Ama­zon Fire HD 8

Tech Advisor - - Contents -

Ama­zon has wisely de­cided that it should not try and com­pete with the best high-end tablets, but in­stead make af­ford­able de­vices that are win­dows to all its best on­line con­tent. The up­dated Ama­zon Fire HD 8 tries to per­fect a com­bi­na­tion of func­tion and value, but whether or not you’ll agree it does de­pends on whether you are will­ing to in­vest in an Ama­zon Prime mem­ber­ship.

Price

Pre­dictably, you can buy the new, up­dated Fire HD 8 di­rect from Ama­zon. It is well priced for the specs, start­ing at £89 with 16GB of stor­age, dou­ble the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. There’s also a 32GB model that costs £109. Th­ese two op­tions dis­play ad­verts on the lock screen for games, books, films and mu­sic from Ama­zon. If you don’t want ads (we didn’t) they will cheek­ily charge you £10 ex­tra for the plea­sure. Still, we think £99 for a 16GB tablet is a great deal.

De­sign

The up­dated Fire HD 8 has a dif­fer­ent de­sign from its pre­de­ces­sor, which had a black bezel and glossy black back panel. The new tablet again has an 8in screen with black sur­round­ing bezels but this time a matte plas­tic rear cas­ing in four colour op­tions: black, blue, tan­ger­ine and ma­genta.

We’d say that the black ver­sion is prefer­able, sim­ply be­cause it doesn’t give away the tablet’s cheap­ness. Our blue re­view sam­ple, while not hor­ren­dous in ap­pear­ance, did keep re­mind­ing us it only cost ninety quid. Then again, if you like bright colours or you’re buy­ing for a child, the colours are ap­peal­ing. The unit as a whole mea­sures 214x128x9.2mm, a form you will barely no­tice in a back­pack or hand­bag.

While the plas­tic back is not pre­mium in any way, the de­vice is sur­pris­ingly sturdy. There’s barely any give or flex in the plas­tic, giv­ing the tablet a re­as­sur­ing heft. The front has no phys­i­cal but­tons, all of which are re­served for its top edge. It needs only three; a lock/power but­ton on the top right next to the Mi­cro-USB port and mi­cro­phone, and a vol­ume rocker on the top left next to the head­phone jack.

On the rear is a 2Mp cam­era, while the front is a very low-res VGA lens for video call­ing and (very grainy) self­ies.

There is also a wel­come mi­croSD card slot on the top-right edge of the Fire HD 8 that sup­ports up to an ad­di­tional 200GB of stor­age – ex­cel­lent to see on such an af­ford­able de­vice. The two speak­ers, one at the top and one at the bot­tom edge of the left edge as you hold it por­trait give away the prefer­able land­scape ori­en­ta­tion that Ama­zon has in mind. It starts to give away the fact Ama­zon is ex­pect­ing you to watch Ama­zon Prime videos on the Fire HD 8.

Dis­play

A de­vice called the Fire HD 8 ob­vi­ously has an HD screen, with a res­o­lu­tion of 1280x800 and 189ppi. Also promised is HD video play­back, which thank­fully holds true and looks ex­cel­lent. We streamed some episodes of Mr Ro­bot us­ing our Ama­zon Prime ac­count, and the pic­ture was ra­zor sharp – but we had to have the screen bright­ness pretty much on max­i­mum. You’ll find you’ll need to do so for most use cases on the Fire HD 8, as other­wise the screen looks quite murky.

Al­though video play­back is in HD, text and icons dis­play slightly pixel­lated. This doesn’t de­tract from read­abil­ity, but the Fire re­serves its best dis­play ca­pa­bil­i­ties for HD con­tent di­rect from Ama­zon Prime. In our use, even stream­ing videos from YouTube were nor­mally slightly grainy com­pared to our ex­pe­ri­ence on more high-end tablets.

How­ever, this wasn’t too no­tice­able and as with much of the ex­pe­ri­ence of the HD 8, we were re­minded that this costs £90 – but this ends up be­ing a pos­i­tive re­flec­tion rather than a nag­ging dis­ap­point­ment. At this price point, there is al­ways com­pro­mise, and with the Fire HD 8 there is an ac­cept­able level of it.

At its heart this is a stream­ing de­vice. Ama­zon preloads it with apps for Kin­dle, Ama­zon Video, Ama­zon App­store, Ama­zon Games, Ama­zon Mu­sic… you get the idea. While a de­cent enough web brows­ing tool, the Fire HD 8 is in­tended as a por­tal to Ama­zon con­tent. An Ama­zon Prime mem­ber­ship is there­fore not just prefer­able; it’s pretty much es­sen­tial. Without one, you’re locked into the Ama­zon ecosys­tem without the key to un­lock any­thing.

The specs of the de­vice re­flect that it’s best used for me­dia stream­ing or low-re­quire­ment games. The pro­ces­sor is a 1.3GHz quad-core with 1.5GB RAM –

ba­si­cally enough for the types of con­tent you have ac­cess to. The tablet is gen­er­ally re­spon­sive, but its quick­est when deal­ing with Ama­zon’s own apps. Stray into apps like Face­book or the Silk browser and things chug a lit­tle slower.

We used the trial month of Ama­zon Prime that is pro­moted when you set up the tablet, and found that it was a breeze to boot up loads of films and TV pro­grammes, sync all of our ex­ist­ing Kin­dle books and hook it up to our (non-Ama­zon) email ac­count.

The Fire HD 8 is a pure me­dia con­sump­tion de­vice. The 2Mp cam­era will not win you any prizes, and the aw­ful front-fac­ing VGA cam­era is barely good enough for video calls – it does work, though this is more de­pen­dent on a de­cent Wi-Fi con­nec­tion than any­thing else. While it is ca­pa­ble of record­ing video in 720p HD, the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of Fire HD 8 had a 5Mp cam­era, which hints at some of the cor­ners cut to keep the new ver­sion un­der £100.

We also en­joyed the abil­ity to down­load Prime con­tent di­rect to the de­vice. Our re­view unit had 16GB, which isn’t bad, though the at­trac­tion is to stick a mi­croSD card in it. Then you can down­load a plethora of video, mu­sic, books and more to the de­vice for off­line play­back. Video in par­tic­u­lar looks great if you choose to down­load in 720p HD, but you can also choose from two lower qual­ity pic­ture files to save stor­age space.

The two speaker grills give sur­pris­ingly crisp, clear au­dio, but their po­si­tion is slightly an­noy­ing – ei­ther end of ei­ther the top or bot­tom edge when held hor­i­zon­tally. As with most tablets, we’d rec­om­mend a de­cent pair of head­phones (none are in­cluded) to best watch films or TV.

All that ca­pa­bil­ity is packed into a de­vice that weighs 314g, just a sliver over the weight of Ap­ple’s 299g iPad mini 4. Ama­zon cites 12 hours of bat­tery life with reg­u­lar use, which we found ac­cu­rate in ex­tended use. Be aware that it takes the Fire six hours to fully charge. You’ll have to plug it in overnight if you’re nearly out of juice.

Soft­ware

As the tablet runs Ama­zon’s own Fire OS, you don’t have ac­cess to the full wealth of con­tent avail­able to users of Ap­ple’s iOS or Google’s Play Store. This isn’t to say that the Ama­zon App­store is lim­ited, it just takes us back to the ne­ces­sity of an Ama­zon Prime mem­ber­ship should you wish to jus­tify pur­chas­ing the Fire HD 8.

How­ever, if you re­ally didn’t want to buy into Prime but like the price, apps avail­able to you from the Ama­zon App­store such as Face­book, BBC iPlayer and even Sky Go or Net­flix mean that you can still use the HD 8 as a ba­sic in­ter­net de­vice with third-party stream­ing ser­vices. But given the promi­nence of Ama­zon’s ser­vices in the in­ter­face and the ease at which it al­lows you to ac­cess them with a sub­scrip­tion, we’d still rec­om­mend pair­ing the HD 8 with Prime.

It’s worth not­ing that Google apps are not avail­able from the App­store. This means it’s hard to rec­om­mend the Fire HD 8 as a work or pro­duc­tiv­ity tool (al­though the Ever­note app is avail­able) be­cause you can’t sync ex­ist­ing Google cal­en­dars, Google Drive and, im­por­tantly for ca­sual users, YouTube. You can still ac­cess it through Ama­zon’s Silk browser, but the browser is a bit clunky and un­re­fined, and high­lights again that the Fire HD 8 is best when sim­ply stream­ing via Ama­zon apps.

Nor can you down­load pop­u­lar apps such as Mi­crosoft Word. How­ever, if you want a tablet that al­lows easy stream­ing of your favourite TV shows with the bonus of ac­cess to so­cial me­dia, Skype and on­line bank­ing, the HD 8 is well worth con­sid­er­ing.

One handy fea­ture is Ama­zon’s Fire for Kids app. Should you wish to en­ter­tain your chil­dren with the tablet, you can set up a sep­a­rate pro­file for them to use. This lets you set parental con­trols, limit what con­tent they can ac­cess and even set time lim­its to pre­vent square eyes. It clev­erly time lim­its games and videos but leaves un­lim­ited time for read­ing, help­ing you to en­cour­age the right bal­ance of learn­ing through a tablet they might want to reg­u­larly get their hands on.

This and other fea­tures, such as a kids cam­era mode and a Bed Time fea­ture that en­cour­ages rou­tine, make the Fire HD 8 a good choice for a par­ent who wants ac­cess to their own Prime sub­scrip­tion with the abil­ity to mould their child’s use of the tablet around dif­fer­ent, web-safe pref­er­ences.

One thing to note is that Ama­zon cheek­ily (or mad­den­ingly, de­pend­ing on your point of view) doesn’t let you give your child ac­cess to spe­cific Ama­zon Prime con­tent without first sign­ing up to Fire for Kids Un­lim­ited. It starts from £1.99 per month, but given you al­ready may spend £79.99 per year on Prime mem­ber­ship, it’s pretty an­noy­ing. It does high­light how of­ten Ama­zon’s ad­verts and ex­tra pay­ment op­tions en­croach un­pleas­antly on the user ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ver­dict

The Ama­zon Fire HD 8 ticks a lot of the right boxes. It’s af­ford­able, well built and plays back video to an ex­cep­tion­ally high stan­dard. But we’ll say it again – you need Ama­zon Prime to fully en­joy it. It’s not that it is a com­plete ne­ces­sity, but the promi­nence in the op­er­at­ing sys­tem of Ama­zon’s own apps and ser­vices means without a Prime mem­ber­ship it’s a frus­trat­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence. This caveat aside, it’s an in­cred­i­bly priced me­dia con­sump­tion tablet that ex­em­pli­fies Ama­zon’s place in the low-end mar­ket, which makes it an at­trac­tive and in­ter­est­ingly unique op­tion. Henry Bur­rell

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