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Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017) review: An amazing big-screen tablet value

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The Good A great value for a 10-inch tablet with a high-res screen and solid performance. Starts with 32GB of storage, the same as an iPad. Hands-free Alexa works as well as it does on an Echo.

The Bad Really pushes you towards Amazon services, making other media options harder to find and use. Some popular apps are not available through Amazon's app store. The glossy screen makes movie-watching hard at times.

The Bottom Line It's missing a few key apps and features, but with a lower price, faster processor, more storage and new Alexa features, the Amazon Fire HD 10 is an amazing value for a high-gloss media tablet.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

The 10-inch tablet remains the perfect size for slate-style devices. Any smaller, and you're in big-screen phone ("phablet") territory. Larger, and one might as well get a full-featured laptop or convertible. But right in that sweet spot sits Apple's category defining 9.7-inch iPad, the slightly larger 10.5-inch iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch Samsung Tab S3, the 10-inch Lenovo Tab 4 and now, the new-for-2017 10-inch Amazon fire HD 10. While we found its 2015 predecessor to be underpowered and overpriced, the refresh of Amazon's largest tablet is notably faster, has built-in access to the Alexa digital assistant for the first time -- and comes with a huge price cut.

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)
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Sarah Tew/CNET

Starting at $150, It's less than half the price of the current basic 9.7-inch Apple iPad, which is $329 (£339 or AU$469). Both devices start with 32GB of storage and HD screen resolutions -- 1,920x1,200 for the Fire HD, 2,048x1,536 for the iPad.

But the iPad is, even after all these years, slick-looking and well-proportioned, with a metal chassis available in three colors. The Fire HD 10 is, well, thick and a little unwieldy, with a plastic back. It also has color options -- black, blue and red -- but just changes the color of the plastic panel on the back.

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)
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The 2017 9.7-inch iPad next to the Fire HD 10. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple's tablet also has iOS 11, the latest mobile OS for iPads and iPhones, which adds a redesigned dock, new split-screen multitasking skills, a new file system, and even drag-and-drop in supported apps. The Fire HD 10 has FireOS, Amazon's customized version of Android, which is primarily built around blurring the line between buckets of content you own and the nearly infinite list of digital goods and services Amazon would like to sell you.

More so than any other device I can think of, Amazon's tablets make it feel like you're living in a 24/7 shopping mall, and paying for the privilege. And unless you fork over an extra $15 (£10), lock screens can push additional ads at you. ("It's not an ad, it's a special offer!")

Now that I've explained why something like Apple's current iPad has a better design, more advanced operating system, and even feels less ambitiously aggressive about turning you into an e-commerce zombie, put all of that out of your mind.

It turns out the new 10-inch Fire HD does so much right, and at such a reasonable price, that you'll probably be happy to overlook its personality quirks.

Part of what it does right is a new and improved implementation of Alexa, Amazon's seemingly inescapable digital assistant.

Look, Alexa, no hands!

Alexa started life on the Amazon Echo ($65 at Amazon) smart speaker, but eventually slipped the chains tethering her to that single device and migrated to other Echos like the Dot and Show, other products, such as the Triby smart radio and Lenovo Smart Assistant, and now a growing number of Android devices and even smart watches. She'll even be in BMWs soon.

Fire tablets have gotten on the Alexa train, too, with support going back to the fourth-generation models (this is the seventh-gen Fire HD). The difference here is that this is the first and so far only Fire tablet to offer hands-free Alexa access. That means instead of having to tap a button to activate, you simply speak the all-powerful wake word, "Alexa." Like other Alexa-enabled products, you can change the wake word to "Amazon" instead, but where's the fun in that?

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)
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Alexa answers some queries with both audio and video information. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Alexa on the Fire HD 10 just works. She heard me every time I said her name, even if the system was asleep, and answered about as quickly as an Echo speaker does. While the experience here isn't an exact duplicate of the Echo Show ($230 at Amazon), some answer, such as about the weather, came with on-screen graphics detailing the response.

One issue -- there's no quick-access mute button, as there is on an Echo speaker. So it will perk up every single time someone says "Alexa," unless you go into the quick settings menu, accessed by dragging down from the top of the screen.  

There's a built-in feature called ESP, or Echo Spatial Perception, which controls which device answers if you ask a question in a room where you have multiple Alexa devices, for example, both a device like the Fire HD 10 and an Echo speaker. It's frankly a scenario less far-fetched than one might think. Turn the feature off and the device closest to you will answer, either speaker or tablet. Turn ESP on, and the Echo speaker will answer, even if your tablet is closer and listening in.

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