Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) Review: Affordable but Underwhelming
Last autumn, I recommended the 2017 Fire HD 8 and named it the best of Amazon’s bundle of affordable tablets. Its sequel—the 8th generation of Fire tablets, for those keeping count—is still dirt cheap and completely functional, just a little less fun to use. Unless you’re using Alexa.
The new Fire HD 8 is pretty much the same, inside and out, as last year’s model, and the 2016 model before that. It’s a travel-sized 8-inch (1,280 x 800 pixel) glass screen cradled by a cheap-feeling though somewhat durable plastic that you can buy in all three basic colors, and black. Amazon even placed a tiny lip around the edge of the screen to help prevent cracking or scratching if you drop it. Like previous 8-inch Fires, the screen still tends to attract fingerprint gunk more than other tablets, though you get used to it fairly quick.
Most of the buttons and connectors are on the top, if you hold it vertically, like a book. There’s a volume, power, an audio jack, and a microUSB for charging—typical stuff that you’d find on a phone. No matter how familiar I get with the Fire tablets, I still have to feel around for the volume keys sometimes, and get them confused with the similarly-shaped power button. It’s not a deal-breaking annoyance, but it becomes a quirk of the ownership experience.
Amazon has also included a MicroSD slot again, which will come in handy for long vacations or trips. You can now save movies and other media to cards up to 400GB. A 64GB card should be more than enough space to download what you want.
The selfie camera also technically got an upgrade this year. It’s a 2-megapixel unit now, up from 0.3 MP (also known as VGA resolution). It joins the 2-megapixel camera on the back. Both exist mostly to sit and go unused—they don’t take good photos and aren’t particularly great for video calling either—but they are there and can theoretically do these things, which is sorta the point on a tablet this affordable.
Amazon and Alexa Above All
The Fire HD 8 ticks off most must-have features for a tablet, and like other Amazon devices its entire interface is centered around serving you the best content Amazon (and Amazon Prime) has to offer—books, videos, music, magazines, all of it—and if you get to know the interface, you’ll figure out how to find other apps on Amazon’s own Appstore. That means you can nab games like Candy Crush and popular apps like Facebook and Netflix.
Thanks to hands-free Alexa, you can now talk to Amazon’s digital assistant from across the room, or put the tablet in Show Mode to turn it into an Echo Show-type device. (Amazon made a special Echo dock to help you.) It works well, and is a cheaper and more flexible option than buying a smart display. The Fire HD 8’s speakers can play music decently loud, too—not as clearly as many dedicated smart displays, and sometimes tinnier, but if music isn’t your top concern, it’s a fun setup.
When you aren’t using it as a makeshift Echo, the Fire HD 8 begins to show its age and limitations. It may still be functional, but this Fire seems slower, with more lag, freezes, and jitters when you’re navigating menus and opening apps. The battery life is also a couple hours shorter than last year, thanks to (guess who?) Alexa.
Amazon hasn’t upgraded the main processor, graphics, RAM, or almost anything else inside the Fire 8 in several years. It has finally upgraded its Android-based system to Google’s 2016 Android 7.1—which may be causing some of that extra lag.
It could also be the Special Offers—ads that show on the homescreen. You can pay $15 to eliminate these, and you should consider it. They’re more distracting and have more obvious “Buy” buttons than they used to have. It’s a little grating when your tablet starts to try and sell you apps and items this blatantly.
The new generation of ads comes as almost all of Amazon’s other apps, and the entire “Fire OS” interface remain stuck in a rut. The design is still kind of confusing and basic Amazon apps like Maps and Camera aren’t up to snuff with what you’d get on a many of our favorite tablets. The selection of games and apps on Amazon’s store is also still quite limited compared to what you’d find on other tablets.
There is Another
For $80, the Fire HD 8 is a usable tablet that plays a few games, has books, and lets you watch movies and TV shows. For older kids that won’t destroy it immediately by throwing it at the wall, it’s a great pick. Your children can handle a little lag, and Amazon’s system lets you enforce parental controls very easily.
If you’re buying for an adult, especially yourself, consider at least saving up for Amazon’s Fire HD 10 (without Special Offers) for $165. It’s faster, has more storage, and the 10-inch HD screen looks much nicer. Pair it with a standing case or Show Mode dock and you’ll be a happier camper.
The Fire HD 8 remains one of the best deals in tech. Just know, before you press that 1-Click button, its budget price comes with some sacrifices.