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📱 AVEC MOBILE

Your Ultimate Mobile Tech Source

Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020) review: The good, cheap Android tablet Google won’t build

amazon-fire-hd-8-(2020)-review:-the-good,-cheap-android-tablet-google-won’t-build

I think it’s fair to say that Amazon’s lineup of Fire tablets don’t have the best reputation, particularly in the tech community. Fire tablets have historically paired bottom-of-the-barrel hardware with outdated versions of Android, and Amazon’s extensive changes to the operating system aren’t widely loved. The tablets also don’t ship with the Google Play Store, though that at least is a quick fix.

Amazon has been selling the same Fire HD 8 since 2018, but the company finally released a new model last month. It brings most of the improvements from last year’s Fire HD 10 to the 8-inch lineup, including USB Type-C and faster performance, and I think it’s a pretty great buy for $90.

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

The new Fire HD 8 looks mostly the same as every other tablet Amazon has produced over the past few years. The sides and back are covered in a soft-touch plastic, which feels nice enough, but it does scratch up fairly easily. I’ve only had the tablet for about a week, and there are already scratches visible along the edges if you look closely.

The front of the tablet has a 1280 x 800 IPS screen, the same size and resolution as the previous Fire HD 8. I wish it was a slightly higher resolution — the Nexus 7 had a 1290×1200 screen in 2013 — but text still looks crip enough at 171 PPI. Screen brightness also isn’t perfect. While I had no issues watching media in a well-lit room, watching a TV show outside on my porch was a bit more difficult.

One change from the previous Fire HD is the front-facing camera. It’s now positioned on the side of the tablet, so it becomes centered when held in landscape mode. There’s also another camera on the back, though the resolution from both is capped at 2MP.

All the Fire HD 8’s controls, along with the charging connector, are aligned on the right side of the tablet when held in landscape mode. You get a volume rocker, a power button, a USB Type-C port, and a 3.mm headphone jack. It’s great to see Amazon finally switch the Fire HD 8 line to Type-C — having as many devices as possible use the same cables makes traveling and troubleshooting much easier. Can we get a Type-C Kindle e-reader next, please?

Moving onto the inside of the tablet, the Fire HD 8 is powered by a MediaTek MT8168 processor and 2GB RAM. Amazon is selling the tablet in both 32GB and 64GB capacities, which is a nice bump from the 16GB base capacity on earlier Fire HD 8 models. There’s also still a microSD card slot, and if you get an A1/A2-branded SD card, you can enable adoptable storage and let the tablet handle moving apps around when internal storage gets too low.

In the box, you get the Fire tablet, various instruction manuals, a 5W wall charger, and a USB Type-A-to-C cable. You can get slightly faster charging speeds if you buy Amazon’s 9W wall adapter separately, but not beyond that — despite the Type-C port, the Fire HD 8 does not support USB Power Delivery.

Software

All of Amazon’s Fire tablets come with a heavily-modified build of Android called Fire OS. There are no pre-installed Google apps or services, but you do get equivalent apps and features — Silk Browser instead of Chrome, Alexa instead of Google Assistant, and so on.

Fire OS is entirely geared around content, primarily media served by Amazon. The home screen serves a portal not only to your apps and games, but also your Kindle books, shows and movies on Prime Video, audio books from Audible, magazines and subscriptions from Kindle Newsstand, and so on. I don’t necessarily mind this approach — if you’re buying a Fire tablet, you probably use Amazon.com and possibly other services from the company, too — but it does mean you are always being advertised to. And no, you can’t change the home screen launcher.

This tablet comes with Fire OS 7 out of the box, which is based on Android 9 Pie. That’s a nice upgrade from the Android 7.1-based system on the previous Fire HD 8 tablet, since it includes better battery life (due to more background restrictions), support for notification channels, more explicit permissions for apps, and Picture-in-Picture support for video. There is some missing functionality — the custom DNS setting introduced in Pie isn’t available, and Amazon’s home screen launcher doesn’t seem to support app shortcuts — but most of the functionality that doesn’t directly rely on Google services is present.

Unlike most Android devices, you get the Amazon Appstore for downloading apps and games, instead of the Google Play Store. The general selection is more limited than the Play Store, but most of the major media streaming platforms and communication tools are available, and there of course a lot of games. If you want to check if certain apps are available on the Fire HD 8 before buying it, have a look through the Appstore website. I also installed the F-Droid app store, so I could download a few of my favorite open-source apps that weren’t available on Amazon’s store.

The main catch with Fire OS is that there’s no Google Play Store, so you don’t get quite as many apps and games available as you would on, say, Walmart’s Onn 8 Pro. You can still sideload the Play Store in just a few minutes, though, just as you could on previous Fire tablets. We have a guide for that right here, updated with instructions for the new Fire HD 8.

Once you install the Play Store, you can download Google apps like Chrome, YouTube, and Duo, plus any third-party applications and games that aren’t available from the Amazon Appstore.

Once you install the Play Store, you can download Google apps like Chrome, YouTube, and Duo, plus any third-party applications and games that aren’t available from the Amazon Appstore. There are some catches — some apps (like Netflix) are hidden because the Fire tablet doesn’t pass SafetyNet, and you can’t manage apps downloaded from the Play Store with Amazon’s FreeTime parental controls — but it works well enough for downloading apps.

It’s worth noting that installing the Play Store doesn’t instantly turn the Fire OS into a stock Android tablet. You still can’t access Google Assistant, and the tablet can’t be managed using Google Family Link.

If you’re giving a Fire tablet to your child, Amazon also has fairly robust parental controls. You can outright block certain apps (like the web browser or camera), or if you want more detailed options, you can create a child profile and set limits using Amazon’s FreeTime application. FreeTime even allows restricting content based on the age rating and category, like blocking access to games until the child completes a daily education goal (e.g. reading thirty mins of books or using a teaching app for an hour).

One of the more interesting features of Fire OS is Show Mode, which transforms your tablet into a smart display, like the Amazon Echo Show or Google Nest Hub. It’s the same basic concept as Google Assistant’s Ambient Mode, but with Alexa instead.

Show Mode can be useful in situations where you can’t be consonantly interacting with the tablet, like playing a TV show from Prime Video while washing dishes. However, its utility is limited once you want to do something that can’t be performed through Alexa commands. For example, while Show Mode can start movies and TV shows from Prime Video (and let you control playback with only your voice), it can’t control media playback in other applications.

Performance and battery life

Performance is usually where Amazon’s Fire tablets fall flat, since most models have bottom-of-the-barrel processors paired with too little RAM and storage. Thankfully, the new Fire HD 8 is a decent upgrade over the previous model, with a faster processor, 2GB RAM instead of 1.5GB, and double the internal storage.

In real-world use, the Fire HD 8’s performance is good. The tablet is still very obviously a budget Android device, but apps usually never took more than a second or two to open, and Fire OS is quick and responsive. 2GB of RAM still isn’t a lot of memory, but I don’t switch between apps as frequently on a media-oriented tablet as I would on my phone, so it wasn’t a major issue for me. I only installed a handful of media and communication apps, though — I suspect the real test will come from children that keep 100 games installed at once.

I was also happy with the Fire HD 8’s battery life. I used the tablet for about two hours each day, usually watching Hulu and YouTube (the latter in the Silk web browser) at medium/low brightness, checking a few messaging applications, and keeping the tablet in sleep mode overnight. With this pattern of usage, I only had to charge the Fire HD 8 once every 3-4 days. Games will take a greater toll on battery life, but that’s nothing to sneeze at.

The Fire HD 8 comes equipped with a 4,850mAh battery, but Amazon’s product listings and developer documentation leaves that detail out for some reason. We checked the capacity using the Device Info HW app from the Play Store, and Amazon later confirmed to us that the information is correct.

Camera samples

The cameras on budget tablets are always awful, and sure enough, the Fire HD 8’s cameras are not good. They’re both 2MP, same as the previous Fire HD 8.

The front camera is good enough for video calls, as long as you don’t cover the microphone like I usually did — Amazon placed it next to the power button. However, the rear camera isn’t really useful for anything.

It would have been nice if the rear camera had a high enough resolution to at least scan documents, but that’s no the case here. Oh well.

Should you buy it?

Amazon Fire HD 8 (10th Gen, 2020)
8/10

Yes. The new Fire HD 8 isn’t a hardware powerhouse, but for $90, there’s not a whole lot missing that you could reasonably expect at this price point. It handles media playback, games, and web browsing without a problem, and the USB Type-C port is a nice upgrade from previous Fire HD 8 tablets. There are also plenty of cases and screen protectors already available, which you can’t say for most of the white-label Android tablets in this price range.

The main problem here is still Fire OS. It’s better than it used to be, but every aspect of the system is still an advertisement for Amazon products. Even if you pay extra for the Fire HD 8 without ads (or pay Amazon later to remove them), the home screen still has tabs for Kindle books, Prime Video, and Audible downloads. If you don’t use those services, that might become annoying over time.

At the starting price of $80, the new Fire HD 8 is firmly in the “good enough” category, and that’s all most people want from a seven-inch tablet.

Buy it if:

  • You’re looking for a cheap Android tablet.
  • Your favorite apps and games are available in the Amazon Appstore, or you’re willing to spend 20 minutes to install the Play Store.

Don’t buy it if:

  • You want to use Google Assistant, Family Link, and other Android features that aren’t available on Fire OS (even with the Play Store installed).
  • You don’t like advertisements for Amazon services.
  • You want the best screen available on a tablet.

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