With a generous 8-inch display, Alexa built-in, and plenty of apps – there’s a lot to like here
With the latest batch of Fire HD tablets, Amazon hasn’t changed the formula. However, that’s not a criticism – far from it. There’s something refreshingly simple about Amazon’s Fire HD slates. While Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad series are doing their utmost to convince customers these tablets are ready to replace their laptop and desktop PCs – letting you do everything from video editing to tax returns, and all that’s in-between – there’s none of that pretence from Amazon.
Instead, the latest Fire HD 8 tablets are designed to be the best way to consume Amazon content – from the magazines included in your Prime membership, Kindle eBooks from the massive library, movies from Prime Video, and photos stored in the unlimited cloud as part of the Prime subscription.
If you’re a fan of Amazon’s chatty voice assistant Alexa, you’ll be pleased to know the AI is baked into the latest devices too. When connected to Wi-Fi, you can ask Alexa to Drop In on a friend or family member, play a song, start an Audible book, set a timer, launch a trivia game, show your calendar, order a takeaway, and much, much more. Controlling smart home gadgets and getting the latest headlines and weather updates is brilliant with the addition of a display. If you’ve only ever used the cylindrical Amazon Echo devices before, you’ll really get a kick from the Alexa integration in this tablet.
Of course, not everything about the Fire HD 8 range has to be Amazon branded. There is an App Store packed with a vast array of popular third-party Android apps, including Disney+, Zoom, Netflix, YouTube, Minecraft, Roblox, and Crossy Road, to name a few.
There’s not quite the same selection as you’ll find in the Play Store, but Amazon does sometimes offer paid-for apps for free, which is a nice touch.
There’s also the preinstalled Silk browser for online shopping and reading online articles. It’s pretty basic, so don’t expect to be uploading your University thesis from this tablet (not that you’re likely to be doing that from a £1,000 iPad Pro set-up either, but that’s an argument for another day).
There are plenty of colour options available with the upgraded Fire HD 8 range
With the volume and power buttons on the side, the Fire HD 8 feels better suited to landscape viewing and video calls
For the price, the Amazon Fire HD 8 feels solid. There’s a generous eight-inch touchscreen with a 1280 x 800 resolution. Despite boasting one million pixels, don’t hope to watch The Grand Tour or any other Prime Video show in Ultra HD. Shows and movies on the Fire HD 8 display look good and at a normal viewing distance, it’s plenty sharp and bright. But squint and it’s clear this isn’t on-par with most flagship smartphones or tablets in terms of pixel count.
Don’t expect to be uploading your University thesis from this tablet …not that you’re likely to be doing that from a £1,000 iPad Pro set-up either, but that’s an argument for another day
The display on the Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus is also nowhere near an edge-to-edge design, but honestly, those bezels are pretty useful to avoid accidentally tapping the touchscreen when handling the device.
The Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus cases are built from plastic, but there’s no flex in the body – so you don’t need to worry about this tablet kicking the bucket if it accidentally ends up falling down the side of the sofa, or gets sat on. It feels really well built and durable, especially for the price.
Interestingly, the Fire HD 8 and HD 8 are seemingly designed to be primarily used in a landscape orientation. Holding the new tablet this way, the volume and power buttons are conveniently placed on the right hand-side within comfortable reach. That’s perfect when making video calls with relatives and bingeing Little Fires Everywhere on Prime Video …but it’s infuriating when holding the tablet in a portrait orientation, which is better for reading an eBook.
Holding the tablet in this way we constantly found ourselves resting the volume buttons – and worse still, the power button – on our palms or lap, resulting in everything becoming DEAFENINGLY LOUD or switching off completely.
Not ideal. Especially if you’re gripped by a real page-turner.
Of course, it is possible to hold the tablet in this orientation with those all-important buttons safely at the top, rather than the bottom, but this means you’ll need to be paying close attention when rotating the tablet as all sides look identical. And even then, you’ll still find yourself covering one of two speaker grills with your palm.
Bottom line – if you’re looking to use your new tablet to binge-watch shows on long journeys and make video calls with friends and family …you probably won’t even notice. Of course, there’s always a compromise to be found. For example, the iPad feels much more at-home when used in portrait, but that means that making video calls in landscape leaves the front-firing camera awkwardly off to the side – not ideal if you’ve splashed out on a £349 Magic Keyboard accessory.
With the Kindle Fire HD 8, Amazon has perfectly placed the front-facing camera for video calls in landscape. Holding the tablet in any orientation will leave you awkwardly craning your neck to fit your face in the viewfinder, but for our money, video calls with the screen in a widescreen configuration make more sense. Especially if you’re trying to squeeze-in enough people to make up a pub quiz – something we’re all struggling to do at the moment.
The touchscreen on the Fire HD 8 is about as bright and colourful as you’d expect given the price tag. Of course, it’s not a patch on pricier options from Apple and Microsoft. But it’s leaps-and-bounds better than most in-flight entertainment systems – and we’ve all spent hours gawping at those.
The Fire HD 8 Plus has a wireless charging stand to keep everything fully-charged
According to Amazon, the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus (which supports wireless charging, boasts 3GB of RAM, and ships with a slightly faster wall charger in the box) provides faster performance thanks to a 30% speed boost, as well as the ability to carry up to 1TB of storage with microSD expansion.
In our experience, both of these affordable tablets handled the most common Android apps with aplomb. In fact, the only time there was any stuttering was when loading up a handful of tabs with some complex websites in the mix – like virtual tours or Google Streetview. In terms of storage, there should be more than enough here to ensure you’ve enough movies, books, photos, or music albums ready for your next flight or journey.
Amazon says you can expect 12 hours of battery life. In our testing, that seems about right when you allow the tablet software to handle brightness automatically. If you crank up the screen brightness and start playing games, instead of browsing magazines, you’ll easy wipe a few hours off that total.
Thankfully, when you do need to recharge, Amazon now includes a USB-C port. If you already own a relatively recent Android smartphone, MacBook, or Nintendo Switch, you’ll be able to use the same cable to top-up your new Amazon Fire tablet. That’s something not even possible with the latest generation of Kindle e-readers and should save space in your suitcase, which is nice. If you own the Fire HD 8, you’ll also be able to charge wirelessly. Amazon has built a nice charger-cum-stand that keeps the Fire HD 8 Plus propped-up for video calls or movie viewing while keeping the battery topped-up. It’s a nice addition, but the battery life on the standard Fire HD 8 model is good enough that wireless charging stands aren’t a must.
The touchscreen isn’t going to win any awards, but for the price, it looks astonishingly good
If you’ve got a Prime Video subscription and a vast Kindle eBook library, there’s a lot to love here
There really is a lot to like about the new Fire HD 8 range. Battery life is solid, the decision to place the front-facing camera for video calls in landscape is brilliant – something we’d love to see Apple nab this tweak for future iPads, and there is no shortage of games and apps to keep you busy. Alexa is as helpful as ever and plays nicely with most existing smart home gadgets and subscriptions, including Spotify and Hive.
Amazon’s Fire OS is pretty and incredibly simple. If you’re buying a tablet for an older or less tech-literate family member, Fire OS is a much more comfortable Android experience than rival devices from Huawei and Samsung.
That said, those hoping for endless customisation and power features from their Android tablet will be sorely disappointed by the Fire HD 8.
Amazon Fire HD 8 review: final verdict
Amazon hasn’t tried to do anything revolutionary with its updated Fire HD 8 series. But that’s not a criticism. In a market increasingly dominated by tablets professing to be able to replace your laptop, it’s refreshing to see one designed primarily for the fun stuff – like boxset binges, video calls, and games.
The lightweight Fire OS software is streamlined to help you immediately jump back into the magazine, eBook, game or movie you were enjoying before you put the tablet away. And the addition of USB-C means you’ll be able to plug into the charger already on your bedside to keep everything charged.
If you’re a longtime Prime subscriber with a vast library of Kindle eBooks and a lengthy list of shows and films to watch on Prime Video – and you’re in the market for an affordable tablet for more screen real estate for video calls, games and browsing, you really can’t go wrong with the Fire HD 8 or HD 8 Plus.
But the Fire HD 8’s greatest asset – its simplicity and close ties to Amazon’s huge wealth of content – can just as easily be a source of frustration. If you’ve purchased most of your movies collection on iTunes and love endless tweaking icon packs and side-loading apps on Android …the Fire HD 8 experience will leave you feeling extremely limited and unsatisfied.