“The Fire HD 10 is a bargain for the price, but should you save for something better?”
- Crisp, loud stereo speakers
- Hands-free support for Alexa
- Great performance
- Underwhelming screen
- Poor cameras
Tablets aren’t as commonplace as they used to be; but despite the lack of enthusiasm in the market, manufacturers are still pumping a handful of them out every year. There’s Samsung’s HDR-certified Galaxy Tab S3, and Apple’s zippy new 10.5-inch iPad Pro. We can’t ignore the booming 2-in-1 market including Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablets, though they work and are marketed more as laptop replacements. They all have the same thing in common: They’re expensive.
That’s the antithesis of the Fire HD 10, the newest iteration of Amazon’s 10-inch Fire Android tablet. Its spotlight feature is hands-free support for Alexa, the same voice assistant in products like the Amazon Echo, but it also comes with an upgraded screen, a faster processor, and a battery that lasts two hours longer than last year’s model. Oh, and it’s only $150. In our review, we found the new Fire HD 10 to easily take the crown for best budget tablet — but make room for plenty of compromises.
A familiar design
The new Fire HD 10 looks virtually the same as last year’s model, which means it looks like a rather ordinary tablet. The tablet’s unibody has a matte plastic finish with curved edges and a prominent Amazon logo on the back. The edges around the screen on the front, or “bezels,” are thick, allowing you to firmly grasp the slippery-smooth Fire HD 10. You’ll have trouble using it with one-hand.
The Fire HD 10’s ports and buttons haven’t moved from their familiar spots on the tablet’s top edge. The power button sits next to the MicroUSB port on the right-hand side, adjacent to the volume rocker, microphone, and 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s an arrangement that works well in landscape orientation, but having to reach all the way to the top in portrait mode can become annoying pretty quickly.
The Fire HD 10’s side-firing Dolby Atmos speakers aren’t effective when the tablet rests horizontally — the tiny circle-shaped grills face downward. When propped up vertically, they point to the left. There’s a reason the iPad Pro and Galaxy Tab S3 have four-speaker arrays that adjust to orientation, providing a richer audio experience — but those tablets are far more expensive.
It will be tough to notice the Fire HD 10’s minor issues in portrait mode, as the screen’s tall 16:10 aspect ratio had us sticking with the landscape orientation most of the time.
Display and audio
One of the improvements in the new Fire HD 10 is the screen. It’s finally a Full HD (1,920 x 1,200 pixels) resolution, up from last year’s 1,280 x 800-pixel screen.
If you’re used to high-resolution phones, you’ll notice a difference right away.
If you’re used to high-resolution phones like Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Plus or Apple’s iPhone 8 Plus, you’ll notice a difference right away on the Fire HD 10. Videos and pictures on the 1,080p screen look jagged, a symptom of the screen’s low pixel density (about 220 pixels per inch). The Android-based operating system, Fire OS, uses fonts that do a decent job masking these jagged edges in ebooks and webpages, but the issue rears its ugly head in shows like Amazon’s Man in the High Castle, where bright pixels stand out against dark color pallets.
We were disappointed, too, with the Fire HD 10 screen’s color calibration, which is oddly oversaturated. In series like Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and The People vs. O.J. Simpson, skin tones looked unusually warm next to a Galaxy S8 Plus and a Dell computer monitor.
That said, the Fire HD 10’s vibrancy works to its advantage in magazines. Mouthwatering recipes in Cook’s Country popped right off the Fire HD 10’s screen.
Even when the Fire HD 10’s screen fell short, its Dolby Atmos-calibrated speakers delivered. We were impressed not only by the amount of sound they produced, but by the fidelity. The crescendo of alarm clocks in Pink Floyd’s seminal “Time” retained their crispness throughout, and we didn’t notice any hissing or clipping.
At the end of the day, you’re getting a Full HD display and great sound for $150, and there’s just not much competition to rival the Fire HD 10 in this tier.
Great performance and battery life
You won’t find many performance issues here — the Fire HD 10 is consistently fast. That’s thanks to a quad-core 1.8GHz MediaTek MT8173B processor with 2GB of RAM, a combination which Amazon claims is 30 percent faster than last year’s Fire HD 10. We’ll have to take the retailer’s word on the exact numbers, but we were impressed with the tablet’s day-to-day responsiveness.
We didn’t notice any sluggishness swiping around the Fire HD 10’s launcher, an impressive feat given the rows of high-resolution album artwork, movie posters, and magazine covers on every home screen. Most apps launched within seconds, and the Fire HD 10 proved to be a surprisingly capable multitasker. Scrolling through and switching between apps in the tablet’s zoomed-out multitasking view was a glass-smooth experience.
Demanding games stretched the Fire HD 10 to its limit. It had no trouble with 2D side-scroller Alto’s Adventure, but Gameloft’s Asphalt 8, a moderately intensive racing game, stuttered noticeably. It wasn’t unplayable, but not particularly enjoyable either.
You won’t find many performance issues here — the Fire HD 10 is consistently fast.
Even under duress, the Fire HD 10 had excellent battery life. Amazon said most people can expect to get up to 10 hours of mixed-use battery life, a number that’s in line with our testing. It lasted about a day and a half of off-and-on gaming, streaming, and reading, and had we enabled power-saving features like Smart Suspend (which automatically turns off the tablet’s Wi-Fi when it isn’t in use) and Lower Power Mode (which decreases the display’s brightness), it probably would’ve lasted longer.
The Fire HD 10 comes with 32GB of internal storage, but the onboard MicroSD card slot lets you expand it if you need more space.
The Fire HD 10 has two cameras, one VGA selfie sensor and a 2-megapixel rear sensor. You should absolutely avoid using them if possible.
Both sensors tended to have trouble focusing, and even when they did manage to lock onto a subject, the results were dreadfully grainy. The Fire HD 10’s front camera might do in a pitch for video chats, but your smartphone will almost always be the better option — even if it’s an iPhone 5.
Alexa works as advertised
The new Fire HD 10 ships with Alexa, which isn’t anything new — Amazon rolled its AI-powered voice assistant out to Fire tablets last year, starting with the Fire 8 and Fire 7. What is unique about the Fire HD 10 is it’s the first to ship with hands-free support for Alexa. As long as you’re connected to Wi-Fi and Hands-free mode is enabled in the settings menu, you can pull up the assistant by saying, “Alexa,” even when the tablet’s locked.
Thanks to Voicecast, an Alexa feature that responds to some voice commands with visuals, the HD 10 makes a convincing stand-in for Amazon’s Echo Show. Asking about the weather pulls up an animated, day-by-day forecast for the week ahead. A question about movies shows nearby theaters and top new releases. And asking for restaurant recommendations yields a list of popular joints by Yelp score.
Ordering and reordering Amazon items with Alexa is a cinch, unsurprisingly. We asked Alexa to order an HDMI cable and got a visual card of the closest match. From there, Alexa prompted us to add it to our cart and complete the checkout process.
Hands-free support for Alexa is one of the Fire HD 10’s best features.
Most Alexa commands that work on Amazon’s Echo speakers work on the Fire HD 10. We were able to pair a Philips Hue bulb and a D-link wireless plug using the Fire HD 10’s companion Alexa app, and shuffle tracks from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on Amazon Prime Music.
A thoughtful touch is the Tablet ESP setting, which uses Amazon’s echo spatial perception (ESP) tech to respond with the Alexa-enabled device closest to you. When enabled, an Echo speaker sitting on your bedside table, for example, will respond before a Fire HD 10 tablet across the room. It worked well in our testing, with the exception of a slight added delay.
Perhaps the only downside to the Fire HD 10’s flavor of Alexa is a Siri-like blue status bar that obscures whatever you’re doing. But otherwise, Amazon’s hands-free assistant is one of the Fire HD 10’s best features. If you’ve been looking into purchasing the Echo Show, the Fire HD 10 may be a great, cheaper alternative.
The Fire HD 10 technically runs Android, but you wouldn’t know it without peeling back its proprietary layers. Amazon’s Fire OS (version 5.5, based on Android 5.0 Lollipop) puts the retailer’s movies, music, ebooks, and magazines first and foremost.
When you unlock the Fire HD 10, you’re greeted with Home, a consolidated screen of apps and games you’ve recently installed. Flip to the left or right and you’ll see page-like digital storefronts divided into categories: Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audible (Amazon’s audiobook service), and Newsstand. Each provides one-tap access to your media library (via a dedicated button in the right-hand corner), and carousels of new releases from Amazon’s various collections.
Take the Music page, for instance. A horizontal scroll of recent activity sits at the top, above a list of curated stations from Amazon’s Prime Music streaming service. Below is a list of top albums, playlists, and songs.
That’s the basic template for every page, but the Shop screen is a notable exception. There, you’ll find your recent Amazon orders, top-selling products in popular categories, and listings you might like based on your order history. If anything catches your eye, adding it to your Amazon cart is as simple as tapping it, which opens the corresponding product page in Amazon’s pre-installed Amazon app.
Debuting first on the Fire HD 10 is “For You,” a tab of aggregated videos, apps, games, books, and movie recommendations. It worked well in our limited testing — we downloaded Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and immediately got recommendations for the sequels. But time will tell whether or not it adapts to changing tastes.
Fire OS is fast, fluid, and thoughtfully organized, but it’s completely skewed toward members of Amazon’s Prime subscription program. It’s also constricted. There’s no Google Play Store, which means apps like Google Maps, Snapchat, and other apps that haven’t made their way to
Amazon’s app store can’t be installed without a bit of jerry-rigging.
Warranty information, pricing, and availability
Amazon’s 2017 Fire HD 10 is covered by a limited one-year warranty covers manufacturing defects from date of purchase.
It’s available from Amazon for $150 with special offers that will show up on the lockscreen. If you don’t want these special offers, spend $165 for an ad-free experience.
No matter how you slice it, Amazon’s new tablet is a bargain. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a cheaper Full HD, 10.1-inch tablet at the Fire HD 10’s price point, and its excellent Alexa integration is nearly worth the price of admission alone.
Is there a better alternative?
Yes, but they’re mostly more expensive. Apple’s cheapest tablet — the 9.7-inch iPad — is an excellent tablet that starts at $330, but that’s still hundreds of dollars more than the Fire HD 10.
Cheap Android tablets are plentiful, but they’re not often good. Acer’s $135 Iconia One 10 has a 1,920 x 1,200-pixel screen and a MicroSD slot, but it delivers mediocre performance and battery life. Nvidia’s $200 Shield K1 may be your best alternative, delivering great performance for the money.
If you’re looking to buy your kids a tablet, you should consider Amazon’s $130 Kids Edition tablet, which comes with a cushioned bumper case and a no-questions-asked replacement policy. Alternatively, there’s also the smaller Amazon Fire HD 7 and Fire HD 8.
How long will it last?
Amazon’s Fire HD 10 should last two years, maybe more. The company told us it regularly issues security and software updates, and confirmed a report that the upcoming version of Fire OS, version 6.0, will ship with Android 7.1.2 Nougat. Just a note, that Android is on version 8.0 Oreo.
Should you buy it?
Yes. In the low-end tablet category Amazon still reigns supreme, and you won’t find a tablet as tightly integrated with Amazon’s services as the Fire HD 10. Prime members have tens of millions of books, songs, movies, and TV shows at their fingertips, and the Fire HD 10’s implementation of Alexa is one of the best we’ve seen yet.
It’s not all perfect though — it’s not a top performer in demanding games, and the screen’s resolution and color inaccuracy will disappoint binge-watchers.
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