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Amazon Fire HD 8 review (2020): Cheap for a reason

Amazon Fire HD 8
Amazon Fire HD 8 review (2020): Cheap for a reason
MSRP $90.00
“The Amazon Fire HD 8 is the only reasonable choice in its price bracket, but there's good reason for that.”
  • Amazon integration
  • Ultra-affordable
  • Good battery life
  • Alexa
  • Software can feel like an advertisement
  • Sluggish performance
  • Under-par display

The tablet market is in an odd spot. Apple dominates, and the iPad is our top pick for those who can spend up to around $300. If you can’t spend that much (or don’t want to), however, or you just don’t like Apple’s ecosystem, your options are limited. Amazon is one of the few alternatives, offering ultra-low-cost tablets for years — and it recently unveiled a refreshed version of the Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet.

Amazon’s new Fire HD 8 isn’t radically different compared to the previous-generation Fire HD 8, but it does offer a few upgrades. For example, there’s now a USB-C port on the bottom, along with a new chip that claims 30% better performance.

However, the headline feature is still the price. At a super-low $90, the Fire HD 8 may well be the best option under $100 — partially because it’s one of the only options under $100. But what are the sacrifices?

A basic design with a few quirks

The Fire HD 8 offers an 8-inch display, with half-inch bezels around the display. The tablet comes in a range of colors, which is perhaps the most unique thing about it. Those colors include white, black, twilight blue, and plum. I reviewed the white model, and it looks good enough — though the more colorful models have more flair.

As someone who usually uses the entry-level iPad for any tablet needs, the Fire HD 8 does feel a little thick, coming in at 9.7mm compared to the iPad’s 7.5mm. Considering the overall size, it’s still reasonably lightweight. However, once you add a case, it starts getting even heftier. Due to that bulk, the tablet feels relatively tough. It’s largely made from plastic that won’t scratch or dent easily.

The Fire HD 8’s layout of buttons and ports could use work. The webcam is placed horizontally rather than vertically, and when used in the horizontal layout, you’ll get the volume rocker, power button, USB-C port, and headphone jack on the left side. In the end, I didn’t mind the layout, but it’s a little strange to have the USB-C port at the top, and the power button and volume rocker at the bottom, when you want to use the device in portrait mode. On the right side, there’s a MicroSD card slot to expand on the built-in storage.

This is the first Fire HD tablet to offer a USB-C port, which is nice to see. You won’t really get fast-charging through that port, but it’s handy to be able to charge your modern devices with all the same cables, and inclusion of such a port is a little overdue for Amazon.

On the back of the device, there’s a 2-megapixel camera that snaps mediocre images at best. The selfie camera on the front also sits in a 2 megapixels, and while it will do the job for video chatting, again, a better camera would’ve been appreciated.

Overall, it the Fire HD 8 is built to get the job done. Its low price means you have to sacrifice the more premium feel of even Apple’s entry-level iPad, but that dosen’t make the tablet more difficult to use.

Mediocre display

While the design is fine, the display leaves something to be desired. Again, that’s to be expected of a device in this price range, but it’s still important to note.

The 8-inch LCD display has a resolution of 800 x 1,280, which is a little sub-par. Its maximum brightness is low as well, and as a result you may struggle to see what you’re doing in direct sunlight. Colors are also a little muted, making videos less immersive and exciting.

Digital Trends noticed the display was a little lackluster when we reviewed the 2018 model of the Fire HD 8, so it’s disappointing that Amazon hasn’t upgraded it. While the display manages to do the job in most situations, you’re going to have trouble using it outdoors, and the movies won’t look as sharp as on more expensive tablets.

Lackluster performance, good battery life

Things aren’t much better under the hood. Android devices often perform well when you get them, then over the next few years they start to run slower and slower. That’s not the case here, unfortunately. The Amazon Fire 8 HD runs slow out of the box.

This tablet is powered by a MediaTek MT8168 processor, coupled with 2GB of RAM and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. If you want to expand on that storage, there’s a MicroSD card slot built in to the device.

The specs are undeniably modest, and while the tablet performed fine during day-to-day use, if you’re into mobile gaming, you’ll need something with a little more oomph, unless you’re mostly interested in basic games. This tablet isn’t built for gaming — though for things like streaming video, browsing social media, and so on, it should be fine.

While the performance is a little disappointing, the battery life is solid. Amazon rates the battery life at up to 12 hours, and I found it easily endured two days of moderate use. Unless you regularly forget to charge your devices, you’ll find that the battery life is more than long enough for most.

Amazon-forward software

Apart from price, the main reason someone might want to buy a Fire HD tablet is its integration with the rest of Amazon’s ecosystem. For those who use more stripped-back versions of Android on their phone, like that on Google’s Pixel phones or OxygenOS from OnePlus, the heavily tweaked Fire OS on the Fire HD 8 feels a little chaotic — and at times a little dated, too.

The deep integration with Amazon services can be very helpful for Prime subscribers who already make heavy use of Amazon’s apps and services. You’ll get quick and immediate access to services like Audible, Prime Video, Kindle, and so on, thanks to the apps that come installed out of the box.

Many of those services are built right into the home screen too — swipe right, and you’ll get access to your books. Swipe right again, and you’ll see videos. Once more, there are games and apps. It’s an intuitive way to scroll through Amazon’s services, but if you don’t use every single Amazon service out there, these sections of the home screen only serve as advertisements — and full-screen ones at that. On the Video tab, for example, you’ll only be able to see Prime Video content. Even if you download the Netflix app, don’t expect Amazon to recommend content from it in that tab.

Fire OS does not take advantage of Google Play Services, so you won’t have access to Google services like Google Drive, YouTube, and so on unless you download them. Even then, you won’t have access to the Google Play Store without making a major effort to get it.

Also, the Amazon Appstore is limited. You’ll find most streaming services, social media apps, and some of the more popular games, there’s plenty of gaps. You can’t, for example, download an official YouTube app, nor will the fitness junkies out there be able to download services like MyFitnessPal.

Then you have the ads. If you take full advantage of Amazon services, you may not care about them that much — but if you generally pick and choose, like most people probably do, the ads get to be a little much. Every time you see the lock screen, you’ll see a different set of books or shows Amazon thinks you’ll want to read or watch, and Amazon will regularly fill your notification shade with other advertisements.

Alexa is a part of the Fire tablet experience, and it works well. You’ll have all the Alexa smarts that you would on the Echo, plus the ability to control certain aspects of the tablet’s software — like opening specific apps, playing videos on Prime Video, and so on.

Ultimately, if you’re anything like me, you’ll end up having a bit of a love-hate relationship with Fire OS. It works great in many situations, but only if you’re seriously plugged into the Amazon ecosystem — and if you’re not, much of the operating system only serves as bloatware.

Price, availability, and warranty information

The slow performance, bloated software, and limited app selection would be unforgivable if it wasn’t for the price. However, at $90, there’s almost no competition to the Fire HD 8. You might be able to find a discounted Samsung or Lenovo tablet that matches the price, but you’d otherwise have to shop for no-name tablets that won’t offer any advantage over the Fire HD 8.

Of course, this tablet is available directly from Amazon. You’ll only get a 90-day limited warranty here, which only covers manufacturer defects.

Our take

The Amazon Fire HD 8 is a solid budget option for those that want an entertainment machine, or who are plugged into Amazon’s ecosystem and want a device that takes advantage of that. But, the device is far from perfect. It has relatively sluggish performance, the software can feel like one big advertisement, and the display isn’t great.

Is there a better alternative?

In this price range, there aren’t any solid alternatives, as the options that are out there are from no-name brands or are seriously underpowered. It may be worth looking into a refurbished iPad, or saving up your cash for something better, like a cheap option from Lenovo or the entry-level iPad — though the entry-level iPad still costs $250 when it’s on sale.

How long will it last?

You should get a year or two of normal use out of the Amazon Fire HD 8. Its slow performance will get worse over time, which is something to keep in mind since it’s not great to begin with, but if all you really use it for is watching videos and browsing social media, it should do just fine. Physically, the tablet is strong enough to withstand most day-to-day use, but you won’t want to drop it or get it wet.

Should you buy it?

No. Though it has little competition, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is too affordable for its own good.

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