Update: Amazon's added Drop In calling and announcement capability to the Fire HD 8's Show Mode.
Amazon has updated the Fire HD 8, but I wouldn't blame you for confusing the 2018 (8th generation) and 2017 (7th generation) versions. The newer slate comes in the same four colors, packs the same processor and offers a near-identical set of features as last year's model.
Yet, there are two key ways this model is better than last year's: Alexa can now be activated without a tap (just with your voice), and the new slate's selfie-cam is much better than before. Unfortunately, the Fire HD 8's battery life is noticeably shorter than that of last year's model. At the end of the day, though, the new slate's not just one of the best cheap tablets, but its low price makes it one of the best tablets overall.
Amazon Fire HD 8 cheat sheet: What's new, what's different
- No more taps: Fire HD 8 lets you control Alexa with just your voice.
- The 9 hours of battery life is decent, but it's less than last year's model had.
- The selfie-cam photos are a lot better.
We tested a black version of the new Fire HD 8, which is also available in hues Amazon has dubbed Marine Blue, Punch Red and Canary Yellow. The tablet's plastic chassis feels durable, and while the device's top and bottom bezels are a little chunky, its left and right sides are slimmer.
At 0.8 pounds in weight and 0.4 inches thick, the Fire HD 8 is a pretty light and slender piece of tech. The 9.7-inch Apple iPad (1.1 pounds, 0.3 inches) is both slightly heavier and slightly thinner, while the 8-inch Lenovo Tab 4 (0.7 pounds, 0.3 inches) is both lighter and thinner.
A headphone jack on the top of the Fire HD 8 allows you to listen to music and movies privately, and a microSD reader on the right of the slate lets you to expand the device's memory by up to 400GB.
The Fire HD 8, just like its siblings and predecessors, still charges over micro USB, which is starting to age poorly. I wish Amazon would consider the reversible Type-C port, as I found it hard to remember which side of the USB cable connector was up (it's the side with the circular groove); I wasted seconds figuring that out.
Watching an episode of Netflix's Ugly Delicious on the Fire HD 8, I noted decent color quality, slight pixelation and overall dullness.
As tomatoes danced in a stop-motion animation circle on a blue background, I admired the strong reds and blues, as well as the yellows of tortilla shells. Also, that image -- as well as interviews performed by famous chef/restaurateur David Chang -- appeared slightly washed out. In short, this screen is pretty good for $80, especially since consuming content is one of the most important things you do with a tablet.
According to our colorimeter, the Fire HD 8 produces 80 percent of the sRGB tablet, a score that's less than the 106 percent tablet average, as well as the ratings from the iPad (119 percent) and Tab 4 8 (90 percent).
The Fire HD 8 produces up to 307 nits of brightness, which is less than the 411-nit tablet average. The 489-nit iPad is brighter, as is the 427-nit Tab 4. The Fire's 8-inch screen is not bright enough for group viewing, though, as I saw images get cloudy and dark when I viewed the HD 8 from 30 degrees to the left or right.
Scrolling through web pages in the Silk browser in the Fire OS app switcher and swiping between home screens, I noted that the Fire HD 8's screen was plenty responsive, though its animations felt a little slow.
Software: Alexa done right
The Fire HD 8, like all Amazon tablets, runs Fire OS, the company's forked version of Android. That means the operating system looks slightly similar to what you find on most Android phones, but with a different coat of paint -- and no Google Play app store. Also, it means Amazon gets to bake in its own tricks, such as its digital assistant, Alexa, which is now voice-activated.
If you're wondering how Alexa wasn't voice-activated before, you're not alone. I'm still surprised that the 2017 Fire HD 8 shipped with tap-to-trigger Alexa, making that device more like an Echo Tap than a traditional Echo speaker.
Alexa worked well on the Fire HD 8, clearly interpreting (and correctly answering) questions about my local forecasts, suggesting nearby pizza restaurants and setting timers. I noticed a slight pause, though, between when it received questions and when it answered them.
If you're using the Fire HD 8 while you're in the same room as another Alexa-enabled device, there's one setting you'll need to understand. In Settings, under Alexa, you'll notice an option called Tablet ESP Behavior, which is followed by a lengthy, slightly confusing explanation.
Turning this setting on means Alexa triggers will activate the nearest Alexa device that isn't the Fire HD 8. One reason to enable this option is if you want Alexa to play music on a better-sounding device in your home, such as the Echo Plus, Echo Dot or Echo Show.
Also, let's talk about YouTube, or at least the limited version of it that comes on the Fire HD 8. Those who pay for YouTube Premium will be annoyed to find that the popular video platform is limited to the tablet's browser, as there's still no YouTube app for Fire OS. That means you can't watch videos in the background and you can't save clips for offline play. While Amazon doesn't get all the blame for this -- it's shared with Google -- this is still a dent in the Fire OS platform.
On Dec. 5, Amazon added Drop in and Announcements (its calling and messaging) to the Show Mode in the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10. To enable this, pull down the settings menu from the top of the screen, open settings, select Alexa and turn both Alexa and Hands-Free Mode to on. Then, 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 Fire HD 8 (powered by a quad-core, 1.3-GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM) isn't exactly speedy, but it has enough kick for casual productivity. I saw slight pauses while moving between tabs and longer, significant ones when moving between apps, such as from Netflix to the Camera app.
The Geekbench 4 general-performance test gave the Fire HD 8 a score of 1,678, which is similar to the 1,847 earned by the Tab 4 (Qualcomm MSM8917 Snapdragon 425 with 2GB of RAM). The tablet average is a higher 3,819, and the iPad (Apple A10 Fusion chip with 2GB of RAM) notched an even-higher 5,983.
The Fire HD 8 fared similarly on the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, posting 5,815, which is below the 20,120 tablet average. We saw higher scores of 37,117 from the iPad and 6,029 from the Tab 4.
I wouldn't call the Amazon Fire HD 8's battery life short, but I expected more. The Fire HD 8 lasted 9 hours and 12 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web browsing at 150 nits), which is just slightly under the 9:38 tablet average. The iPad (10:07) and Tab 4 (10:07) lasted longer.
While this time result initially shocked me -- the 2017 model lasted 10 hours and 58 minutes -- I realized that Amazon advertised the 2017 Fire HD 8 as offering "up to 12 hours" of battery life, while it pegs this year's Fire HD 8 as offering "up to 10 hours of battery life." So, our test more or less lines up with Amazon's claims.
In our review of the 2017 Fire HD 8, we noted that its 0.3-megapixel, front-facing selfie cam shot images that contained a "green cast that made human skin look sickly and that the front lens is extremely zoomed in."
This year's selfie-shooter is heaps better. The new Fire HD 8's 1.9-megapixel lens accurately captured the hue of my skin -- and included details of my quite-short stubble -- without requiring the arm stretching of yesteryear's HD 8 tablet. That clarity should come in handy during video calls, using Amazon's own Drop-In chats.
You get similar quality out of the 1.9-megapixel rear camera. When I shot a still-settling cup of nitro-based cold-brew coffee, the Fire HD 8 accurately captured the gradient created by the nitro bubbles.
Don't expect the Amazon Fire HD 8 to kick out the jams. It pumps out enough volume to fill only our smallest private office, and even then, the sound quality isn't great. Sure, I could hear the Idles lead singer, Joe Talbot, belt out the words to "Never Fight a Man with a Perm," but the song's guitar riffs and drum work weren't differentiated in this soundstage.
How much does the Amazon Fire HD 8 cost?
The Fire HD 8 starts at $79.99, for the model that has 16GB of storage, with only 9.6GB available to the user. You can increase the available storage to 23.8GB for an extra $30, with the 32GB model. For another $30, you can buy either Fire HD 8 with its Show Mode dock, which enables the tablet to function like the Echo Show.
Want to rid the Fire HD 8 of Amazon's so-called Special Offers, its ads that run on the tablet's lock screen? That'll be another $15.
The affordable Fire 8 provides decent picture quality and battery life for its price, especially when competitors cost more, with the price increases ranging from $50 (Samsung's Galaxy Tab 4) to $250 (Apple's iPad). Still, though, we're sad to see the Fire HD 8 drop nearly 2 hours in battery life from last year's model, even if the new slate's selfie cam is better and Alexa is easier to activate.
For only $50 more, you can get another hour of battery life and a brighter screen with the Lenovo Tab 4 8. Dollar for dollar, though, the Fire HD 8 is still a solid budget tablet and definitely worth considering.
Credit: Laptop Mag