Amazon Fire HD 8 – Software
The Amazon Fire HD 8 runs Fire OS, which is based on Android but looks and feels completely different. If you’ve used an Amazon tablet before then nothing significant has changed. But it’s worth a quick primer if you’re new to the Fire range.
Fire OS is the most brazenly service-driven tablet software system anywhere. It’s made up of a bunch of homescreens, most of which push other Amazon-owned platforms. There’s Instant Video, the Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk, Audible, and more.
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It’s the equivalent of Google getting rid of customisable homescreens and instead just giving you pages featuring different parts of the Google Play Store. The reason the Amazon Fire HD 8 is so affordable suddenly becomes clear: Amazon makes most of its money elsewhere, badgering you into spending money with these services.
This interface style is overbearing and potentially very annoying. It won’t be for everyone, but it certainly isn’t for me. I find the “advert” home screens sloppy, and would prefer to spend a little more money for a more subdued Android style. However, the approach is legitimate given how much you save, and the fact that Amazon’s services are generally quite good.
For example, the app store may not be quite as well stocked as Google Play – and new releases tend to take longer to appear – but there’s plenty here, and much of it can be tried/played for free.
Latest games like Super Mario Run are nowhere to be seen and numerous banking apps are missing, but big-hitters like Netflix are here.
Amazon has also put Alexa, the excellent personal assistant that lives inside the Echo and Fire TV, inside the new Fire HD 8. It has all the skills you would expect – setting timers, playing songs, controlling your smart home – but due to the lack of always-listening microphones you’ll have to hold down the menu button rather than saying “Alexa” to get things started. Still, it’s nice to see it on a tablet.
Amazon Fire HD 8 – Performance
The Amazon Fire HD 8 isn’t all that quick, however. Fire OS feels slower than a reasonably specced Android alternative. Scrolling isn’t always entirely smooth, the custom homepage makes terrible use of screen space, and flicking between 10 of them just isn’t an effective way to get around.
I’ve been playing intensive games on the Amazon Fire HD 8, and all are fast enough to be fun. There might be a bit of frame-rate slowdown at the start of races in Asphalt 8, and the rate also slows in Riptide GP2 when the nitrous motion-blur effects start kicking, but it’s isn’t so serious that it stops games from being fun.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 has a MediaTek processor at its heart, which is somewhat comparable to the low-end CPUs from Snapdragon. It has four 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 cores and the dual-core version of the Mali T720 GPU.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 has 2GB RAM, which is as little as an Android-based tablet can have without tending to feel annoyingly slow. But as in most areas, Amazon has used exactly the right tech for the price.
Amazon has upgraded the Wi-Fi module for this version of the Fire HD 8, and the dual-band support does make streaming slightly more reliable.
Amazon Fire HD 8 – Speakers
The speakers are a minor disappointment. There are two drivers, one at each end of the bottom edge when the Amazon Fire HD 8 is held on its side.
With games this provides a hint of a stereo effect, even though the speakers are pointing away from you. However, the tone of the sound is nothing special. It’s a little thin, and lacks the power I’ve heard in older, more expensive Fire models. You can max out the volume without the sound starting to break up, though.