Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017) review: A great cheap tablet gets even cheaper

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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 the iPad Mini; 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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8

Amazon calls the 2017 edition of its Fire HD 8 tablet the "all-new Fire HD 8," but there really isn't anything new about it except a handful of new colors -- oh, and its slightly lower price tag. Already a good deal when it debuted at $90 or £90 in 2016, it's now down to $80 or £80. (It's not available in Australia so far, but the US price converts to about AU$100.) By comparison, Apple's larger 9.7-inch iPad starts at $329, £339, or AU$469 while the similarly sized Apple iPad Mini 4 (128GB) costs $399, £379 or AU$569. In other words, you could literally buy four to five Fire HD 8s for the price of one iPad.

The Fire HD 8 is frequently discounted from its standard $80 price. Check our list of Amazon device deals to see if it's on sale now.

Like last year's model, this "new" HD 8 includes 16GB of internal memory, with an expansion slot for adding microSD memory cards. The only change that instead of accepting cards up to 200GB in capacity the Fire HD 8 now accepts cards up 256GB. You can also get this tablet with 32GB of internal memory, as well as a new 32GB Kids Edition that includes a protective case, a two-year, no-questions-asked replacement guarantee should the device get damaged, and a year of the FreeTime Unlimited subscription service.      

Powered by a 1.3GHz quad-core processor and with 1.5GB of RAM, the HD 8 is rated to deliver 12 hours of juice. Amazon says that 12-hour battery rating is for "mixed-use," so it's hard to determine in our own video streaming tests if the new HD 8 lives up to those numbers, but the battery life, while not exceptionally good, is quite decent for a budget tablet. The biggest hit it took was with heavy use of Wi-Fi and playing more graphics-intensive games.

The HD 8 now comes in a Kids Edition.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like all of Amazon's latest Fire tablets, including the slightly improved entry-level Fire 7, you can access the Alexa voice assistant with a tap of a virtual button. The feature comes in handy for quickly accessing the latest weather and news, as well as finding and playing a specific video or artist in Amazon Video or Music. However, you do have to push that virtual button to access Alexa, so you can't tell your tablet what to do from across the room.

Available in four colors, the 2017 HD 8 retains its zippy feel -- I thought apps loaded reasonably quickly and the device didn't feel sluggish. (The 2015 model was noticeably more sluggish.)

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.

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 4's more squarish 4:3 screen and its 2,048x1,536-pixel resolution (326 ppi). But that tablet now costs literally 5 times as much -- albeit with 128GB of locked-in storage. The HD 8 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.

The HD 8's memory 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.

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 -- even though, weirdly, you can get it for Amazon's Fire TV platform. 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're a Prime user, the 2017 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
  • 16GB or 32GB options with support for up to 256GB 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)
  • Alexa-enabled: Press a virtual button and ask to play videos, music, audiobooks, ask questions, shop, find news, display the weather and more
  • 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.
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi support
  • Screen sharing: Let an Amazon expert guide you remotely through any feature on your screen, available 24/7, 365 days a year -- for free
  • Amazon-exclusive features: Alexa, ASAP, X-Ray, Second Screen, Amazon FreeTime, Family Library, Blue Shade, On Deck, Prime Video downloads and more
  • Access to millions of movies, TV shows, songs, books, magazines, apps and games with free, unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon content
  • New color options: Black, Punch Red, Marine Blue and Canary Yellow
  • Available in 16GB ($80; £80) and 16GB ($100; £100) configurations, as well as 32GB Kids Edition for $130 or £130 that includes protective case, two-year free replacement policy, one year of FreeTime Unlimited
  • Discount if you purchase multiple Fire tablets. Buy any three, including the new Fire 7, Fire HD 8, Fire 7 Kids Edition and Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, and you get a 20 percent discount