If you’re new to tablets, the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) is one of the most appealing deals going. It costs just $80/£80, is slim and portable and gives you access to a lot of the apps you have on your phone, but on a bigger screen.
Those already familiar with the tablet game may be a little disappointed with how little progress Amazon has made with the 2017 edition of the Amazon Fire HD 8, though. In most respects, it’s identical to last year’s version.
The latest change? Alexa support is now built into the Amazon Fire HD 8, letting you ask this digital assistant general knowledge questions and control any Alexa-supporting smart home gear right from the tablet. You get this with the last model with a software update, though. Amazon has also given the speakers a much-needed upgrade.
There are countless other improvements Amazon could have made to the tech, but as lower-cost tablets have barely progressed in the last year there’s not a huge amount of competition, so are the upgrades Amazon has made here enough for us to recommend the Fire HD 8 (2017)?
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) price and release date
- Out now
- Starts at $80/£80
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) is out now in both the US and the UK, with no word on an Australian release.
It starts at $80/£80 (around AU$105) for a 16GB model with lock screen adverts, rising to $95/£90 (roughly AU$125) without adverts, $110/£100 (around AU$145) for a 32GB model with adverts, and topping out at $125/£110 (approximately AU$165) for a 32GB version without adverts.
- Low-end specs
- Value over raw performance
- Not for the enthusiast crowd
The new Amazon Fire HD 8 is a tablet that packs in low-end tech just good enough to satisfy most buyers. If you’re someone who regularly reads our reviews and follows tech, you’ll be able to find a way to sneer at almost every aspect if you decide to.
Even if you are that kind of person, it doesn’t mean the Fire HD 8 (2017) won’t be suitable for friends and relatives, though. Just like last year, it’s a tablet laser-focused on someone who wants a cheap, reliable slate but doesn’t expect the earth.
Compared to an iPad Pro 10.5, for example, the Amazon Fire HD 8’s screen will seem blocky and less punchy.
This isn’t an incredibly quick tablet either. Most games and apps will run just fine, even high-end ones, but the system isn’t as fast to respond as a powerful Android tablet.
At its core, the Amazon Fire HD 8 runs on Android, but there’s an Amazon-made interface on top called Fire OS. This looks nothing like Android and can seem heavy-handed in the way it pushes you towards Amazon services like Prime Video.
It’s the aim of Amazon tablets like this, really, to get you to read books, watch movies and listen to music through Amazon portals. In return you get a decent, very affordable piece of hardware.
Keep your expectations for camera quality low, though. Photos taken with the Fire HD 8’s 2MP camera are almost certainly going to look worse than those taken with your phone. Unless you still use a phone from the 90s.
The most remarkable thing about the Amazon Fire HD 8 is the price, but that’s the whole idea. And thanks to Amazon’s adherence to basic performance standards, this tablet is still a lot of fun to play around with.
Design and display
- Solid build given the price
- Pleasant but reflective and low-res screen
- Highly portable
Until you get the 2017 Amazon Fire HD 8 and last year’s model side-by-side, they look identical. It’s a slim-feeling 9.7mm thick plastic tablet whose 8-inch widescreen display makes it seem much more an alternative to an iPad Mini 4 than a full-size iPad.
This is the sort of tablet you might sling in a bag to kill a few minutes on a boring work commute. It’s inoffensive, plain and practical.
The Fire HD 8 also comes in a few different colors. We’re using the blue version. Black, yellow and red versions are available too. The blue model is a bit darker than last year’s, perhaps an attempt to make it seem more grown-up, to avoid the toy-like look of a bright plastic gadget.
Amazon’s low-end tablets have always offered surprisingly good build quality, and this actually seems to have improved further this year. A bit of finger pressure would make parts of the old model’s back flex and actually ‘click’ as the plastic hit the internals, but the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) seems dense and flex-free. In an $80/£80 tablet, that’s impressive.
You don’t, however, get any of the fancy features that have migrated from phones to tablets. There’s no fingerprint scanner, no water resistance.
The basic Fire HD 8 comes with 16GB of storage, but you can upgrade to 32GB for an extra $30/£20 if you like. There’s also a microSD slot on the side that supports cards of up to a huge 256GB, giving you as much room for media files as a laptop. Even the standard 16GB gives you enough space for a good selection of apps and games.
Considering the price, the display isn’t too bad either. The crucial element is that Amazon uses IPS LCD screens in its low-cost tablets. This kind of display looks fine no matter what angle you look at it from, where the TN LCD screens still used in cheap laptops look shadowy and inverted if you tilt your head the wrong way.
Resolution is low at 1280 x 800 pixels, providing 189 pixels per inch, and that means you can see some pixelation quite clearly. However, we don’t think it’s enough to ruin the experience. You can still read text and games don’t look super-blocky.
Color is good for a low-end screen as well. Its character seems ever-so-slightly tweaked since the last model, but the effect is largely the same: tones look punchy enough to make games and movies satisfying.
You don’t get the same sort of color richness you’d see in an iPad Mini or Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, but it doesn’t compare too badly to Samsung’s lower-cost (but still more expensive) Galaxy Tab A 7.0.
The one part we’d love to see Amazon address, though, is the contrast-reducing structure of the screen. A lot of high-quality tablets now use a process called full screen lamination, which is where the touchscreen and display layers are fused together instead of sitting on top of each other.
You don’t get that in the Fire HD 8 (2017), and it leads to the screen image seeming slightly recessed below the surface and the display looking grey rather than pitch-black when the screen is off.
The new iPad isn’t laminated either, but the ill effects are far more pronounced here. Comparing directly with last year’s model, Amazon seems to have made some small improvements here, but full screen lamination would boost image quality into the next league.
As-is, the Fire HD 8’s display is very reflective, and contrast gets eaten away in well-lit rooms or outdoors. Like most cheaper tablets there’s no auto brightness setting either, so you need to remember to jack up the brightness when outside or you’ll barely be able to see what’s on-screen.
We can’t count the number of times a friend has complained their phone/tablet screen isn’t working properly only to realize it’s because they haven’t tweaked the brightness.
Interface and reliability
- An interface saturated with Amazon goods
- Not super-quick, but not annoyingly slow either
- Alexa now comes built-in
Amazon Fire tablets have their own kind of software, and it’s quite unlike what you’ll find on other tablets. Fire OS is based on Android, but its look and feel are completely different.
Switch the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) on and you’ll see a ‘Home’ page inhabited by icons for all the apps you have installed on your tablet. It’s perhaps the friendliest part of Fire OS, and the part we tend to flick to most often, now that we have a whole host of favorite apps and games installed.
Unlike an Android tablet, though, there aren’t home screens elsewhere that you can make your own. Flick right from this app page and you’ll find pages for Amazon’s content services. In order, they are Books, Video, Games, Shop, Apps, Music, Audible and Newsstand.
These cover a lot of what people do with tablets, of course, but each corresponds to an Amazon service. The pages are feeds packed with digital content Amazon thinks you might want to download. It’s the tablet equivalent of those “you might also like…” newsletters Amazon shoppers will recognize.
They’re ads, in other words.
This layout demands a certain kind of patience, particularly if you buy an Amazon Fire HD 8 with “Special Offers”. You’ll see this option on the Amazon web store’s purchase page. Special Offers pastes an ad for a piece of Amazon content on your lock screen.
Some people will ignore it without even thinking, but it may get on others’ nerves. Think about which camp you fall into before deciding to save a few £/$ on a special offers model.
Fire OS on the Fire HD 8 is also not particularly responsive. There’s occasional judder in screen transition animations and little pauses as you move from one section of the system to another.
Some webpages take a little longer to load than a good phone, and app loads are a little slow too. We’ve seen much worse performance in Android tablets that don’t have enough RAM to keep up, but managing your expectations about how slick this tablet will feel is a good idea.
You may also find that some of your favorite apps and games aren’t available for the Fire HD 8, as rather than using Android’s Google Play app store, you get the Amazon Appstore.
This is the best ‘third-party’ Android app store going, but it is not as diverse or up-to-date as Google’s.
If you’re an enthusiast who likes to stay on-trend with the latest games everyone seems to be playing, you may feel a little left behind with the Amazon Fire HD 8. However, we actually think it’s a good match for this kind of ultra-low-cost tablet.
Amazon’s Appstore lets you play lots of games for free and an awful lot of the highest-quality Android games are here.
The newest addition to Fire OS is Alexa, the Siri-style digital assistant used in Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot smart home gadgets. To bring her up, you just long-press the Home button soft key and Alexa starts listening.
There are cutesy things you can say to Alexa like “tell me a joke”, after which she’ll tell you a Christmas cracker-grade line. She’s pretty handy for trivia too, and you can use it to quickly locate things from Amazon’s various content portals, or the apps you have installed. Alexa can also play music you ask for more-or-less instantly.
Movies, music and gaming
- Big on Amazon services, but not restricted to them
- Improved speakers are a big media win
- Flexibility is unlocked with a Prime subscription
Let’s look a bit closer at what the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) offers on the media front, hooking into the Amazon MP3 and Prime Video services.
To get the very most out of this tablet, you might want to consider an Amazon Prime membership, as that gives you access to Amazon’s Netflix-a-like video streaming service. This populates the video page of the Fire HD 8’s front-end.
Like Netflix, you can download shows to watch later, and the selection of titles is fairly good. Already a Netflix subscriber? You can download the Netflix app for this tablet too.
While it’s easy to start to think of the Amazon Fire HD 8 as a cage that locks you into using Amazon’s wares, when you look closer you realize you can actually just walk through the bars.
For example, you can drag and drop videos onto the internal storage using a USB cable plugged into your computer, and then play them through the My Videos app.
As the Fire HD 8 doesn’t have an ultra-high-resolution display there’s not much point feeding it anything at greater than 720p movies (assuming they’re widescreen).
However, as long as you’re not in a bright environment that’ll show off how reflective the screen is, movies and TV episodes will look great. Considering the price, anyway.
It’s a similar tale with games. Lower pixel density means you’ll see more ‘jaggies’ in 3D games, but the shape and size of the Fire HD 8 makes it a rather good low-cost gaming tablet.
High-end titles like Gameloft’s Asphalt 8 run well, with just some slight frame rate hitches and slow-down in menu systems. Just like last year’s Amazon Fire HD 8, you can tell the tablet isn’t bristling with raw power, but the dips in performance aren’t severe enough to spoil the fun.
And if you’re enough of an enthusiast to be enraged by frame rate dips, you really should be thinking about spending a little more.
The music side offers another hook to try to get you to sign up to Amazon Prime. While Amazon offers a separate music streaming service called Unlimited that’s a lot like Spotify, a Prime membership gets you streaming access to a cut-down library of 2 million (rather than 40 million) songs.
Unlike the free version of Spotify, you can listen ad-free and even download albums to the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017). The question is whether you’ll be satisfied with the limited track selection.
Perhaps the best upgrade for this year’s Fire HD 8 is something that improves every facet of media: the speakers are a lot better this time around. Where the late 2016 version of this tablet had very tinny speakers, these are a lot fuller-sounding.
The mids and bass are significantly bulked-up, and the Amazon Fire HD 8 is much more comfortable at maximum volume. It’s a way off the sound quality of an iPad Pro, but listening to game audio and podcasts is now more satisfying.
As before, the speakers sit on the bottom edge of the tablet when held on its side, letting you play landscape-orientation games without being at risk of blocking the ports.
Performance and benchmarks
- A low-end CPU that’s good for the price
- “Just enough” specs approach
- Comparable with more expensive tablets
Amazon has made some nice little ‘hidden’ improvements to the speakers and build quality of the Fire HD 8 (2017), but the core specs are exactly the same as last time. It has a MediaTek MT8163 chipset and 1.5GB of RAM.
This is a quad-core chipset, using Cortex-A53 cores clocked at 1.3GHz. Even some entry-level phones now have octa-core CPUs nowadays, showing quite how frugal Amazon is with the specs.
Of course, the point is that the tablet works ‘well enough’ with this engine running the show, and adding more cores wouldn’t necessarily improve the little performance niggles of Fire OS as, even in an 8-core CPU, four cores would likely be used most of the time anyway.
In Geekbench 3 the Amazon Fire HD 8 achieves a multi-core score of 1887 points, which is actually similar to the performance of Samsung’s much more expensive Galaxy Tab A and basically identical to the 1900 score achieved by the HD 8’s predecessor, which is no surprise since the core specs haven’t changed.
- Very good battery life
- Micro USB charging
- Charging is not ultra-fast
Amazon says the Fire HD 8’s battery lasts for up to 12 hours, a pretty lofty claim. A 90-minute video with the brightness set to maximum takes 17% off the battery, suggesting you’ll get just under nine hours of locally-stored movie playback with the screen maxed-out.
This really isn’t too far from Amazon’s claims, although come here expecting 12 hours of solid use for things like gaming and you’ll be disappointed. 30 minutes of Real Racing 3 takes 9% off the battery, suggesting you’ll squeeze roughly 5.5 hours of gaming out of a charge.
Such a variance applies to any tablet of course. We’re just making the point, as some prospective Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) buyers may not have owned a tablet at all before.
You charge the tablet using a micro USB cable, and an adapter comes in the box too. The Fire HD 8 doesn’t support fast charging, so you might want to try to charge it overnight.
- Very poor image quality
- Reasonable camera responsiveness
- Non-wide selfie camera
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) has bad cameras. Terrible cameras. But Amazon knows this. When the first version of the Fire HD 8 arrived in 2015 it had a rear 5MP camera. This model and the last have downgraded 2MP back cameras.
Comparing the two generations, image quality is very similar: similarly dreadful. And in certain cases this new tablet seems to have even softer images, although you have to butt up against the pixels to notice.
There’s very little detail, and unless you use a feature phone or a very cheap smartphone bought a handful of years ago, it will take better photos than the Fire HD 8 (2017).
This is a ‘just for fun’ camera.
It is much more fun to use than almost any other mobile camera that produces such lo-fi images, though. A lot of low-end cameras are laggy and slow, making it feel like you have to wait for the device to actually take a shot.
The Fire HD 8‘s camera feels quite quick, so you don’t dread using it. This sounds like a pretty poor consolation prize, but at this price that means something.
You can’t take macro shots as the focus is fixed, although prodding part of the scene does cause the exposure to change, giving you some control.
Around the front sits a very basic VGA camera. Again, it’s not too slow but the image quality is poor and the lens doesn’t have a wide-angle view of the world, so you can rule out those group selfies. Not going to happen unless you get those mugs very close together.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) is just a little tweak of the version Amazon released last year.
Its shell colors have changed a little, the build has been refined and the speakers have been improved significantly.
There’s not much meaningful progress in the cameras, the screen or the performance, but with tablets in general having screeched to a halt in terms of development, that’s no great surprise.
Who’s this for?
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) is for people who want a cheap tablet, but don’t want to gamble with a name they’ve never heard of.
Samsung’s alternative (the Galaxy Tab A 7.0) is double the price, and certainly not double the tablet, so the Fire HD 8 (2017) makes sense as a buy.
Should you buy it?
If you already own the last Fire HD 8, there’s very little point upgrading. A better speaker is something we cherish, but isn’t worth spending another $80/£80 for.
We’d have liked to see more progress made in the hardware this year, but this is still the best tablet you can get for the money.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) is a strong tablet for the money, but there are other budget contenders. Here are three alternatives you might want to consider.
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 7.0
Samsung’s closest alternative to the Fire HD 8 is the 7-inch A-series tablet. It costs significantly more than the Fire, but actually has fairly similar specs in most areas. It’s the tablet that proves Amazon’s value credentials.
This is one to consider if you can’t stand the idea of Fire OS’s advert-like style, though. It also has better cameras than the Fire HD 8 (2017).
The closest non-Amazon alternative to the Fire HD 8 in price is the Lenovo Tab3. It is even cheaper than the Amazon tablet, but cuts down some of the specs even further.
Screen resolution is just 1024 x 600 rather than 1280 x 800, and 1GB of RAM means you should expect more serious performance issues than we saw in the Fire HD 8 (2017). The Amazon tablet is probably worth the extra cash, unless you’re strapped and don’t like the Fire OS software.
- Read our hands on Lenovo Tab3 review
Amazon Fire (2017)
Amazon makes an even cheaper tablet, simply called the Amazon Fire (2017) or the Fire 7. This costs $49.99/£49.99 and has a smaller, lower-resolution screen and a significantly slower CPU.
Unless you’re looking for a tablet that’ll get used a few times a year, the Fire HD 8 (2017) is worth the extra money.
- Read our Amazon Fire (2017) review
First reviewed: June 2017
By Andrew Williams
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