear image quality -- much better than I anticipated from a sub-1080p display -- but unfortunately dull colors that appeared undersaturated in everything from dramas to cartoons. For example, when I watched an episode of the cartoon Creative Galaxy, the bright green main character and his purple friend both appeared dull and lifeliess.
Unfortunately, watching the Rogue One: A Star Wars Story trailer on YouTube in Amazon's Silk browser (more on that later) was not a good experience. The clip was so pixilated that I could barely make out what was going on in darker scenes, such as when Felicity Jones talks to Forrest Whitaker and the war-room debate. It's a shame that you can't get the YouTube app on Amazon devices.>
According to our colorimeter, the Fire HD 8 can reproduce 78 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's better than the $50 Amazon Fire (67 percent) and the Amazon Fire Kids (69 percent), but worse than the Tab 2 A10 and the average tablet (both 94 percent).>
What colors it can produce, the Fire HD 8 outputs accurately, scoring a 0.9 on the Delta-E test (lower is better). That beats the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (2.4), the Amazon Fire Kids and $50 Amazon Fire (both 1.4) and the average tablet (2.5).>
The Fire HD 8 is also quite bright for a tablet, emitting up to 411 nits (a measure of brightness). That means it outshines the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (380 nits), the $50 Amazon Fire (284 nits), the Amazon Fire Kids (296 nits) and the average tablet (361 nits).>
The two speakers on the left side of the Fire HD 8 produce enough volume to fill a small-to-medium-sized conference room with an OK reproduction of Rihanna's "Needed Me." The speakers emitted the song's already-distorted bass accurately, and Rihanna's vocals came through clearly, though not as strong as I'd prefer.
Amazon's Fire tablets run the Fire OS, a customized version of Android. This means you'll see some of the hallmarks of Google's operating system, such as the software navigation buttons, but the rest of the interface is different.
Rather than placing icons in a somewhat random order over a series of home screens, Fire OS allows you to swipe left and right to move between categorized content. It starts with Recent apps and the home screen, which looks a lot like the All Apps view in Android.
Swiping left from the home screen, you'll see Amazon and Amazon Prime content organized by type. Prime subscribers will love this easy way to find the books, games, apps, music and audiobooks.
The Fire HD 8's quad-core 1.3 GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM provide enough speed for casual use and media consumption. I saw only momentary pauses when I navigated between 12 tabs in the Silk browser and moved between Jetpack Joyride, the camera app and the Appstore app.
The Fire HD 8 app scored a 1,929 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, which puts it ahead of the Amazon Fire (1,158) and Fire Kids (1,172) tablets, as well as the 2015 Fire HD 8 (1,518). The Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (2,371) and the average slate (2,833) earned higher marks.>
The Fire HD 8 also got a subpar score on the Ice Storm Unlimited graphics benchmark, earning a 5,975. That bests the $50 Amazon Fire (4,494), but falls below the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (9,282) and the category average (16,971). However, the Jetpack Joyride side-scroller and the Asphalt 8 racing game ran relatively smoothly, as I saw only minor amounts of stutter that didn't make the games less playable.
Past Amazon Fire tablets have suffered from terrible battery life, but HD 8 owners won't need to worry about constantly charging the slate. The Fire HD 8 lasted 11 hours and 19 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), which is 3 hours more than the 2015 Fire HD 8. That time trounces those posted by the $50 Amazon Fire (6:30), the Amazon Fire Kids (6:42) and the average tablet (8:58).
Features & Parental Controls
Amazon advertised its digital assistant Alexa as a major new feature for the Fire HD 8, but the assistant isn't here yet. What we do know is that it will be activated by tapping on the screen and not speaking aloud. This is likely to prevent multiple activations in households containing Amazon's speakers and slates.
Fire OS's Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) technology predicts what you'll want to watch and primes those movies and TV episodes from the company's service in the background so they're ready for you to watch instantly.
The Fire HD 8 is also getting ready for those moments when you don't have internet access, as the On Deck feature downloads Prime Video (as long as you're a Prime member) when you're not using the tablet. This way there's always something ready for your children to watch on a road trip when they get grumpy.
X-Ray enables users to tap on the screen while enjoying Prime music, e-books and video to see more information about what's on their display. That means no trying to name that actor, guess those lyrics or look up that definition, so you can move along, enjoying your content.
If you're buying a tablet with the intent to share it with a large family, you'll likely appreciate the robust parental controls. All Fire tablets allow for two adult Amazon accounts and four children's accounts for the Fire, allowing you to set content restrictions for individual children.
Each user can have his or her own apps and other content as well, so nobody's arguing about who added or deleted what. By default, children profiles doesn't have access to the Silk browser, email, contacts, social apps or the camera, but they can use the kid-friendly FreeTime browser that allows you to restrict content and time limits.
Amazon recently revamped its parental controls view, which the company now calls Activity Center. Parents can open this view on a tablet, smartphone or PC to see how much time kids are spending reading, gaming or watching videos on the Fire tablets, as well as what content is being viewed.
OS & Apps
Amazon doesn't offer the largest variety of apps in its online store, but the freebies in its Underground store attempt to compensate. Amazon's Appstore app features 600,000 titles, a fraction of the 2.2 million found in the Google Play store. The Appstore offers must-have apps such as Netflix, Spotify, Minecraft and Pocket, but some standards are still missing.
Those MIA apps include Google's own apps, such as Gmail, Google Docs and YouTube. You can access those services in the Silk browser, but those are cut-rate versions missing certain features, such as offline editing in Google Docs and the option to change resolution in YouTube.
Like all Fire tablets, the HD 8 provides Amazon Underground, an app store with thousands of free apps, games, and even in-app purchases. Those gratis apps include the normally $4 image-editor Facetune and up to $30 in in-app purchases from Jetpack Joyride.
We already expect little from the average webcam, so I was surprised that the Fire HD 8's 0.3-megapixel front and 2.0-MP rear shooters found a way to disappoint me. Not only does the selfie camera shoot grainy images, but its lens is too-zoomed in, forcing me to hold the tablet far away to capture my whole head and some of the background.
Video I shot on a Manhattan sidewalk with the rear lens contained accurate colors for yellow cabs, blue post office boxes and red buses, but the footage looked shaky, even though I did my best to steady the tablet.
The entry-level Fire HD 8 packs 16GB of storage and costs $90, and you can double its storage by opting for the $120 32GB model. If you want to get rid of the ads on the tablet's lock screen -- which even showed me a promotion for a game I'd already installed -- it costs an extra $15.
Amazon took last year's Fire HD 8, fixed its performance issues and added three more hours of battery life. Not only is it arguably the best mid-size Amazon tablet, but the company's decisions to cut the price and double its storage make it an even more alluring purchase.
If you truly need Google's apps and can spend $60 more, check out the Lenovo Tab 2 A10, a fast tablet with even better battery life. Overall, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a solid media consumption device and a great value for individuals and families on a budget.
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|CPU||Quad-Core 1.3 GHz|
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type||Flash Memory|
|Display Resolution||1280 x 800|
|OS||Fire OS 5|
|Camera Resolution||2 MP|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||0.3MP|
|Ports||3.5mm audio jack|
|Card Reader Size||128GB|
|Warranty / Support||90-day Limited Warranty and service included.|
|Size||8.4 x 5.0 x 0.4 inches|