The tablet market has continued to polarise over the past few years and if you don8217;t want to invest a considerable sum in an iPad, then Amazon8217;s Fire tablets are the obvious affordable choice.
The Fire HD 8 sits in the middle of Amazon8217;s offering, more portable than the HD 10 and more capable than the Fire 7. It hits something of a sweet spot, offering functionality and affordability.
While high-end tablets offer glass or aluminium finishing, Amazon8217;s Fire tablets opt for study plastic around the back. It8217;s a simple and slightly understated design, but it8217;s a solid result.
The plastics feel solid enough with ample texture to provide grip (Amazon is confident enough to say that it surpasses the iPad in terms of durability). They also withstand the occasional accidental knock and wipe clean easily enough, so if the Fire HD 8 finds its way into the sticky hands of a toddler, it will clean up easily enough.
With the 8-inch display on the front dictating this tablet8217;s size, there8217;s a fairly hefty bezel around the display. On one hand that gives a slightly dated look to things (especially considering the move in smartphones to destroy all bezels), yet this gives somewhere for fingers and thumbs to sit and not obstruct what8217;s on the display. It also makes it easy to put in a protective case without obscuring the display.
The sides offer up all the connections on one end, including a conventional 3.5mm headphone socket, while retaining the older Micro-USB for charging 8211; so if you8217;re packing cables, be aware that this might no longer be the same as your up-to-date smartphone.
While a lot of tablets have opted for sombre colours 8211; the inevitable black or grey 8211; we like the bolder approach of Amazon. The Canary Yellow of this review device is a particular favourite. It8217;s fun, it8217;s vibrant, it8217;s interesting and it gives you something a little different.
Tablets are all about their display. Amazon has consistently stuck to a 16:10 aspect ratio for its tablets rather than flipping to 4:3 8211; which is becoming more common elsewhere 8211; which we think makes for a good aspect to enjoy a lot of the content that Amazon offers, particularly for Amazon Video.
The HD in this tablet8217;s name refers to the fact that it steps up to a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, or 720p, which is a step-up from the smaller Fire 7 tablet, and a step down in terms of resolution from the larger Fire HD 10 tablet (which offers Full HD).
It8217;s a good compromise. Although it8217;s not the sharpest tablet display out there 8211; and it8217;s nowhere near as sharp as the latest flagship smartphones 8211; it8217;s nothing to worry about, especially at this price. The important point is that it looks good once you start steaming your Netflix or Amazon Video content, and that will likely keep users happy.
It presents some other weaknesses though. Although the Fire HD 8 made improvements in the display compared to the previous version of this tablet, it still isn8217;t the brightest, so can struggle to deal with reflections in bright conditions, and its colours aren8217;t as punchy as you8217;ll get from the best out there.
But let8217;s put that in context: this is an £80 tablet that delivers perfectly acceptable visuals at that price. If you want a better display, or you8217;re particular about display perfection, then you8217;ll need to cough up a couple hundred more. If you do put it side-by-side with an iPad the admittedly, it looks weak.
As it is, the Fire HD 8 is responsive to the touch and acquits itself perfectly well when it comes to playing games or streaming videos when you8217;re laying in bed, which is what you probably why you want to buy this tablet.
Amazon Fire HD 8 review: Hardware and performance
- Quad-core 1.3GHz processor, 1.5GB RAM
- 12-hours battery life
- 16 or 32GB RAM + microSD
- No fast charging
Amazon doesn8217;t go to town telling us the suppliers of the hardware in its tablets, so you just have to accept that it8217;s a quad-core chipset supported by 1.5GB RAM. Again, this slides into the space between the Fire 7 and Fire HD 10 tablets in terms of specification.
The performance therefore fits its price point. The important things happen fast enough, like smooth streaming of video or snappy page turning in books. Yes, there can be a little delay when it comes to opening larger apps and you8217;ll feel the processor warming up around the back just above the Amazon logo when playing more demanding games, like Real Racing 3. That8217;s to be expected and, importantly, it doesn8217;t actually get in the way of what you8217;re trying to do.
There8217;s 16GB of storage at the lowest configuration (with about 9.6GB available to store apps and downloads) and the potential to expand storage via microSD card. In truth, 16GB of storage will fill pretty quickly, especially if you want to download a stack of movies to watch on a long flight, for example. Therefore it8217;s well worth considering the larger 32GB version if that8217;s how you8217;re going to use it. One of the 2018 changes to this tablet is that it will now support cards up to 400GB 8211; and yes a 400GB microSD card will cost more than the tablet itself.
The Fire HD 8 has an advantage over both the Fire 7 and the Fire HD 10 when it comes to battery life. Amazon cites that you8217;ll get 12 hours of use from a single charge, which we8217;ve found to be typically true (it very much depends on what you8217;re doing and how bright the display is set), but that8217;s 2 hours more than the larger 10-inch tablet.
We8217;ve also found the HD 8 is great in standby and can hang onto its charge for a really long time 8211; we8217;re talking weeks rather than hours. We8217;ve used the Fire HD 8 on long haul flights for entertainment and found it to be a great performer.
The downside is that there8217;s no fast charging. Unlike the move embraced by many smartphones, you8217;re looking at a lengthy 6 hours of charging to get this Amazon full again. That can be frustrating if you8217;re giving it to children: they probably don8217;t have the patience to wait so long.
There is some respite from this, however, with the availability of the Show Mode Charging Dock. This is an optional accessory that gives you a charging stand for the Fire tablet, along with a case that enables wireless charging. That then means you can dock the tablet on the stand and it will charge 8211; as well as offering a whole range of new features we8217;ll talk about below.
- Android with Fire OS
- Hands-free Alexa voice control
- Integrated with Amazon content
- Show Mode
The Fire HD 8 is Amazon8217;s tablet, so it8217;s no surprise to find it8217;s completely integrated with the Amazon ecosystem. That means Amazon Music, Amazon Video and Kindle Books are first and foremost, with other apps and services coming from Amazon8217;s Appstore.
The tablet itself runs on Amazon8217;s forked version of Google8217;s Android operating system. If you8217;re an Android user then you8217;ll find the experience easy enough to master, with the same basic navigation. However, Amazon uses the home pages to offer up its content in tabs, so you can swipe over to video, books, music and so on, including shopping.
You8217;ll need to sign in with your Amazon account and that8217;ll give access to any Amazon content you might have bought over the years, as well as subscription content for Prime members. If you8217;re all signed up then Amazon Video means access to series like Bosch and The Grand Tour, plus movies like John Wick.
On the books side of things, it seamlessly syncs with your Kindle, so if you8217;re reading the latest blockbuster on your Paperwhite, you can pick it up on your tablet once you8217;re bored of whatever else you8217;re doing.
On the apps front you don8217;t get the full Google Play service, instead you8217;re offered Amazon Appstore. This is packed full of many of the latest games apps and services 8211; Spotify, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Instagram, Facebook and many more 8211; although it doesn8217;t mirror Android app for app. Occasionally you8217;ll find something that8217;s not available or not quite the latest version, which is an acceptable downside to this system. There8217;s also Amazon8217;s browser for surfing the internet.
Adding to the skills of this tablet is Alexa. This is the same Alexa voice control and answer assistant that you8217;ll find in the Amazon Echo, with seamless integration to anything you might have setup with Alexa previously. You can access Alexa hands-free on this tablet, meaning it8217;s another entry point into home control if that8217;s what you want 8211; and that goes hand-in-hand with Show Mode, which is enabled using the Show Mode Charging Dock.
Together, they basically turn your Fire HD 8 into an Echo Show, giving a lease of life to your tablet when it8217;s not otherwise being used. You can dock it in a playroom to stream video, in your kitchen to use timers or access recipes, or anywhere in the house really. The Fire HD 8 isn8217;t equipped with the same speakers or microphone skills that the Echo gets so it8217;s uses and performance are a little more limited 8211; but it does give you Alexa with a screen, which is a nice little bonus.
Amazon Fire HD 8 review: A word on parental controls
We8217;d not normally write a section specifically about parental controls, but the Fire tablets from Amazon are a first-class choice for children. Not only because of the sturdy build and resistant plastic finish, but because the software offers a considered range of options to give you really good parental controls.
There8217;s a Fire for Kids option that lets you setup a profile for your child. This can be tailored to a child8217;s age, with different options letting them do different things. Using Fire for Kids means your child has their personalised tablet experience with their own apps, games and content all synced 8211; so you can have more than one child on a Fire tablet, or multiple Fire tablets.
This does sensible things like locking them out of the tablet8217;s settings and controls, and won8217;t allow access to the internet through the browser or the ability to purchase from the store. It also restricts apps and content so that it8217;s age appropriate, while allowing the parent to set time limits and reading targets with rewards (read for 30 minutes before you can watch videos, for example).
There is also a subscription side to Fire for Kids 8211; called Fire for Kids Unlimited 8211; and this allows access to a range of age-appropriate content via subscription, just like with Amazon Prime. This means they can download games or watch videos that are suitable for them. It8217;s all ring-fenced, vetted and safe, so parents don8217;t have to constantly micro manage every aspect of Fire tablet use. It8217;s well worth looking at, as it8217;s only £3.99 a month, or £1.99 a month if you8217;re a Prime subscriber.
We8217;ll also mention the camera 8211; it8217;s there, but it8217;s pretty basic. Kids will probably use it all the time for fun, but in reality, it8217;s not something you8217;ll want to depend on. We can8217;t deduct marks for that, because we never use tablet cameras.