Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) Review and Ratings
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) Review
By Melissa J. Perenson, reviewed September 14, 2017
Introduction, Design & Features
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) tablet is back with a refresh—and a price cut for 2017. At a casual glance, the new Fire HD 8 looks like the twin of its predecessor. But thanks to a few tweaks, it impresses by delivering a strong feature set in an appealing package. Plus, the Fire HD 8 costs $79.99, a $10 drop versus the 2016 Fire HD 8 version.
Now in its seventh generation, the Fire HD 8's march toward innovation has slowed. That’s not surprising, considering the tablet market is sleepy and not terribly competitive at the moment. Also, compact tablets—such as the Fire HD 8 and its smaller sibling, the Fire 7—are being squeezed by the ever-larger screens on smartphones on one size and by falling prices on Apple's category-defining iPads on the other. But where the latest large-screen phone can set you back more than $900 (looking at you, Samsung Galaxy Note 8), the Fire HD 8 is priced like an impulse buy, even more so if you get the tablet with Amazon’s “special offers” lock-screen enabled.
One of the biggest differences between the 2016 and 2017 versions of the Fire HD 8: improved stereo speakers. The new model also adds Alexa support out of the box (it came later, as a download, to the 2016 version), an improved graphics chip, and MicroSD card support that's been boosted to support 256GB cards.
To achieve that low price, the Fire HD 8 once again loses a feature: The gyroscope is missing from the 2017 version. We also noticed that the display on our test sample was slightly less bright and white than the ones on the 2016 versions we reviewed. Instead, the background had a bit more yellow than we expected. But really, the only change you might notice in practical fact is the gyroscope, an omission that could affect the ability of an app to detect the tablet’s geographic space, orientation, and proximity—if the app uses this sensor.
Truth is, you’re not likely going to miss the gyroscope in most apps. Plus, you’ll save enough off the price versus the 2016 Fire HD 8 for a couple of lattes, or to help offset a third of the $30 upgrade to double the onboard storage from 16GB to 32GB (or, a third of the cost of the $30 fabric-and-multifiber case).
While you will find some limitations along the way when you use the Fire HD 8 as a tablet, it, like its predecessor, makes a great consumption device if you own and indulge in a lot of Amazon media.
Design & Features
Physically, the Fire HD 8 (2017) apes its 2016 sibling, measuring 0.4 inch thick, and with an 8.4x5-inch footprint. There is only a rounding error’s difference of 0.02-inch of thickness between the two.
That thickness measure is the crucial one, though. It makes the Fire HD 8 nearly twice as thick as the 0.24-inch Apple iPad Mini 4. The extra thickness was noticeable and made the tablet feel chunky, especially once Amazon's $29.95 cover was snapped on. (At least this cover is $10 less than 2016’s version for the 2016 HD 8 model.) Thinner tablets are certainly easier and more elegant to hold—but they are also more costly. That said, if you opt for the cover, the whole works has a bookish, substantial feel, and the cover itself has a nice, hatched texture...
The Fire HD 8, like its 2016 predecessor, has a solidly built, hard-plastic chassis that feels inexpensive but features bright colors. (You get a choice of Punch Red, Canary Yellow, Marine Blue, and black.) The hard plastic does have a feel, though, more appropriate for a toy. By comparison, tablets like the Apple iPad Mini 4 or the Asus ZenPads have sleeker, more stylish metal-back designs.
Previously, we’d noted the back was too smooth to use without a case; we still feel this way. The snap-on case supports the tablet’s sleep/wake functions, and the origami-style fold is handy for propping up the tablet.
To our surprise, the Fire HD 8 (2017) again edges up in weight, gaining an ounce from the previous year. That’s two years in a row that Amazon has added a little weight. Now at 13 ounces, or eight-tenths of a pound, the Fire HD 8 feels chunky, and heavier than we’d expected given the screen size. And the weight is harder to ignore when using the tablet one-handed.
Clearly, one way that Amazon is keeping costs down is by repurposing the fundamental design of the Fire HD 8 between generations. With a minimalist angle that echoes what was done in 2015 and 2016, the 2017 Fire HD 8 has volume controls, a headphone jack, a micro-USB port, and a power button running along the top edge (from left to right, when held in portrait mode)...
The metal buttons are well-defined and easy to press. The positionally sensitive volume buttons work well in their location when you use the tablet horizontally, the better orientation for consuming video.
Amazon continues to offer a MicroSD card slot, beneath a sturdily designed cover, along the long right edge of the tablet...
The slot's card support was boosted in this revision, to now support up to 256GB of storage—a real boon for those who like to keep their music, books, apps, and video with them offline for use in cars, planes, and other disconnected environments where cloud storage doesn’t work. The ability to store content offline is key, given how cheap MicroSD cards are—and especially considering the Fire HD 8’s mere 16GB of internal storage at its bargain price. (Again, 32GB is an option, for $30 more.) In the box, you get a USB cable and a wall-charger block; storage cards, you'll have to supply yourself.
Speaking of the bargain price, the $79 version of the Fire HD 8 comes with Amazon’s “with offers” lock-screen advertisements activated. These are unobtrusive enough that we wouldn’t suggest splurging for the $15 extra to ditch the adverts.
The back has Amazon’s logo scribed on it in a glossy font. The rear-facing 2-megapixel camera will be covered if you hold the tablet in what we naturally felt to be landscape mode, with the volume buttons at the upper edge and the case flipped around the top of the tablet.
The camera sits at the back, in the same corner as the power button. Sure, we could just as easily rotate the tablet into landscape mode in the other direction, and that was fine for photos. But that also meant the stereo speakers along the other long edge fired straight down and became more muffled on some surfaces, such as our lap or bedding. Just a fair warning as you flip your Fire.
Mostly, though, this is a minor issue, because given that the camera is 2 megapixels, we wisely didn’t expect much, or get much, from the image quality. We see the camera more in play for scanning barcodes or for use with augmented-reality games, than as a serious image-capture tool. (It also makes Amazon’s offer of unlimited cloud storage for photos taken with the Fire HD 8 a moot point.)
The front-facing VGA Webcam’s quality is even less compelling. We get that the Fire HD 8 is a bargain, but we would have liked to see the camera specs pushed at least one notch higher.
The upward-firing (or downward, depending upon how you hold it), dual stereo speakers are Dolby Atmos-enhanced. They still perform surprisingly well for a tablet. Music sounded full-bodied, but we did note this time a slightly tinnier quality to our test tracks, and distortion at the loudest volume level. But they did exceed expectations.
Once again, the display retains its 16:10 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 1,280x800 pixels at 189 pixels per inch. This is a basic-level resolution, though not overly coarse for the 8-inch screen size. Images looked reasonably good, considering the source material, and text for e-books and Web sites was perfectly legible, but as you'd expect not as crisp and clear as on tablets with a higher pixel density. Likewise, we noticed the display had a greyish, almost paper-like tinge that was apparent primarily when reading on what should have been a white background.
This stood out to us more because we compared the 2017 Fire HD 8 side-by-side with its predecessor, which had a brighter, whiter display without a doubt. But it is unclear whether this variation is due to manufacturing variances, or an outright change in the display itself. Regardless, this won't hobble your overall usage of the tablet, and we regard this as an acceptable trade-off given the sub-$100 price. For a significant step up in image quality at this screen size, you’ll need a tablet that costs more than triple the price, like the Apple iPad Mini 4, which has a 7.9-inch display at 2,048x1,536 pixels, working out to 326ppi.
Interface & Apps
Getting started with the Fire HD 8 is among the friendliest experiences we’ve seen for a tablet (although the latest versions of Google’s Android are pretty good, too). The Fire HD 8 runs FireOS 5.4, Amazon's latest version of its custom, much-redesigned flavor of Android. What we really liked was how, during the setup process, you could change the default text size for the entire interface (and, if you were upgrading from a previous Fire tablet, those settings carried over automatically).
This struck us as a small, unique touch that spoke in spades to the Fire HD 8’s consumer audience. For anyone who needs larger text to read easily—including those seniors who get lost in the design of many Android and iOS tablets—this feature is terrific. The large-text option makes the interface scale accordingly, and it is still usable, unlike on some operating systems where large text throws everything else about the interface off-kilter. You can also change the font size after the fact.
As we expect from Amazon, the tablet is configured around consuming content—specifically, Amazon’s. Devoted Amazon users will enjoy how easy it is to navigate their existing Amazon-purchased collection of books, videos, and music—and how simple the Fire HD 8 makes it to acquire additional content. As ever in FireOS, your own non-Amazon content remains secondary and harder to find.
The tablet arrives pre-configured for you and your Amazon account, as the account holder who purchased it. (If someone else bought it for you, you can easily change the user during setup.)
The setup process makes it easy to restore a backup, as well as set up your social-network connections. You can also set up the Fire for use by children. Note the large text here—this is an example of “Huge” text, the largest of the three options, and how it carries over to all menus, too.
Once the tablet is set up, it is easy to use, with a clean interface that’s centered around what you want to consume—Books, Music, Video, and so on—in a more guided experience than straight-up Android. Swipe past the adverts on the lock screen to enter your PIN code for access, and you’ll be dropped into the home screen.
The basic design of the Home screen remains unchanged. At top is a large search bar that returns results on the Web first, but also lets you limit your search to Amazon or to your stuff (including content in the cloud and your e-mails)...
Beneath the search bar is the navigation bar, divvied up by Recent, Home, Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audiobooks, and Newsstand. It’s a content-first organization other tablets lack; most tend to emphasize the apps you have installed instead. A separate Library icon takes you to apps and subscriptions, but it’s a strange term and icon considering it doesn’t include non-app and subscription “library” content.
Your newest acquisitions and delivered content appear in the Home carousel; items can be removed from here if you’ve downloaded something recently and want some modicum of privacy about it. The Washington Post, now owned by Amazon, has its app fixed at the left. The app delivers two daily editions, at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., with free articles and offers for Amazon customers.
Beneath the carousel sits your list of apps, with Amazon’s included apps displayed first. Each content subsection is clearly defined, and works well in either landscape or portrait mode. Large icons and clear labels help guide you through the myriad offerings by showing you your content, as well as hard-selling you on recommendations and top sellers beneath (or oftentimes, before) your content.
The only obvious change between updates is to the Books section, which makes highlighting easier...
We wish Amazon made it easier and clearer to access your own content (that is, stuff you've shot, or sideloaded, or bought from non-Amazon sources). But that’s not how Amazon approaches content. For example, to get to our personal videos we transferred to the tablet, you might think we'd go to the “videos” section first. But it took tapping Video > Library > Menu (the three lines to the left of the Library tag on top), then scrolling down to Personal Videos. (There is a much-welcomed “My Videos” shortcut via an app icon, but you need to scroll to that specifically, which is counterintuitive.)
Likewise, the included Amazon Apps take some getting used to if you're schooled on Android or iOS conventions. The Silk Browser for Web surfing and FreeTime (for adding kids as users, with their own content and monitoring) both make sense. So do the apps for Photos, Goodreads, and productivity staples like e-mail, calendar, camera, docs, contacts, maps, weather, calculator, and clock. But, as with the 2016 Fire HD 8, why Amazon felt the need to include apps for features that are baked right into the subject navigation that is inherent to the FireOS escapes us. This approach is redundant, and it ends up cluttering the Home screen.
Like before, Amazon will give you access to a wealth of kid-specific content via FreeTime (for $2.99 per month); that, plus free child accounts and monitoring make this a good choice for a tablet to be shared with the little ones. Or, if you want a tablet primarily for your child, consider stepping up to the more expensive Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, which at $129.99 direct from Amazon includes a year of FreeTime, a kid-proof bumper case, and a liberal two-year replacement warranty.
Amazon includes the apps for basic productivity needs, and you can certainly download any number of such apps from the Amazon Appstore. While you can certainly use this tablet for that, it’s not our first choice of tablet for productivity, if for no other reason than things are just that much different than on straight Android—and, you have no access to Google’s own pivotal apps, including YouTube. Many apps are represented in Amazon’s store, but not all, so if you have a go-to for gaming, mapping, or transportation, you may want to make sure Amazon has a version of the app.
On an unrelated note, we liked that Amazon includes a light sensor on the Fire HD 8 now. You can enable “Blue Shade” from the quick-access pull-down settings to compensate for the blue-light emissions of the LCD, in theory to ease your way into more optimal night-time viewing...
This is the first generation of Fire tablet to ship with the Alexa voice assistant built-in from the start. The experience is identical to what we found on the software-upgraded 2016 version of the Fire HD 8. You have to hold the home “soft” button down to activate Alexa.
We’d like to see Amazon allow the power or volume buttons to double as a hardware Alexa activation as well. We used it more for setting alarms and timers and doing searches, but we found the lack of always-on listening (in the style of the Amazon Echo or Dot speakers) was a deterrent to using the built-in Alexa all that often.
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017)
Our Verdict: Amazon's 2017 Fire HD 8 remains one of today’s best tablet deals. At $10 cheaper than the 2016 edition and with improved battery life, this tablet delivers tremendous value for its price, despite middling hardware specs and a chunky chassis.
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| Processor: 1.3GHz Mediatek MT8163 |
Storage: 16GB (as tested)
Display: 8-inch IPS touch LCD
Native Resolution: 1,280x800 pixels
Graphics: ARM Mali T720 MP3
Dimensions (HWD): 0.4x5x8.4 inches
Weight: 13 ounces
Operating System: Fire OS 5.4