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Lifewire / Jordan Provost
Great screen for streaming services
The Amazon HD Fire 8 is a competent multimedia tablet with a great screen for watching videos, but if you try to do much beyond that, you’ll quickly feel the limitations of this budget device.
Amazon’s range of Fire tablets is on the lowest budget end of the tablet ecosystem. They’ve been made popular by their reliability as multimedia machines for both adults and children who want to stream video content, play undemanding games, and browse the web.
The Fire HD 8 has no designs to double as a computer—it simply offers up an affordable tablet experience for a wide variety of users. We tested one to see if the limited specs and compromised OS impede on the user experience, or if this Amazon-branded gadget is worth the budget price tag.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 is very light at 12.8 oz, and it has a nondescript design that was easy to slip into a backpack or messenger bag. If you’re looking to read an ebook on your commute or stream some YouTube videos before bed, it’s a nice alternative to your smartphone screen. Plus, you don’t have to worry too much about dropping it. The Fire HD 8 feels sturdy, even more so than its big brother the Fire HD 10.
We found the 8.4 x 5-inch size comfortable to hold. The corners didn’t dig into our palms and our thumbs sat midway up the screen for easy use. The plastic on the back of the device was incredibly slippery—we kept trying to prop this thing up when we were watching videos, but the Fire HD 8 wasn’t having it. (You’ll need to get a case or folio to mitigate this problem.) Luckily, its tough constitution means that if it does slip, it can survive a few bumps and scrapes.
If you’re looking to read an ebook on your commute or stream some YouTube videos before bed, it’s a nice alternative to your smartphone screen.
Two ports are situated at the top of the device: a micro-USB connector for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Given that Apple has said goodbye to all but the USB-C port on the latest iPad, this is a welcome addition for users who are still operating with wired headphones. There is also a handy microSD slot that allows users to upgrade the storage past the built-in 16GB capacity.
This device is not waterproof, but it is rugged. This is a big selling point for anyone buying a tablet for a kid—Amazon even makes its own line of Kids Edition Fire tablets. The HD 8 version retails for $130 and includes a “kid-proof” bumper case and a year of Fire for Kids Unlimited, which opens up a library of child-friendly games, books, and videos. If the tablet will primarily be used by children, this gives you some extra peace of mind. Plus, it has a two-year worry-free guarantee.
As an add-on to the Fire HD 8, you can pick up the Show Mode Charging Dock. It connects to the tablet via the micro-USB and props it up so it looks and behaves like the Echo Show. The screen mimics the Show’s display that you can use to get quick visual information and call friends and family. You can activate the Show functionality manually on the device (without the dock), but it’s still a clever addition that might appeal to users who like smart hubs.
Setting up the Amazon Fire HD 8 was quick and easy. After choosing a language and connecting to the Wi-Fi, we were prompted to register our device with Amazon and offered a suite of trial subscriptions to other Amazon services (a good opportunity to test out Audible, Prime Video, or any other subscription package you may be curious about).
After that, we were sent to the home screen and run through a subsequent OS tutorial that explained the different menu screens. This is helpful if you’re not familiar with Android tablets and you want to learn how certain features work, like the hands-free Alexa voice commands.
The display on the Fire HD 8 is crisp and text is legible, but it also looks washed out at full brightness. There’s a lack of vibrant colour that is disappointing, especially when compared to the far superior screen on its big brother, the Fire HD 10.
The resolution clocks in at 1280 x 800 and delivers HD video at 189 pixels-per-inch, which is impressive for a tablet of this size (especially considering the budget price tag). Streaming content through Prime Video was mostly fine, even if it felt like a rather dim display. Naturally, it gets worse in the glare of the sun.
The display … is crisp and text is legible, but it also looks washed out at full brightness.
That being said, we did notice a great amount of detail in the picture while watching HD content on Prime Video. Overall, at $79.99, the Fire HD 8 gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
Navigating the menus of the Fire HD 8 is mostly enjoyable, but multitasking becomes problematic if you’re used to the speed and fluidity of an iPad. We found it was frustratingly slow to switch in and out of Show Mode and open downloaded apps.
During testing, the system froze up when we returned to it after some time away from the device, triggering a symphony of frenzied clicking sounds and a random app opening.
The OS is also designed to barrage you with recommendations, and we found it frustrating that one slightly misplaced click could open up an application or webpage that we didn’t want—sometimes we couldn’t close it or move on instantly, and that was even more irritating.
Navigation was fluid only when we limited ourselves to a small number of applications. When one locked up, the system tumbled like a house of cards, and we frequently ended up on black screens and loading pages for a long time. If we pulled down the top menu to change a setting, it would grind our streaming session to a halt.
It’s all a far cry from the architecture of an iPad, or the desktop experience found in other productivity-focused tablets. This is mostly due to the meager 1.5 GB of RAM—most of it is keeping the system just about treading water.
The Fire HD 8 is not geared towards productivity. It’s more of a multimedia machine for families who need to keep their kids occupied, or adults who want to multitask on a screen that’s bigger than the average smartphone.
We found the typing to be unresponsive at times and it was frustrating to just reply to an email on the Fire HD 8—we found it easier to reach for our smartphone. On the flip side, it was much easier to browse the web and use social media. The Fire 8 breezed through apps like Instagram and Twitter.
In our GFXBench testing, the Fire HD 8 achieved 16 fps with the T-Rex benchmark. To give you an idea of where this product is at graphics-wise, a similar result was achieved by the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 from 2012.
These results are pretty poor, but the Fire HD 8 still managed to provide a solid 2D gaming experience with titles like Bowmasters and Candy Crush. It even put up a fight with more demanding titles like Subway Surfers and Real Racing 3. In the latter, textures were jagged and the frames-per-second plummeted, but it was still playable.
Geekbench scores were similarly disappointing, but that’s to be expected at the low end of the scale. The Fire HD 8’s Quad-Core 1.3 GHz processor scored 632 in the single-core test and 1,761 in the multi-core test, which puts it at about half the power of the Fire HD 10’s performance.
Just make sure you don’t attempt to push the boundaries of this device, performance-wise, or it will crumble.
With that discrepancy in performance, it’s hard to recommend the Fire HD 8 over the Fire HD 10. The larger screen is a bit more expensive, but it’s literally twice as fast. And if we compare the Fire HD 8’s specifications to the top end of the tablet ecosystem, you see even more of a gulf—Apple’s 2018 iPad Pro and its A12X Bionic chip scored 5,019 in the single-core test and 18,090 in the multi-core segment.
But that’s why the iPad Pro is ten times more expensive than the Fire HD 8. (Also, the Apple results come across as overkill given that most applications don’t demand that kind of power.)
If you’re looking to stream video content, listen to music, check social media, and lightly browse the web, this is a sufficient amount of power—just make sure you don’t attempt to push the boundaries of this device, performance-wise, or it will crumble.
The integrated Dolby Audio speakers on the Fire HD 8 are decent for the size of the device. They were loud enough to overpower music from a desktop monitor, but the quality of the audio sounds tinny.
There is barely any bass and it’s easily muffled—the two speakers are on one side of the device, so you have to be careful when holding it. Whether you’re listening to music or streaming content, you’re better off plugging in some headphones if you want to consume content regularly.
We put the Fire HD 8 through a Speedtest and the device scored 23.1 Mbps on our 100 Mbps Wi-Fi plan. This is disappointing in comparison to the Fire HD 10 (51 Mbps) and the Surface Go (94 Mbps), and these low speeds are something to consider if you have an internet plan with less bandwidth.
But ultimately, like the graphics issue, it doesn’t really factor into the user experience of the Fire HD 8 because most apps are small and download quickly. Web pages load acceptably fast and social media applications update efficiently.
We also tested the signal strength of the Fire HD 8. It performed well as we got to the edges of our Wi-Fi range, but still had slightly lower signal strength than the Fire HD 10.
Tablet cameras often seem pointless, and the lenses on the Fire HD 8 are no exception. Both the front and rear-facing cameras are 2 MP and turn the real world into a grainy mess.
They do offer a slight improvement on the previous generation of the Fire HD 8, which offered a truly poor VGA front-facing camera. The 2 MP alternative on the newer Fire HD 8 is better for video calling or taking a quick selfie (though the camera quality means you might think twice about sharing it).
Amazon quotes a 10-hour battery life for the Fire HD 8. This tracks for most of our testing, mainly because it’s hard to use this device for hours on end. You’re more likely to play with it on your commute or spend a few hours watching TV shows on it.
When we took it out for a day of battery testing, we naturally used it as a secondary device for music, streaming ,and a few social media browsing sessions while our laptop did the heavy lifting. By the end of the nine-to-five workday, our battery was at 38%, which is fair.
Unfortunately, the Fire HD 8 takes a very long time to charge, which undermines the strong battery life. In one case, we left it charging for five hours and when we returned it was at 92%. Maybe that feels like a nitpick, but realistically this means that you’re going to have to rely on charging the Fire HD 8 overnight most of the time, instead of being able to use it on multiple days in varying intervals.
If you’re expecting the typical Android tablet home screen, think again. Fire OS is completely tailored to everything Amazon, which can be a hindrance or a delight depending on how involved you are with Amazon’s range of services.
If you have previously purchased Kindle books, own multiple Audible Audiobooks and have an active Amazon Music subscription, you’ll be delighted to see all your content available in streamlined menus that are only a few gestures away.
If you’re less entrenched in the Amazon ecosystem of services, you’re going to be barraged with ads for them until you give in. The Fire HD 8 has a home screen that displays an ad every time you press the power button, and that definitely gets old quick.
You can pay Amazon to turn the advertisements off, but it will still constantly offer recommendations and carefully tailor splash screens to the features you use. After testing Show Mode numerous times, we started receiving ads for the Show Mode Charging Dock.
This Amazon oversaturation can feel claustrophobic, and it’s a far cry from the open-source, limitless potential of most Android operating systems. You can’t really make this tablet your own. In some sense, no matter how much you dress it up, Amazon is always there to advertise another product.
The best effect of Amazon’s influence is Alexa. In this case, Alexa’s smart assistant integration is hands-free and holistic. All you have to do is say the word and Alexa will take you to any application, even though there may be some slowdown in the process. This is perfect if you need to order items from Amazon, control movie playback, or skip through songs.
It may not be obvious at first, but we think Alexa is the best way to navigate on the Fire HD 8, so the more comfortable you are with voice commands the better.
The Fire range also has its own app store, which is lacking a number of essential Google apps and some of the most popular mobile games like PUBG Mobile and Fortnite. Of course, there are well-designed alternatives and clever workarounds, but it doesn’t do much to elevate the budget feel of this device.
If you’re buying this tablet for a child, the question of “Will it play Fortnite?” is a hard no, but it will play Roblox and plenty of other popular titles. It’s always a hit or miss whether the next big thing is going to land in the Fire OS app store.
Luckily, because Fire OS is such a unique system, most apps are well-suited to work in this proprietary system and function correctly despite the knock-off feel.
The base model of the Fire HD 8 retails for $79.99 with advertisements and $94.99 without. Either way, this is an absolute steal if you just want something cheap and cheerful that meets the needs of a casual user.
Beyond that, the Fire HD 8 is nothing special—its budget price and accessibility prop it up when its budget internals drag it down. But there are no tablets in the price range of the Fire HD 8 that can really touch it.
If you’re looking into buying the Amazon Fire HD 8, you’re most likely looking for something that is cost-effective and on the lower end of the budget tablet spectrum, with most professional productivity tablets starting around the $600 mark.
The only real competitors to the Fire HD 8 lie within Amazon’s own range of products. You could spend a little more and pick up the $149.99 Fire HD 10 with its superior screen, marginal spec upgrades, and fluid navigation, or dip down to the non-HD Fire 7 at just $49.99. The latter loses a few of the mod cons but delivers an ultimately palatable experience for casual users.
If you’re shopping for a child, the differences are negligible. Both the Fire 7 and the Fire HD 8 are easy to recommend, especially if you pick up the Kids Edition that protects the device with a sturdy case and offers a year’s worth of content aimed at a younger audience.
A solid, entry-level tablet for casual users and children.
The Fire HD 8 is not a pocket powerhouse by any stretch, but if you can navigate through the many compromises in its OS, it’s worth it. If you’re looking for a nondescript tablet on a tight budget, the Fire HD 8 is a great option.