The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) is a super-affordable tablet. It's not really meant for people who pine for the latest Android update, or check out every hot new game going.
It's for those who want to spend as little as possible on a tablet, without ending up with trash they'll regret buying when they realize quite how compromised it is.
The new Fire HD 8 isn't a big upgrade over the last Fire HD 8, it's actually worse in some respects. However, it's significantly cheaper too, as it costs $89.99/£89.99 (around AU$120), making it $60/£40 (roughly AU$80) less than the older generation.
Its sheer value is hard to argue with, particularly when the similarly-spec'd Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 retails for $199 (around £160/AU$265). And that's if you can even get it - in the UK you'll only usually find the lesser 7-inch Tab A, at £129 (around $160/AU$210).
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) is far from a perfect tablet, but it's easily the best you can get at the price without rolling the dice on a no-brand Chinese import, which is a dangerous game.
- Very cheap
- Heavily tied to Amazon's services
This is an 8-inch tablet with a widescreen display aspect, making the Fire HD 8 (2016) more of a rectangle shape than an iPad. That's one minor thing to consider if you're looking for something iPad-like for less cash, as the HD 8's style is a little different.
The whole experience is different to that of an iPad too. This is not a super-powered, perfecto-performance tablet.
Amazon has done its best to pack as much as it can into the Fire HD 8 (2016) without losing money with each one it sells, but it's not selling a $300/£250/AU$400-grade device for this price. The slate doesn't feel expensive, and the camera is very bad.
However, the HD 8 (2016) will let you do almost everything you'd want to do with a tablet, including trying out thousands of games and apps, with a somewhat similar selection to what you'd get on a normal Android tablet.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 isn't really a normal tablet, though, and that's part of why it's so cheap. Amazon uses these tablets as a way to push you its services. Its store is a core part of the interface, and so are Amazon's other digital services, like its Amazon Instant Video Netflix-a-like service.
The lowest price versions also show you ads on the lock screen, which Amazon calls Special Offers, although you can cut these out if you're willing to pay a little extra.
There's no obligation to sign up to Amazon Prime when you buy the Fire HD 8, but you'll want to do so to squeeze as much as possible out of the little thing. The tablet slowly creeps Amazon's platforms further into your life, and that may annoy some of you. Its software is also much less plain and much busier than other tablets.
However, if you can live with this the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) is a bargain.
Design and display
- Low quality screen
- Cheap but colorful design
The Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) is a fairly small Android tablet. You could think of it as a tablet for kids, or one for adults who want something they can hold in one hand while taking the train to work.
Looking at it, you might wonder which way around it's meant to go. Amazon itself is ambivalent about this. The logo on the rear suggests it's an 'upright' tablet, but the buttons are laid out along the top (or right when it's on its side) to make it easy to change volume while you watch a movie.
Like 2015's Fire HD tablets, it's not flashy and is all-plastic aside from the sheet of glass covering its screen, but it feels reasonably solid. The plastic back flexes a bit at its center, making the back panel knock into what is probably the battery if you press down with your finger, but it's sturdier from the front, as you have to press fairly hard to cause any kind of screen distortion.
One failing of a lot of other ultra-cheap tablets is that they feel quite poorly-made, even some aluminum tablets. This one's build feels prosaic but competent, and you can be sure that returning it if something does go wrong will be much easier than with a no-brand import.
Amazon also lets you sidestep the "boring black rectangle" effect of most cheap tablets, offering a bunch of different shades. The blue one Amazon sent us has a slightly textured matt finish, the plastic equivalent of anodized aluminum. You can also get the Fire HD 8 (2016) in tangerine, magenta and black.
It's 9.2mm thick, which is thicker than the 7.7mm old model, and at 341g it's a bit heavier than the 313g Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0. These differences don't really matter when the new Fire HD 8 is substantially cheaper than both, though, and the extra thickness is partly down to battery improvements.
The part that impresses us most is something that may sound quite boring at first: storage. There's 16GB as standard, where the much more expensive Samsung tablet only has 8GB. You can upgrade to a chunky 32GB for an extra $30/£20 (around AU$40), and there's a microSD slot on the side too.
The Fire HD 8 (2016) is one of the most generous budget tablets for storage, and that's pretty neat.
One thing that's distinctly compromised by the low price though is the screen. It's OK, it's passable, but it's also why the real tech-heads among you may want to give the Fire HD 8 (2016) a miss.
The screen is eight inches across and uses an IPS LCD panel. These two points are fine, but the screen architecture and resolution are dated.
1280 x 800 pixels across an 8.0-inch display isn't the block-fest it appears on a 10-inch screen, but it's a world away from the sharpness of the iPad mini 4. You'll notice this most in text, which looks a bit soft and fuzzy. The interface uses clever text smoothing to reduce this effect, but third-party apps generally don't.
Calling this tablet HD is somewhat disingenuous, if not exactly untrue. 720p is an "HD" resolution, after all, and this one is slightly 'over' 720p. Given that some much more expensive tablets still have just 1280 x 800 resolutions, it would be unreasonable to expect anything more.
What we'd like to see Amazon improve next year is the structure of the screen. In an advanced screen its various layers are fused together, making the screen appear very close to perfect black when it's off. Even in a fairly poorly-lit room, the Fire HD 8's screen looks quite gray, though.
This reduces perceived contrast significantly and worsens effective viewing angles. In a dimly-lit room the display colors look fairly good for a tablet so cheap, but the Fire HD 8 (2016)'s display is not likely to impress the pickier tech-head.
However, given the price it's perfectly good. We expected the tablet to be almost unusable in bright sunlight, but good top brightness actually makes the screen hold up surprisingly well. We took it out to a local park to take some photos during testing, and while you wouldn't want to watch a movie in such conditions, you can at least see what's going on on-screen.