Amazon calls the 2017 edition of its Fire HD 8 tablet the “all-new Fire HD 8,” but there really isn’t anything new about it except a handful of new colors — oh, and its slightly lower price tag. Already a good deal when it debuted at $90 or £90 in 2016, it’s now down to $80 or £80. (It’s not available in Australia so far, but the US price converts to about AU$100.) By comparison, Apple’s starts at $329, £339, or AU$469 while the similarly sized (128GB) costs $399, £379 or AU$569. In other words, you could literally buy four to five Fire HD 8s for the price of one iPad.
Like last year’s model, this “new” HD 8 includes 16GB of internal memory, with an expansion slot for adding microSD memory cards. The only change that instead of accepting cards up to 200GB in capacity the Fire HD 8 now accepts cards up 256GB. You can also get this tablet with 32GB of internal memory, as well as a new 32GB Kids Edition that includes a protective case, a two-year, no-questions-asked replacement guarantee should the device get damaged, and a year of the FreeTime Unlimited subscription service.
Powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core processor and with 1.5GB of RAM, the HD 8 is rated to deliver 12 hours of juice. Amazon says that 12-hour battery rating is for “mixed-use,” so it’s hard to determine in our own video streaming tests if the new HD 8 lives up to those numbers, but the battery life, while not exceptionally good, is quite decent for a budget tablet. The biggest hit it took was with heavy use of Wi-Fi and playing more graphics-intensive games.
Like all of Amazon’s latest Fire tablets, including the slightly improved, you can access the Alexa voice assistant with a tap of a virtual button. The feature comes in handy for quickly accessing the latest weather and news, as well as finding and playing a specific video or artist in Amazon Video or Music. However, you do have to push that virtual button to access Alexa, so you can’t tell your tablet what to do from across the room.
Available in four colors, the 2017 HD 8 retains its zippy feel — I thought apps loaded reasonably quickly and the device didn’t feel sluggish. (The 2015 model was noticeably more sluggish.)
Thanks to the stereo speakers tuned with Dolby audio, the tablet outputs a good amount of sound and works well for movie watching. The front and rear cameras are pretty basic by today’s standards (the rear captures 720p video), but at least they’re there and available for such apps as Skype.
You’re looking at a handful of drawbacks. While this is an 8-inch widescreen HD display with 1,280×800-pixel (189 ppi) resolution, it’s not as sharp or vibrant as the iPad Mini 4’s more squarish 4:3 screen and its 2,048×1,536-pixel resolution (326 ppi). But that tablet now costs literally 5 times as much — albeit with 128GB of locked-in storage. The HD 8 will be fine for most people, but if you’ve used an iPad before, you’ll feel it’s a step down. Even Amazon’s late, greathas a better-looking screen because it has the same resolution as the HD 8 but packs it into a 6-inch space at a denser 252 ppi (pixels per inch).
Another downside is that even though the Fire OS is built on an Android foundation, you’re locked into Amazon’s Fire OS and its less robust app store rather than the Google Play store you’d find on a “real” Android tablet. Yes, hard-core techies can theoretically “jailbreak” the HD 8 to effectively make it more Android-friendly — you can find instructions online on how to add the Play store — but I’m reviewing the product as is.