Update: Amazon's added its Drop In and Announcement messaging to the Show Mode in the Fire HD 10.
An old adage claims that bigger is better, but is the Amazon Fire HD 10 -- the company's biggest tablet -- Amazon's best slate yet? While its 10.1-inch Full HD display makes it one of the best cheap tablets you can buy, it's also the most expensive Fire, costing three times as much as the Fire 7 and $70 more than the Fire HD 8 (which lasts longer on a single charge). However, Amazon addicts who stream from Prime video all the time will be happy that they've now got a screen worthy of being on our Best Tablets page that's also worth their money.
The Fire HD 10's matte shell -- which comes in black, orange and blue -- is made of a plastic that feels far more reliable than it looks. Amazon says its tumble tests prove that the device is more durable than the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but we're not sure who else would compare this $150 tablet to Apple's $649 slate.
Weighing 1.1 pounds and measuring 0.4 inches thick, the Fire HD 10 is slightly thicker than the Lenovo Tab 4 10 (1.1 pounds, 0.3 inches), but heavier than the 7-inch Amazon Fire 7 (0.7 pounds, 0.4 inches) and the 8-inch Fire HD 8 (0.8 pounds, 0.4 inches).
The Fire HD's volume and power buttons sit on its top edge and its microSD memory reader is hidden under a flap on its right. Its stereo speakers are found on its left side, which faces up when the Fire HD 10 is set in landscape mode or is snapped into Amazon's $40 case.
The Fire HD 10's 1920 x 1200-pixel panel produces crisp, bright and vivid images, making a case for its larger 10.1-inch screen. When streaming the James Bond film Spectre on the Amazon Video app, I noted fierce burning fires, pure white snow and saturated black shadows. I also saw the slight details of the grain in Bond's suede-leather jacket and the arabesque pattern of tiles.
While reading an issue of G.I. Joe: The Crown Jewel of the Hasbro Universe in the Comics app, I found the screen just as ideal for reading graphic novels. Not only does it provide high resolution for clear text, but the slate is also similar in size to a physical trade paperback.
The HD 10's panel is significantly more colorful than its competitors', producing 104 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That's similar to the 99-percent tablet average and above the 87-percent Tab 4 10, the 78-percent Fire 7 and the 79-percent Fire HD 8.
This slate is also brighter than the rest, emitting up to 405 nits. That's higher than the 307-nit Tab 4 10, the 335-nit Fire 7, the 380-nit Fire HD 8 and the 391-nit category average. While this amount of brightness keeps image color strong at up to 75 degrees to the left and right, the reflective coating of the screen will obscure your view in well-lit rooms.
The Fire HD 10's display accurately tracked my touch input as I navigated its home screens, snappily moving between sections.
Once bound to portable speakers, Amazon includes its Alexa assistant in the Fire HD 10, having added it to the tablet line last year. Alexa performs all the same thousands of tricks it does on Echo, Dot, Tap and Show units, including playing (and pausing) music, checking local traffic, opening apps and setting alarms.
After I asked it to play music -- which it did -- I asked it to raise the volume, which was rather low. Instead, Alexa responded, "I'm sorry, but I can't change the volume." And so I squinted my eyes at the tablet and shook a balled fist.
For the most part, Alexa heard me well, even from across the room in one of our conference rooms. That was, until sirens of a passing ambulance stopped it from hearing my voice.
The Fire HD 10's stereo speakers barely filled our smallest conference room with audio that I'd describe as "meh." Listening to Future's "Mask Off" on it, I heard clear vocals, too-sharp treble and nearly no bass.
So, while that sound is good enough for TV shows and movies, you'll need a Bluetooth speaker to turn the Fire HD 10 into the life of the party.
Armed with a 1.8-GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM, the Fire HD 10 is a zippy tablet that doesn't stutter like Amazon's cheaper versions. While there's a slight pause when you're opening apps and switching tabs in Amazon's Silk browser, those are acceptable, considering that navigating the tablet's home screens and using the app switcher is snappier than ever.
The Fire HD 10 earned a respectable score of 2,916 on the Geekbench 4 benchmark test, which is close to the 3,022 category average. It's also higher than the 1,891 from the Tab 4 10, and the 1,785 from the Fire HD 8. The Fire 7 couldn't even run the benchmark.
The Fire HD 10 doesn't have any kind of graphics chip, but still submitted an acceptable 13,435 on the Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test, which is nearly tied with the 13,599 category average. We saw lower scores when testing the Tab 4 10 (6,112), the Fire 7 (4,640) and the Fire HD 8 (6,015).
The Fire HD 10's battery life is decent, but we're still slightly disappointed. Making it 9 hours and 4 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web surfing at 150 nits), the HD 10 lasts longer than the Fire 7 (6:53), but its time is shorter than those from the Tab 4 10 (11:17), the less-expensive Fire HD 8 (10:58) and the 9:28 tablet average. Guess it takes a lot of power to keep that big display glowing.
The Fire HD 10's cameras are passable for video conferencing, but not for photography or video. Its 2.0-megapixel rear camera, in particular, is its worst offender:
Shots I took of the enamel pins on my backpack ended up blurry and looking like they were moving (they weren't). Its 0.3-MP selfie shooter did a little better, enabling selfies that accurately captured my tired eyelids, distinct strands of my hair and the correct hue of my cardinal-red shirt.
Amazon's Fire OS is great for those who live in Prime households and rely on Prime services. If you're one of those people, you have built-in apps for movies, TV and books (both eBooks and audio), though Amazon's Prime Music isn't a Spotify competitor (Music Unlimited is, and costs $7.99 per month after Prime). FreeTime Unlimited, Amazon's buffet of kids apps and content, costs $2.99 per month after Prime.
While Fire OS is built on a framework provided by Google's Android, Fire tablets still don't support any Google apps. Sure, you can side-load them, but changing your settings to allow apps installed from any source lowers your security and puts you at risk. And while you can access Gmail and Google Docs from the tablet's Silk web browser, its version of YouTube is crippled, and doesn't allow for HD streaming, wasting that pretty screen.
While the Fire OS app store packs standards that you should expect -- Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, Candy Crush, Minecraft -- it also is stuffed with junk that doesn't belong. Scrolling through the Games section, I was excited to see what appeared to be a version of Cuphead, a popular Xbox and PC game that I've been dying to play. I quickly realized, however, that it was a fake game with 1-star ratings.
On Dec. 5, Drop In calling and Announcement messaging came to the Fire HD 10 in an update from Amazon. To enable these options, swipe down from the top of the screen to open the options menu, open Settings, select Alexa and turn on both Alexa and Hands-Free Mode. Next, tap Communications, turn Calling and Messaging on, set Drop In to On for permitted contacts and/or 'My Household.' Lastly, select Announcements and toggle that option to Enabled.
The entry-level Fire HD 10 comes with 32GB of storage and costs $150, though you can get it with 64GB of space for $190. As is the case with all Amazon tablets, you'll pay extra ($15 this time) to stop it from displaying its ads (the retailer calls them "special offers") on your lock screen.
For $40 extra, you can get a folding case (available in black, purple, blue and red) for the Fire HD 10 to snap into. You'll fold its origami-like flap to set it in portrait or landscape display modes, though we found the latter slightly confusing to arrange.
Of all the affordable tablets we've tested, the Fire HD 10 packs both the best screen and the fastest performance. Unfortunately, we were hoping its larger size could enable more battery life, and we're not exactly giddy to spend so much on a slate that can't use Google apps.
For a tablet that lasts longer on a single charge, you've got two options. You can either save $70 and get the Fire HD 8, or spend an extra $30 for the Lenovo Tab 4 10, which allows you to use a full range of Android apps. Amazon users who want to stream all of the video their Prime memberships allow, though, will love the Fire HD 10 for its stellar display.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag