For over a decade, Amazon has been the king of online shopping. Need a book with a few quid off? Amazon. Emergency fancy dress outfit? Amazon.
The company has wisely decided that it should not try to compete with the best high-end tablets, but instead make affordable devices that are windows to all its best online content. The updated 2017 Amazon Fire HD 8 tries to perfect a combination of function and value, but whether or not you’ll agree it does depends on whether you are willing to invest in an Amazon Prime membership.
Price and where to buy
Usually, the Fire HD 8 is £79.99, but there’s sure to be discounts on Black Friday. Don’t miss out on a great value tablet for even cheaper.
Predictably, you can buy the Fire HD 8 direct from Amazon. It is well priced for the specs, starting at £79.99 with 16GB of storage, double the previous generation.
There’s also a 32GB option that costs from £99.99. These two options display adverts on the lock screen for games, books, films and music from Amazon. If you don’t want ads (we didn’t) they will cheekily charge you £10 extra for the pleasure. Still, we think £79.99 for a 16GB tablet is a great deal.
As with the Fire 7, there’s a specific Kids Edition which costs £129.99. This is great value: it gives you the 32GB model, plus a colourful bumper case, a two-year, no-quibble warranty plus a year’s subscription to Fire for Kids Unlimited. And this is well worth the £30 premium over the standard 32GB model.
View the Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 on Amazon here.
Design and build
The updated Fire HD 8 has the same design as its 2016 predecessor. The new tablet again has an 8in screen with black surrounding bezels and has a matte plastic rear casing in four colour options: black, blue, canary yellow, marine blue and punch red.
We’d say that the black version is preferable, simply because it does not give away the tablet’s cheapness. Our red review sample, while not horrendous in appearance, did keep reminding us it only cost eighty quid.
Then again, if you like bright colours or you’re buying for a child, the colours are quite appealing. The unit as a whole measures 214 mm x 128 mm x 9.2 mm, a form you will barely notice in a backpack or handbag.
While the plastic back is not premium in any way, the device overall is surprisingly sturdy. There’s barely any give or flex in the plastic, giving the tablet a reassuring heft. The front of the device has no physical buttons, all of which are reserved for its top edge.
It needs only three; a lock/power button on the top right next to the micro-USB port and microphone, and a volume rocker on the top left next to the headphone jack. On the rear is a 2Mp camera, while the front is a very low-res VGA lens for video calling and (very grainy) selfies.
There is also a welcome micro-SD card slot on the top right edge of the Fire HD 8 that supports up to an additional 256GB of storage – excellent to see on such an affordable device. The two speakers, one at the top and one at the bottom edge of the left edge as you hold it portrait give away the preferable landscape orientation that Amazon has in mind.
It starts to give away the fact Amazon is expecting you to watch Amazon Prime videos on the Fire HD 8.
A device called the Fire HD 8 obviously has an HD screen, with a resolution of 1280 x 800 and 189ppi. Also promised is HD video playback, which thankfully holds true and looks excellent.
We streamed some episodes of Mr Robot using our Amazon Prime account, and the picture was razor sharp – but we had to have the screen brightness pretty much on maximum. You’ll find you’ll need to do so for most use cases on the Fire HD 8, as otherwise the screen looks quite murky.
There is no oleophobic coating on the screen either, so you’ll be constantly rubbing it clean even after a few minutes.
Although video playback is HD, text and icons display slightly pixelated. This does not detract from readability, but Fire HD 8 reserves its best display capabilities for HD content direct from Amazon Prime. In our use, even streaming videos from YouTube were normally slightly grainy compared to our experience on more high-end tablets.
However, this wasn’t too noticeable and as with much of the experience of the HD 8, we were reminded that this did only cost £79.99 – but this ends up being a positive reflection rather than a nagging disappointment. At this price point, there is always compromise, and with the Fire HD 8 there is an acceptable level of it.
Specs, performance and features
At its heart the Fire HD 8 is a streaming device. Amazon pre-loads it with apps for Kindle, Amazon Video, Amazon Appstore, Amazon Games, Amazon Music… you get the idea. While a decent enough web browsing tool, the Fire HD 8 is intended as a portal to Amazon content. An Amazon Prime membership is therefore not just preferable; it’s pretty much essential. Without one, you’re locked into the Amazon ecosystem without the key to unlock anything.
The specs of the device reflect that it’s best used for media streaming or low-requirement games. The processor is a 1.3GHz quad-core with 1.5GB RAM – basically enough for the types of content you have access to. The tablet is generally responsive, but its quickest when dealing with Amazon’s own apps. Stray into apps like Facebook or the Silk browser and things chug a little slower.
We used the trial month of Amazon Prime that is promoted when you set up the tablet, and found that it was a breeze to boot up tons of films and TV shows, sync all of our existing Kindle books and hook it up to our (non-Amazon) email account. You don’t have to get Prime if you just want to use it as a Kindle, though.
The Fire HD 8 is a pure media consumption device. The mentioned 2Mp camera will not win you the Pulitzer, and the awful front-facing VGA camera is barely good enough for video calls – it does work, though this is more dependent on a decent Wi-Fi connection than anything else.
While it is capable of recording video in 720p HD, the 2015 generation of Fire HD 8 had a 5Mp camera, which hints at some of the corners cut to keep the new version under £100.
We also enjoyed the ability to download Prime content direct to the device. Our sample had 16GB, which isn’t bad, but the attraction is to stick a micro-SD card in it. Then you can download a plethora of video, music, books and more to the device for offline playback. Video in particular looks great if you choose to download in 720p HD, but you can also choose from two lower quality picture files to save storage space.
The two speaker grills give surprisingly crisp, clear audio, but their position is slightly annoying – either end of either the top or bottom edge when held horizontally. As with most tablets, we’d recommend a decent pair of headphones (none are included) to best watch films or TV.
All that capability is packed into a device that weighs 314g, just a sliver over the weight of Apple’s 299g iPad mini 4. Amazon cites 12 hours of battery life with regular use, which we found accurate in extended use.
Be aware that even with the bundled power adaptor, it takes the Fire an annoyingly slow 6 hours to fully charge. You’ll have to remember to plug it in overnight if you’re nearly out of juice, or carry round a power bank.
Software and apps
As the tablet runs Amazon’s own Fire OS, you don’t have access to the full wealth of content available to users of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Play Store. This isn’t to say that the Amazon Appstore is completely limited, it just takes us back to the necessity of an Amazon Prime membership should you wish to justify purchasing the Fire HD 8.
However, if you really didn’t want to buy into Prime but like the price, apps available to you from the Amazon Appstore such as Facebook, BBC iPlayer and even Sky Go or Netflix mean that you can still use the HD 8 as a basic Internet device with third party streaming services.
But given the prominence of Amazon’s services in the interface and the ease at which it allows you to access them with a subscription, we’d still recommend pairing the HD 8 with Prime if you want to be fully satisfied with it.
See also: Netflix vs Amazon Prime Video
At this point it’s worth noting that Google apps are not available from the Appstore. This means it’s hard to recommend the Fire HD 8 as a work or productivity tool (although the Evernote app is available) because you can’t sync existing Google calendars, Google Drive and, importantly for casual users, YouTube. You can still access YouTube through Amazon’s Silk browser, but the browser is a bit clunky and unrefined, and highlights again that the Fire HD 8 is best when simply streaming via Amazon apps.
Nor can you download popular apps like Microsoft Word. However, if you want a tablet that allows easy streaming of your favourite TV shows with the bonus of access to social media, Skype and online banking, the HD 8 is well worth considering.
A cool addition is a native Alexa app. It’s not hands free voice activated, but tap and hold the home button and you can ask Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa anything (you don’t have to even say Alexa with this method).
It works surprisingly well, and the voice itself sounds more natural than Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. In the Alexa app, you can link to your Google calendar, Spotify account and more to add to what it can do.
For general question on weather, web searches and more this is a great feature to have on such a cheap tablet. Good work, Amazon.
Another good feature of the Fire HD 8 is Amazon’s Fire for Kids app. Should you wish to entertain your children with the tablet, you can set up a separate profile for them to use.
This allows you to set parental controls, restrict what content they can access and even set time limits to prevent square eyes. It cleverly time limits games and videos but leaves unlimited time for reading, helping you to encourage the right balance of learning through a tablet they might want to regularly get their hands on.
This and other features, such as a kids camera mode and a Bed Time feature which encourages routine make the Fire HD 8 a good choice for a parent who wants access to their own Prime subscription on the same device, but with the ability to mould their child’s use of the tablet around different, web-safe preferences.
One thing to note is that Amazon cheekily (or maddeningly, depending on your temper) doesn’t let you give your child access to specific Amazon Prime content without first signing up to Fire for Kids Unlimited. It starts from £1.99 per month, but given you already may spend £79.99 per year on Prime membership, it’s pretty annoying. It does highlight how often Amazon’s adverts and extra payment options encroach unpleasantly on the user experience.