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Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) review: A cheap tablet that's actually good

Amazon 8-inch tablet has more base memory (16GB), zippier performance, better battery life and a 40 percent lower price tag ($90). That adds up to a pretty sweet bargain.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read

Update, Sept. 7, 2018: Amazon has announced a new version of the Fire HD 8 that will be available starting Oct. 4. Pricing remains the same at $80 (£80) and the changes are modest -- the new version steps up to a 2-megapixel front-facing camera with 720p video, a microSD slot that can accommodate up to 400GB of additional storage and hands-free, always-on Alexa support. 


Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016)

The Good

The latest Fire HD 8 delivers faster performance, a bigger battery and more base storage than the previous version for almost half the price. Its 8-inch screen is bright, the speakers are loud and it offers expandable microSD storage and ample parental controls. Amazon Prime members can access gobs of free video, music and other content with their subscription.

The Bad

Display isn't as sharp as that of current iPad Mini models; to truly take advantage of what the tablet has to offer, you need an Amazon Prime membership; slow charging (takes 6 hours to fully cap battery).

The Bottom Line

Despite some small drawbacks, you just won't find a tablet with these features and performance at this price.

The company also announced that the 32GB Fire HD 8 Kids Edition ($130 or £130) has been similarly upgraded and includes a protective case, a two-year free replacement policy and one year of FreeTime Unlimited. We'll post a full review of both as soon as we get our hands on review samples, which should be just before it ships on Oct. 4. 

The Amazon Fire HD 8 review, first published on Oct. 1, 2016 and updated since, follows.

Amazon's new Fire HD 8 looks a lot like last year's Fire HD 8, but there are a few key differences, the biggest of which is the new lower price tag. Much lower, in fact: $90 or £90. (It's not available in Australia so far, but the US price converts to about AU$115.) By comparison, the similarly sized Apple iPad Mini 4 costs $399, £379 or AU$569 and the Mini 2 costs $269, £239 or AU$369. Both now start at 32GB capacities, but you could literally buy three or four Fire HD 8s for the price of once Mini.

The previous generation Fire HD 8 started at $150 (£130 or AU$215). That model came with only 8GB of storage while this new one includes 16GB, with an expansion slot for adding microSD memory cards up to 200GB in capacity.

While the 1.3GHz quad-core processor in the 2016 HD 8 is a new chip, Amazon says the real performance boost comes from a bump in RAM from 1GB to 1.5GB. And a larger battery delivers up to 12 hours of juice, up from 8 hours. Amazon says that 12-hour battery rating is for "mixed-use," so it's hard to determine in our own tests if the new HD 8 lives up to those numbers, but the battery life, while not exceptionally good, seemed significantly improved from the old HD 8 during the week I used the . The biggest hit it took was with heavy use of Wi-Fi and playing more graphics-intensive games.

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The new Fire HD 8 comes in four colors, including tangerine (shown here).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The other noteworthy feature addition isn't available yet, but will be in the next few months: Alexa, the cloud-based voice service, makes its debut on Fire tablets. To activate Alexa, you'll have to press a virtual button (with the Echo you simply have to say her name -- so long as you're connected to the internet). You can use voice commands to tell Alexa to play music, launch games, read audiobooks, deliver weather reports and more.

Those who bought an Amazon tablet recently, fret not: Alexa is also coming to the entry-level Fire, Fire HD 10, and 2015's Fire HD 8 tablets via a free over-the-air software update in the coming months.

Available in four colors, the new HD 8 does feel zippier than the previous model -- I thought apps loaded reasonably quickly and the device didn't feel sluggish (we knocked last year's HD 8 for mediocre performance).

Thanks to the stereo speakers tuned with Dolby audio, the tablet outputs a good amount of sound and works well for movie watching. The front and rear cameras are pretty basic by today's standards (the rear captures 720p video), but at least they're there and available for such apps as Skype.

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Fire HD vs. iPad Mini 2 with Retina display.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You're looking at a handful of drawbacks. While this is an 8-inch widescreen HD display with 1,280x800-pixel (189 ppi) resolution, it's not as sharp or vibrant as the iPad Mini 2's more squarish 4:3 screen and its 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution (326 ppi). But that tablet costs about three times as much. It will be fine for most people, but if you've used an iPad before, you'll feel it's a step down. Even Amazon's late, great Fire HD 6 has a better-looking screen because it has the same resolution as the HD 8 but packs it into a 6-inch space at a denser 252 ppi (pixels per inch).

Another downside is that even though the Fire OS is built on an Android foundation, you're locked into Amazon's Fire OS and its less robust app store rather than the Google Play store you'd find on a "real" Android tablet. Yes, hard-core techies can theoretically "jailbreak" the HD 8 to effectively make it more Android-friendly -- you can find instructions online on how to add the Play store -- but I'm reviewing the product as is.

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The HD 8 microSD expansion slot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And my final gripe is that the HD 8 takes an inordinately long 6 hours to fully recharge. You can do that overnight, but it's annoying now that we've become accustomed to "quick-charge" phones that can refill a good portion of their battery in an hour or less.

But the HD 8 has its perks, too. If you are an Amazon Prime member, being walled in to Amazon's garden comes with some nice perks: the $99 or £79 annual Prime membership gives you access to a lot of "free" content, including plenty of music, movies, games, books and apps.

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Amazon continues to improve the user interface of its FireOS.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can also add Netflix if you're a subscriber, but currently there's no Spotify app in Amazon's app store. Overall, Amazon's content ecosystem is quite rich, but the app choices are limited compared to what iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) have to offer.

Like Amazon's other Fire tablets and Kindle e-readers, this model displays an Amazon "special offer" when you turn on the device (it's part of the unlock screen). Some may like this and some may find it annoying. If you're in the latter group, you can have those ads removed by paying an extra $15.

A final word on the design. Amazon upgraded its HD 10 tablet with a snazzy aluminum back, but at this price, you're looking at plastic. I tend to put a cover on my tablets -- and suggest you get one, too -- so I don't really care if that the plastic back looks a little cheap. I just want it to be durable, and it seems to be. Naturally, Amazon hopes you'll buy its case ($35), which I like, but others are available from third-party resellers for less.

The bottom line is that if you are a Prime user, the 2016 edition of the HD 8 is a great value -- and an excellent option for kids who don't really need an expensive iPad. (Amazon offers extensive parental controls.) Despite its middling display, you just won't find a tablet with these features and performance at this price point.

Here's a recap of the Fire HD 8's key specs and features:

  • 8.4 x 5.0 x 0.4 inches (214 x 128 x 9.2 mm)
  • 12.0 ounces (341 grams)
  • 8-inch widescreen (1,280x800 pixels) HD display with over a million pixels (189 ppi).
  • Quad-core 1.3GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM. That's 50 percent more RAM than the previous-generation Fire HD 8 for faster performance when playing games or launching apps.
  • Twice as much storage:16GB or 32GB options with support for up to 200GB of expandable storage via microSD.
  • 4,750mAh battery for up to 12 hours of mixed-use battery life for a full day of power. (Previous-generation HD 8 had a 3,210mAh battery).
  • Amazon says the Fire HD 8 is twice as durable as the iPad Mini 4, as measured in tumble tests.
  • VGA Front-facing camera +2 MP rear-facing camera with 720p HD video recording (free, unlimited cloud storage for all photos taken on Fire devices).
  • Fire HD 8 stereo speakers are tuned with Dolby Audio for immersive, high-quality sound.
  • Fire OS 5 includes a user interface that replicates the look and feel of a magazine, making browsing and searching for your content easier than ever -- now with support for Comixology and Twitch.
  • The Amazon Undergroundapp store offers thousands of premium apps, games and even in-app items for free, including extra lives, unlocked levels, unlimited add-on packs and more.
  • On Deck:For Prime members, On Deck automatically keeps your Fire tablet current with popular Prime movies and TV shows, as well as Amazon Original Series. If you aren't a Prime member, On Deck downloads first episodes of Amazon Original Series.
  • Amazon-exclusive features:ASAP, X-Ray, Second Screen, Family Library, Amazon FreeTime, Prime Video downloads, Blue Shade, Word Runner and more.
  • Screen sharing:Let an Amazon expert guide you remotely through any feature on your screen.
  • Available in four colors:Black, magenta, blue and tangerine.
  • UK: £90
  • DE: €90 for Prime members; €110 for non-Prime members
  • FRITES: €110
  • JP: ¥8,980 for Prime members; ¥12,980 for non-Prime members
  • Not available in Australia