Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018)

Making a great tablet in 2018 is no easy task. Moving on from their initial sales boom post-2010, slates have begun to coalesce into a number of discrete segments – with the ‘tablet’ in its purest sense disappearing at a rapid pace.

For the power users who want a tablet which doubles as a computer, there’s the Microsoft Surface Pro and other Surface slates. Those who are invested in the Apple ecosystem will get a lot of mileage from the likes of the iPad Pro 10.5, and Google is still trying to figure out how to make Android click with the form factor.

In the midst of this, Amazon has carved its own niche by manufacturing and selling bucketloads of lower-specification, bargain-priced slates to the masses.

Some tablets in the Amazon Fire series sell for as low as $30/£30 in sales, and the new Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) takes this ethos and runs with it. 

The base model runs at $79.99/£79.99 (and at the time of writing is already on sale for £60 in the UK) and offers 1.5GB of RAM, an 800 x 1280 screen, 16GB of storage and an unspecified quad-core 1.3GHz chipset.

It comes with lock screen adverts by default (costing $15/£10 to remove) and Amazon’s own custom version of Android – which may be a good or a bad thing depending both on your outlook and purchasing habits.

Then there’s the new 'Show' dock, which allows your new tablet to serve as a relatively cut-price Alexa device, should you wish to introduce a smart speaker to your home.

With this in mind, is the value promised in this budget package worth the hype? Or were too many corners cut in the production?

Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) price and availability

  • Out now in the UK and US
  • Base model (16GB) costs £79.99 / $79.99

The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) is available now direct from Amazon in the US and UK for $79.99 / £59.99 (around AU$110). Amazon still sells the previous generation of tablets, so be sure to check you're buying the 8th generation that was released in 2018.

That price above is for a 16GB model, but you can also get a 32GB one for $109.99 / £99.99 (roughly AU$155) or add a ‘Show’ charging dock to either version for more money still. You also have to pay an extra $15/£10 if you want a version without lock screen adverts. Still, whatever version you choose this is a cheap tablet.

Key features

  • 8-inch 800 x 1280 screen
  • 16/32GB of storage
  • Wide variety of color options
  • ‘Show’ dock

What marks the 8th generation of the Fire tablets above all those which have come before is the optional inclusion of the ‘Show’ dock.

By adding this dock to the slate, which also has Amazon's Alexa assistant included, what has been created is a serious rival to Amazon’s own dedicated Echo Show. There is other competition in this space too though, such as the Lenovo Smart Display and Google Home Hub for example.

Everything else that this tablet features must be taken within the context of the price charged, with Amazon virtually giving these away in the hopes of locking consumers into its shopping and content ecosystems.

The screen is an 800 x 1280 pixel affair which beats out every other tablet in this price range for resolution and usability, with the only real competitor being Amazon’s cheaper Fire 7 (2017), which boasts a screen directly from the cutting edge of 2011.

Two flavors of the Fire HD 8 (2018) are available, 16GB and 32GB, with the option to add a microSD card up to 400GB in size (a purchase which in itself would cost more than the tablet). This means that those who like to take a portable slate with them on public transport to watch video on the go will be well served. 

The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) also boasts another small but thoughtful addition which will no doubt please buyers – a variety of different color options as well as a ‘kids’ version. Yellow, Blue, Red and Black can all be had, with the reviewed Canary Yellow version looking quite dapper and holding attention despite the plastic build.

The mentioned ‘kids’ version comes with a special (functionally indestructible) thick rubber case and special software functions to aid helicopter parents.

Not touted quite as loudly as other features is the supposed ruggedness of this tablet, with Amazon claiming it to be a least twice as durable as the glass and metal iPad lineup.

Certainly, seeing an $80/£80 device crash towards a hardwood floor in slow motion is a different experience to seeing a cherished investment do the same – but the added durability is appreciated regardless.

Design

  • Slightly creaky, but reassuringly weighty
  • Yellow option stands out

Tablets at the budget end of the spectrum incur a different set of criteria to be judged by when compared to smartphones. A smartphone is something the user takes in their hand throughout the day, in front of a great many people – in short it is a prime example of conspicuous consumption. Think of it as a swish suit, a luxury object.

From this, a cheap tablet is the equivalent of a pair of comfy slippers. It is something which people come home to, which is used during downtime. It lives in the space between the cushions of the sofa, or at the bottom of a satchel. The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) fits right in to this lifestyle.

With a sturdy plastic build and the advertised durability, users can feel comfortable tossing one around the home (though never too enthusiastically) mostly without consequence. This is a device for families, for those who value cash above flash.

Saying this, we did encounter an odd flex in certain portions of the rear of the device, however this may simply be a quirk of the review unit.

The back of the Fire HD 8 (2018) houses an Amazon logo and the rear-facing camera. Each side is almost completely flush, apart from the top, which contains the volume buttons, a 3.5mm headphone jack (hooray), the power button and a micro USB port (boo).

The left side houses two small cutouts for the twin speakers, while the right side holds a microSD card slot.

On the front of the device can be found the 8-inch 800 x 1280 screen along with the 2MP selfie camera.

In all, this is an unassuming device, which at 363g is no dainty presence in the hand, but one which exudes a certain kind of design confidence that comes from precisely knowing one’s niche.

Screen

  • Gets reasonably bright
  • Not very accurate colors

Given that the primary use of many tablets is the consumption of media, the screen is make or break in almost every instance. Unfortunately, there are a great many budget tablets, especially those which cost less than $100/£100, which have truly poor screens.

As such, it is somewhat lucky that, while the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) will not win any awards for its screen, nor will it compare to the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, it is certainly good enough for watching Netflix on the go, or reading a book.

Brightness is perhaps its strongest suit. Although not quite suited to very sunny days, it can certainly compete well with most indoor light sources and has an even backlight, with no ‘bleed’ issues as far as we could see.

As for resolution, this is realistically the minimum that Amazon could get away with for the price. With 189 pixels per inch it is well below what we might consider to be ‘retina’ territory, that is where the human eye ceases to notice individual pixels.

Text can appear a little jaggy when reading, a problem which we particularly encountered with the web browser. For the price, it is forgivable, but only just.

Color reproduction is another weakness. This screen is washed out and lacking the vibrancy which draws the user in to their content. Again though, nothing more could realistically have been expected, and for vegetating on the sofa it is more than adequate overall.

Battery life

  • Slow to charge
  • 10 hours of ‘mixed-use’ quoted

In day-to-day use, the battery life of the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) is adequate, if nothing more.

Running the TechRadar battery test we found the battery dropped by 20%, which is not among the best scores found, and slightly below Amazon's claim of up to 10 hours of video on a charge. This is just enough to get through a transatlantic flight, so frequent flyers be warned.

Perhaps the biggest bugbear most users will encounter is the glacial rate of charging. This is one for an overnight juice, given that on average it will take 6 hours to go from 0 to 100%. Those looking for a quick top up before heading out will need to check their expectations.

Saying this, how often you'll be charging it will depend entirely on how you use it. We found that with two 45 minute commutes, with Wi-Fi enabled and with an hour of streaming locally stored music to Bluetooth earphones, the battery would still be at 80% by 6pm.

This isn’t a device which will see you through a nightmare 20-hour day of traveling, nor is it something which can be charged in a rush. With planning and care however, it should fit nicely into the routines of most who may choose to purchase it.

Camera

  • 2MP cameras on both the front and rear
  • Bad, terrible, awful pictures

For reasons both bewildering and terrifying, many members of the public opt to use tablets as their primary photographic devices. Though there are some slates which are beginning to adopt sensors which push out reasonable images, the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) is not one of those, for it has a Bad Camera.

That is to say a camera which defines the very notion of what it means to have a poor snapper, the kind of effort which seemingly exists merely to provide a karmic opposite to the likes of the Google Pixel 3, to provide balance to the universe.

Detail is non-existent, colors are muted and noise enters every scene. The quality of the lens is clearly an issue, given that images captured tend to look as though they were hastily snapped through a tiny, dirty porthole.

On the whole, there is little to say about the cameras on the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018), other than that they should not be used, ever.

At least the viewfinder is simple to navigate through, offering a ‘capture’ button and a toggle for more advanced settings, including a timer, a grid layout, a camera switch and, rather optimistically, a HDR function.

Camera samples

Interface and reliability

  • Slow, busy interface
  • Show Dock turns it into an Echo Show-like device

Amazon isn’t quite done making money from the consumer when the initial purchase takes place. Instead, the firm uses its own fork of Android which has a unique interface and experience attached to it.

This is a storefront aiming to tempt the purchase of books, TV shows, music, goods and more – everything that Amazon sells is pushed here. Navigation is achieved by swiping through a carousel of different themes, such as 'Home', 'Books' and 'Music', with the relevant content present below.

In general use, the speed of the interface does prove to be an issue. Amazon likes things to be busy, there is a lot of content pushing itself front and center and this can be distracting when trying to do something simple, like finding the calculator app.

Generally, although stutters are common, apps have a tendency not to have random crashes, though this is likely more to do with the general reliability of Android rather than stellar optimization work on the part of Amazon.

It is worth noting that the fork of Android present here means that there is no Google Play Store, instead users are limited to the rather paltry selection available in the Amazon App Store.

Those in the know can sideload the Google Play Store and therefore gain access to the likes of Gmail and YouTube, but by default these aren’t present.

Especially as a device marketed as being suitable for children, having no access to YouTube Kids is a major issue, and is something to bear in mind.

In all, using the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) is a little like using in-flight entertainment – it can help to pass the time but can be frustratingly limited in a number of crucial areas.

Show mode is Amazon’s big bet with the Fire series this year. Those interested can purchase an accompanying 'Show Dock' which comes with a case for the device.

With this attached, the tablet will charge whenever placed in the dock, which sits with a stiff hinge and a quality build. The tablet will then enter 'Show Mode', where Alexa, Amazon’s omnipresent virtual assistant, can be called by shouting its name.

The assistant can then perform a number of actions, such as checking the weather, looking up stock information or reading a curated list of headlines. The utility of these assistants is intricately tied into the lifestyles of those who use them, and this is in turn hindered by closed-in service design.

For instance, looking up a recipe by voice on the semi-ubiquitous BBC Good Food was nearly impossible, with Alexa instead pushing Amazon’s preferred recipe service. Indeed, we found this throughout – and it proved to be a significant bugbear overall.

Ultimately, how you use the device will decide whether the $30/£40 premium for the Show Dock is worth it, but for many it is simply a convoluted way to create an expensive alarm clock.

Movies, music and gaming

  • Decent speakers
  • Screen decent for watching video

The 800 x 1200, 8-inch screen on the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) is ideal for watching video on the go, striking a nice balance between screen real estate and portability.

This is complemented by the presence of the headphone jack, but also by Amazon’s stab at stereo speakers. These fire sound mostly towards the front, and are mostly better than other cheap tablet efforts.

Saying this, the mediocre MediaTek chipset makes anything more demanding than Candy Crush a no-go for serious gamers, as such, those who value this sort of thing would be better served looking elsewhere.

For music, Amazon’s Prime Music is present, which is a pleasant enough service, and for video the ubiquitous Amazon Prime Video is placed front and center – for better or for worse.

Performance and benchmarks

  • Slow performance
  • Will not run demanding games

With a single-core Geekbench score of 627 and a multi-core score of 1,677, the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) was never going to set the performance charts alight in the same way as the iPad Pro 10.5 with its laptop-class chipset.

Regardless, this is a poor showing and reflective of a device which is more akin to a portable TV as opposed to the latest and greatest object of lust to come from the likes of Samsung and Apple.

The scores reflect the sometimes slow performance, but unless you're trying to run demanding games it's not too much of an issue.

Verdict

The Fire series of tablets exists very definitely within its own special niche. These are throwaway devices that fit their specific brief very nicely and offer a decent experience overall, but with a number of glaring issues.

The design of the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018), while distinctive, is perhaps a little too utilitarian, the screen is bright and has a reasonable resolution but the color reproduction is poor.

The battery lasts a full day, but takes almost the same again to recharge, the performance is adequate for browsing media, but anything more demanding proves to be too much of a challenge.

Against all of this, the price is $80/£80, but the real cost is having Amazon’s services forced through at every possible moment – and for some who aren’t quite enamored with the e-retail giant this may be too bitter a pill to swallow.

The price is low enough to wash many of these criticisms away though, and those who do make the leap will be rewarded with a mostly cracking piece of hardware which sacrifices just a bit too much soul to be an easy recommendation.

Who's this for?

Anyone looking for a cheap tablet should have this at the front of their mind, regardless of the drawbacks.

Should you buy it?

An iPad will typically cost many hundreds of pounds/dollars, even for a fairly basic model – this tablet costs $80/£80. Ultimately, it is very good value for what is on offer. If you don't plan to use the tablet too heavily or for overly demanding tasks then the Fire HD 8 (2018) is a solid option.

First reviewed: October 2018

There are a number of other cheap tablets to consider, such as the following three:

Amazon Fire 7 (2017)

Amazon’s smaller tablet has the same chipset as its larger sibling but a smaller battery, less RAM and a weaker screen.

However, it can sell for as little as $30/£30 during promotions, and as such will satisfy the bare minimum needs of the most basic users better than the relatively bloated Fire HD 8 (2018).

Read our full Amazon Fire 7 (2017) review

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

The largest of the Fire family is also the most powerful, housing more RAM, a 1080p screen and better speakers and battery life.

It is also more expensive however – and is better suited as a ‘round the home’ tablet than its smaller brother the Fire HD 8 (2018). Those who would like a bigger screen are certainly more likely to prefer the larger model.

Read our full Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017) review

Huawei MediaPad T3 10

The Huawei MediaPad T3 10 has an 800 x 1280 9.6-inch screen, promises better battery life than the Fire HD 8 (2018) and comes with full Android, a definite strength. Saying this, it retails starting at 30% more than the Fire HD 8 (2018), if one is counting the pennies then the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) wins on cost alone.

Sean Cameron
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