Dec. 5 Update: Amazon hasn't forgotten about the 2017 Fire HD 8 tablet, adding Drop In calling and Announcements to the slate's Show Mode.
If you need a bare-bones media tablet that won't break the bank, then the Amazon Fire HD 8 with Alexa is perfect for you. This refreshed model has Amazon's Alexa AI assistant on board and continues to offer great battery life and fairly smooth performance. The lack of Google apps such as Gmail and the Chrome browser is a drawback, but with a starting price of $80, this 8-inch tablet is hard to beat for your entertainment needs.
Design: Similar but colorful
This year's version of the Fire HD 8 comes in Black, Canary Yellow, Marine Blue (the unit I'm reviewing) and Punch Red. These brightly colored shells coupled with moderate-sized bezels give the device a youthful appearance that can show off your personality. Meanwhile, the Fire HD's matte plastic back is easy to grip and makes this tablet feel durable.
Just like its predecessor, the Fire HD 8 weighs 13 ounces and measures 8.4 x 5.0 x .4 inches, maintaining the tablet's lighter and thinner stature compared to the bumper-guarded Fire 7 (13.8 oz and 1-inch thick) and Fire HD 8 Kids Editions (17.6 oz and 1 -inch).
Key features sit at the top of the of the Fire HD 8, such as the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, micro USB port, volume control and power button. A 0.3-megapixel selfie camera is smack dab in the middle of the top bezel, while a 2MP rear camera is located on the colorful shell's right corner. A pair of stereo speakers resides on the Fire HD 8's left side, and a microSD slot is on the right for expandable storage options.
Display: Middle of the road
The Fire HD 8's 1280 x 800-resolution (189 ppi) screen is acceptable for the price. When I watched a few videos on YouTube, I noticed channels, like Fine Brothers Entertainment and BuzzFeedVideo, that produce higher-quality visual content looked decent in portrait view, but the sharpness degraded significantly in landscape and full-screen modes.
However, screening videos from premium streaming services seemed to go a lot smoother. The Fashion Fund on Amazon Prime Video and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix each offered clearer image quality compared to streaming from a browser. Unfortunately, colors appear dull even at maximum brightness. For example, Disney's visually stunning Moana lost its lustrous aquamarine ocean and lush green foliage when I rewatched the movie.
Despite having a muted display, the Fire HD 8's screen reproduced 79.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, a result that's comparable to that of the new Fire 7 with Alexa. This isn't much next to what higher-end tablets like the Asus ZenPad 3S 10 (113) and Apple iPad (123) produce, but the Fire HD 8's visuals are decent for device that sells for a fraction of the price.
However, the Fire HD 8 makes up what it lacks in reproduction with its color accuracy, scoring 0.15 on our Delta-E test (lower is better). Last year's HD 8 scored a 0.9, but Amazon has consistently done better with color accuracy. The Fire 7 with Alexa scored a 0.20, while 2015's Amazon Fire Kids Edition scored 1.36 and the average tablet is around 3.23.
The Fire HD 8 also did well in our brightness test, emitting up to 380 nits. Again, last year's model scored higher, with 411 nits, but the HD 8 still performed better than the Fire 7 with Alexa (335), 2015's Amazon Fire Kids (296) and the tablet category average (365 nits).
Audio Atmos enabled
With dual Dolby Atmos stereo speakers at each end of the tablet's left side, the Fire HD 8 produced reasonable volume. The BTS "WINGS" album was able to fill a medium-sized bedroom with decent reproduction, but there was a bit of distortion in the bass and vocals. Plugging in earbuds resolved some of these faults.
There's a built-in microphone at the very top of the Fire HD 8. If you're filming video or trying to give Alexa instructions, make sure your Fire tablet is pointing in the right direction. I shot a few short videos to see how the microphone picks up sound, and the playback sounded accurate.
Interface: Easy access to Amazon stuff, but...
The Fire HD 8 runs Amazon's own Fire operating system, which is really a customized version of Android. This means you'll see similarities to some of Google's OS but won't have access to Google apps such as Docs and Gmail, though you can still reach these through Amazon's Silk browser.
With the Fire OS, you can swipe through app icons and categorized content in a series of screens aptly titled Recent, Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audible and Newsstand. Beside these titles is a Library icon that connects you to all your purchased Amazon content.
The screen's top left corner contains a small notifications section for your device. Below it, there's a search bar to help you find apps, downloaded content and web-search queries. At the very bottom of the screen lie back, home/unlock and overview buttons.
Performance: Decent for the price
With a quad-core 1.3-GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM, the Fire HD 8 provides modest speed for most of your media needs. I experienced some hiccups when I navigated among multiple tabs in the Silk browser, Kindle app and Netflix, but even with all this running, the Fire HD 8 still worked pretty well.
The new Fire HD 8 scored 1,785 on the Geekbench 3 app, which measures overall performance. This was a surprising number, since last year's Fire HD 8 scored 1,929. Though Amazon's latest HD Fire tablet scores lower than its prior versions, the difference falls within the margin of error and performs at a decent pace.
Amazon's 8-inch tablet also turned in an underwhelming score of 6,015 on the Ice Storm Unlimited Graphics test. That's better than last year's model, which earned a 5,975, and Amazon's 2017 Amazon Fire 7 score of 4,640, but it's nowhere near the showings by premium tablets like the Asus ZenPad 3S 10 (14124) or Apple iPad (28,399). But again, this is an $80 tablet we're talking about. The Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius game played smoothly, with minimal stutter, and this was while I had 10 Silk browser tabs open in the background.
Battery Life: Nearly 11 hours of power
The Fire HD 8 offers very good endurance. The tablet lasted an impressive 10 hours and 58 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous web surfing at 150 nits). The latest Amazon Fire 7 with Alexa turned in a run time of only 6:53, while the average tablet lasts 8:58
Features: Alexa and more
Amazon's digital assistant, Alexa, is the star of the Fire HD 8. Once Alexa is enabled, you access it via the home button. You can use the assistant to play your favorite music library, receive weather and news updates, get answers to questions, create lists, and control all sorts of Alexa-enabled smart-home gadgets.
The Fire HD 8 supports multiple user profiles at the same time, which is helpful if you need to share your tablet with family members. Each user has his or her own apps and content, so you don't have to worry about a relative reading your email or deleting your favorite game. Up to two adults and four children can be added to a single Fire tablet. Those wary about sharing a tablet with their children can monitor usage, restrict content and set access hours with the Fire HD 8's parental controls.
Fire OS is pretty intuitive when it comes to media consumption. The Advanced Streaming and Prediction technology makes recommendations on what content you'll want to look at next within Amazon's many media services, and there's an On Deck feature (for Prime members) that downloads Amazon Prime Video for off-line viewing, which is extremely helpful. This makes for less boring commutes and errand runs. Another cool feature is the X-Ray tab that shows up on the top left of the screen and contains IMDb information for all music, e-books and videos you purchase through Amazon Prime.
OS and Apps
Amazon's Fire OS is a version of Android, but it has a completely different interface and app store. Amazon offers a smaller number of apps (600,000) than Google Play (over 2.8 million), but the Fire HD 8's Amazon Underground feature attempts to remedy this with free apps, games and in-app purchases. Amazon Underground includes popular "must-have" apps like Spotify, Candy Crush, Facebook and many more.
And some of these free apps are pretty cool, like TextMe, which turns your tablet into a working smartphone over Wi-Fi. It even includes a uniquely assigned phone number if you don't already have one. There's also Photo Studio, an Android photo editor that can help you get your pictures Instagram ready.
Unlike other Android devices, you won't be able to download Google apps, such as Chrome, Gmail, Drive or YouTube. In lieu of Chrome, Amazon offers its Silk browser, which you can use to access Google programs. But Google's mobile site views aren't as expansive as their app or desktop versions. For example, the mobile version of Docs won't allow off-line editing through the Silk browser, nor will you be able to change the resolution of YouTube videos. But if you're able to survive without the use of Google apps, then you're good to go.
On Dec. 5, Amazon added Drop in and Announcements (its proprietary communication modes) to the Show Mode in the Fire HD 8. You'll first have to enable those settings on your own: pull down the menu from the top of the screen, open Settings, tap Alexa and turn on both Alexa and Hands-Free Mode. Next, select Communications and turn Calling and Messaging on. Set Drop In to On for permitted contacts and/or 'My Household' and turn select Announcements and toggle that option to Enabled.
The cameras on the Amazon Fire HD 8 aren't the best. The rear-facing camera is just 2 megapixels and shoots HD video in 720p, while the front camera snaps 0.3-MP shots. Combined, these specs resulted in grainy photos and shaky video. The colors also looked off, with a green cast that made human skin look sickly. And if you want to take selfies, you'll find that the front lens is extremely zoomed in; you'll have to extend your arm a bit to get a shot of your whole face.
The new Fire HD 8's 16GB model is available for $80, but if you don't want to see ads on your lock screen, it'll cost you an additional $15. Or you can double your storage with the $110 32GB configuration. Again, if you want to get rid of those ads, you'll have to shell out $125 for some privacy. Note that both models feature microSD slots that let you expand your storage by up to 256GB.
Amazon took last year's Fire HD 8 and simply rolled out Alexa and a few new colors. And that's not a bad thing, because the previous version was already an excellent value. Overall, the Fire HD 8 is a solid midsized, no-frills tablet. If you want further savings, you can try out the new $50 Fire 7 with Alexa, but we prefer the HD 8, because it offers 4 hours more of battery life.
Shoppers who require a more robust tablet should look towards the $329 Apple iPad (best for apps) or Asus ZenPad 3S 10 (great audio). But if you're on a budget and don't mind skipping Google's apps, the Fire HD 8 is the best tablet for under $100.
Credit: Laptop Mag
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