The standard for Amazon hardware hasn’t changed much over the years: Pay a little to get…not a lot, but more than a little, at least.
Hardware from the Bezos empire (like the recent Echo Buds 2) tends to compromise a bit on horsepower and features in order to severely undercut the competition on price, and the latest Fire HD 8 tablet is no different. For just $90 (or $104 if you don’t want lock screen ads), you get a basic and mostly capable tablet that’s perfect for people with their claws dug deep into Amazon’s ecosystem. If you love reading books on Kindle and watching movies on Prime Video, then this is the budget tablet for you.
But if you need a do-it-all social media and work machine with speedy performance, you might run into some trouble here.
Not breaking new ground
It’s a tablet, alright.
Credit: molly flores / mashable
Amazon doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel with its budget devices and, as expected, the Fire HD 8 has the same rectangular shape as most of its peers. If you’ve ever touched a tablet before in your life, this will be immediately familiar to you thanks to a generic look and feel. You could almost mistake the Fire HD 8 for a generic prop tablet in a TV show. It’s available in black, white, plum, and twilight blue, though that coloring just alters the back cover and not anything you see while actually using the device.
Here’s what $90 gets you:
An 8-inch display with a 1280×800 resolution and a sizable bezel
32GB onboard storage ($30 extra for 64GB)
MicroSD slot (storage expandable up to 1TB)
3.5mm headphone jack
2MP front and rear cameras
USB-C port for charging
Up to 12 hours of battery on a full charge
Ads on lock screen ($15 extra to get rid of those)
The Fire HD 8’s insubstantial 12.5oz weight makes it comfortable for use on the go, as one would expect from a tablet. The 8-inch display is generally bright and vivid enough to do justice to whatever you’re watching on it, though the 1280×800 resolution doesn’t hold up in certain circumstances.
For instance, YouTube videos can’t play at anything higher than 720p because, well, there just aren’t enough pixels on the Fire HD 8 to even display 1080p video. YouTube videos in both the standalone app and the web browser actually top out at 720p with no option to watch in 60 frames per second (that I could find), which is a real annoyance. To cut Amazon a bit of slack here, though, that appears to be a problem on YouTube’s end. Other apps with high frame rate options like ESPN worked just fine.
I’m not going to castigate Amazon too much for the Fire HD 8’s relatively low screen resolution, as this is a truly budget device and even some more recent and more expensive devices, like the $350 Nintendo Switch OLED, are still stuck at 720p. At 8 inches, the screen is small enough that the difference between 720p and 1080p would be negligible for most regular folks anyway. Just know going in that you’re not getting a premium display, and YouTube is technically compromised on Fire HD 8.
USB-C charging is a major new addition, since previous models ran on micro-USB instead. As always, I’m in favor of USB-C for charging because it’s faster and, more importantly, I have ready access to approximately 10,000 loose USB-C cables. The only other noteworthy port is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Between that and Bluetooth support, you can listen to your Audible books or streaming content however you like. Heck, even the onboard speakers are loud, crisp, and perfectly listenable if you’re not a major audiophile.
I don’t like how the rear camera is right next to all the buttons and ports.
Credit: molly flores / mashable
The only real issue I have with the physical design of the Fire HD 8 is that camera and port placements are slightly awkward. The front-facing camera is inside one of the longer bezels, meaning you’ll need to place the tablet in landscape mode for Zoom calls. The rear camera lives in a corner on the same side of the tablet as the volume and power buttons, the charging port, and the headphone jack. If you want to use that camera while charging the tablet or wearing wired headphones, those wires will be jutting out of the top instead of the bottom, which is simply no bueno. I would prefer for the rear camera to be on the opposite corner, so the power and volume buttons are clearly on the bottom.
That design quirk is somewhat forgivable considering the Fire HD 8 isn’t necessarily meant for photography anyway. Less forgivable is charging an extra $15 to get rid of ads on the lock screen. Put simply, that’s a trash policy. Amazon does this with Kindle devices, too, and it’s a frankly ridiculous habit for a company that already milks enough money out of people. Enough!
Those complaints aside, I generally don’t mind the Fire HD 8’s modest design. The target audience for it is someone who just wants a tablet without going bankrupt and that’s what they’ll get. Its display won’t cause eye strain, and its weight and form factor won’t cause hand cramps.
Unfortunately, modesty isn’t as endearing when it comes to performance.
Unsteady as she goes
The SD card slot can expand storage by a ton.
Credit: molly flores / mashable
The Fire HD 8 runs on Fire OS, an operating system Amazon uses for its Fire hardware that’s based on Android. The home screen looks like a typical Android home screen with app icons in a grid, but swiping to the left and right takes you between Amazon-centric menus for Kindle books, Prime Video streaming, straight up online shopping, and more. If you’re the kind of person who lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps Amazon, you’ll feel right at home.
The Fire HD 8’s performance is typically fine when bouncing around between Amazon apps like Kindle books and Prime Video streams. I read some of Dune on Kindle and watched a bit of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid on Prime, and both were reasonably responsive and quick-loading experiences.
Unfortunately, Amazon’s reliance on its own custom version of Android means the real Android experience isn’t available by default. Instead of the Play Store, you have to install apps from an Amazon app store that doesn’t support every app you’d find in the Play Store. Native Android apps for Gmail and Chrome, for example, aren’t available here. You can technically sideload the Play Store onto the device, but that requires some technical know-how and probably isn’t worth it for rookies.
Plenty of major third-party apps are in the Amazon store, but I had less positive experiences with them than the native Amazon apps. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all slow and jittery to use. Merely scrolling down a Twitter timeline feels like you dipped the tablet in molasses. There was a noticeable hitch at times when switching from one of my friends’ Instagram Stories to another. And again, YouTube videos are limited to 720p and 30 frames per second, display parameters that any modern smartphone can easily surpass.
With all that being said, the battery life on the Fire HD 8 is certainly respectable for the price. Amazon rates it for up to 12 hours and I got close to that while putting plenty of stress on the device.
On a full charge, I streamed an entire NFL game, watched roughly an hour of YouTube, listened to podcasts for a couple hours on Spotify, streamed from Prime Video, and idly scrolled through social media feeds before needing to plug in again. In all, I got about 10 hours of use out of a full charge spread out over 24 hours, and if I hadn’t streamed a whole football game, it might have been more.
I never expected the Fire HD 8 to be a powerhouse, so I’m not shocked that it has trouble with non-Amazon apps. It’s certainly a lot more forgivable when you take the competition into account.
Tough to argue with $90
Without beating around the bush, you’re just not gonna find much else in the tablet market for less than $150. Your options include:
Of course, recent iPads are out of the question in this price range. There’s also the $109 Fire HD 8 Plus, a souped-up model with 3GB of RAM and wireless charging but otherwise the same software and feature limitations of the Fire HD 8.
Needless to say, I have problems with the Fire HD 8. This is a relatively weak tablet that’s clearly aimed at people who rely heavily on Amazon for literature, entertainment, and retail. As such, it performs those tasks respectably, but it falls apart in other scenarios. Popular apps like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube just don’t run well or offer all the features you want on this underpowered budget tablet.
But as a pure streaming and Kindle machine, you’re not going to find a better value out there. It’s great that you can spend less than $100 for a tablet that can reliably stream the excellent second season of Fleabag. Just don’t bother with installing third-party software.