The 2018 version of Amazon’s budget media tablet has been given an update that effectively turns it into an Alexa device.
Do these changes add up to a major upgrade, or simply a refresh of an already great product? Let’s take a look at the “all new” Amazon Fire HD 8.
Amazon Fire HD 8 and Alexa
Let’s start with what will, undoubtedly, be the main selling point of this new Fire HD tablet, the hands-free Alexa capability.
Like the Fire HD 10, the 2018 Fire HD 8 gives you access to always-ready Alexa and also the Show mode, even when unplugged—you just need a constant WiFi connection.
If you have already used an Echo Show or Spot, you will know what Show mode has to offer. Adding visuals to Alexa’s response can make your Alexa so much more useful. Weather reports, for example, can display more details and provide an additional three-day forecast.
Alexa Show Mode Dock
An optional package, containing the Show Mode dock with the 2018 Fire HD, is available. While the Show dock isn’t compulsory for Show Mode, it does also double as a handy charging station.
The design of the 2018 Fire HD 8 remains the same as last year’s model—which is no bad thing. We always liked how the Fire HD 8 doesn’t look like a cheap tablet, despite its budget price.
A hard-wearing plastic shell with rounded corners is sturdy enough to be thrown into a bag for commuting. All the edges are flush apart from the top edge, which features a 3.5mm headphone jack, volume buttons and a micro USB port.
The left side houses excellent stereo speakers, with a microSD card slot on the right-hand side. An upgraded capacity of up to 400 GB allows for loading more movies and content for longer journeys.
The 8-inch HD screen is clear and bright for watching videos. This model has wider viewing angles, thanks to added IPS technology. The display is not going to win any prizes for color accuracy or contrast levels, but it’s ideal for the train on the way home.
The backlight is handy for watching indoors or in darker conditions, without any evidence of bleed issues.
The 720p resolution is the highest you will find at this price, but a low pixel count of 189 ppi is hardly retina quality. Web pages and documents can often appear grainy when viewed on the screen. However, content purchased from Amazon, both videos and ebooks, appear clearer.
Limitations of the Amazon Fire HD 8
Herein lies the major downfall of the Fire HD tablets. Remember, Amazon is the largest global supplier of video, music and books. Amazon hasn’t finished selling you its content quite yet, when you buy this tablet.
You’re going to need a basic Amazon account at the very minimum to make use of this device. A Prime account isn’t just preferable, but a necessity, if you want to get the most out of it. The best the display has to offer seems to have been reserved for HD content downloaded from Amazon Prime.
The Fire HD 8 uses the latest version of Fire OS 6.3, which is basically a variant of Android lollipop. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature the Google Play store, and apps must be obtained through the restricted-choice Amazon App store. Those in the know can sideload the Google Play store, for access to apps like YouTube or Gmail.
Performance and Battery Life
Simple tasks, like web browsing, can often seem quite sluggish. Limitations of the Realtek processor used, means playing games more complicated than Candy Crush will be difficult.
The front camera has been upgraded to HD, like the rear camera. However, at 2MP, it is worse than many cheaper smartphones. Amazon seems to have realized the value of an HD camera for video calls, but the still picture quality of both cameras is, frankly, terrible.
Battery life can last all day, with a quoted 10 hours of “mixed use.” However, Alexa on always-ready can impact the battery life, and using the screen at full brightness will further reduce it. You may want to switch Alexa off to retain a longer battery life.
With a full charge taking a staggering six hours, this is not a device you can quickly charge up between flights.
Should You Buy the 2018 Amazon Fire HD 8?
The Fire HD 8 is a great tablet for the price, as long as you don’t mind being locked into the Amazon ecosystem. For hardcore Alexa lovers, the 16 GB tablet with dock comes in at half the price of Amazon’s own Echo Show. You are getting a fully functional Show device with the bonus of portability for watching HD content.
Don’t expect the functionality of offerings from Apple or Samsung, but at this price you can forgive the so-so screen and cameras. This is more designed as an Amazon content consumer, which it does extremely well. A wish list for next year’s model would include a better processor performance, improved battery life and USB-C charging.