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Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018) review: Small upgrades sweeten the deal just a bit

The latest HD 8 isn't much of an upgrade over last year's model, but the "always-ready" hands-free Alexa feature is a nice addition to what remains the best tablet value.

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
4 min read
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The new Fire HD 8 will still cost $80.

Sarag Tew/CNET

The "="" fire="" hd="" 8"="">"all-new" Fire HD 8 tablet for 2018 is much more of a refresh than a major upgrade. Available in the same colors and chassis as the previous model, the latest Amazon Fire HD 8 adds a 2-megapixel front-facing camera with 720p video, support for up to 400GB additional storage via its microSD slot and hands-free Alexa support even when your screen is in standby mode. It starts at the same cost as the last HD 8: $80 (£80) for the 16GB with built-in "special offer" ads, which you can buy out at any time for a flat $15 fee. 


Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018)

The Good

The 2018 version of the Amazon Fire HD 8 has a few small upgrades, including a better front-facing camera and the ability to issue Alexa voice commands even with your screen on standby. 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 the iPad's; 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

The latest HD 8 isn't much of an upgrade over last year's model, but the "always-ready" hands-free Alexa feature is a nice addition to what remains the best tablet value.

A few months back Amazon introduced Show Mode for its Fire HD 10 and Fire HD 8 tablets along with a Show Mode Charging Dock accessory that essentially allows you to turn your Fire tablet into an Echo Show. The always-ready Alexa feature that's built into Amazon's Echo devices is available for the previous generation Fire HD 8 via a software upgrade (after the software upgrade you no longer don't have to touch the screen to enable voice commands). However, it didn't work when your screen went into standby mode unless the device was plugged into power.

Like the HD 10, the new HD 8 has access to the always-ready Alexa feature and Show Mode without being plugged in. You need to be connected to Wi-Fi to use the always-ready Alexa feature.

Watch this: Amazon Show Mode Charging Dock puts on an Alexa show

The only downgrade I noticed in the specs is that battery life has decreased by 2 hours. It was rated at 12 hours for "mixed use" in the previous model. Now it's rated at around 10 hours.

"[The] Fire HD 8 includes always-ready, hands-free Alexa, which impacts battery usage," an Amazon spokesperson explained to CNET. "There are hardware capabilities that help manage battery impact, but Alexa hands-free is also an optional feature. If you choose to turn it off, you may gain about 2 hours of battery life. You can still access Alexa by pushing the Home button."

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The new Fire HD 8 now has the same hands-free Alexa feature as the HD 10 (shown here).

David Carnoy/CNET

These 2018 updates extend to the 32GB Fire HD 8 Kids Edition for $130 or £130, which includes a protective case, a two-year free replacement policy and one year of FreeTime Unlimited, the kid-friendly app and media section of Amazon's content library. Amazon has also introduced a new Spanish language experience within Amazon FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited.

Watch this: Amazon's Kids Edition Fire tablets don't fear cracked screens

Much of what we said about the previous HD 8 and latest HD 10 applies to this model. At $80 -- and sometimes as little as $50 during Amazon sales -- it remains an excellent tablet value. No, it's not as good as the entry-level iPad -- the screen is smaller and not as sharp, and its app library isn't as extensive. But for a quarter of the price, it's just zippy enough to make you feel that the experience of using the device is a reasonably good one, particularly when it comes to streaming video, reading e-books and surfing the web, which is what most people will use the device for. And even though it doesn't have the multi-microphone array of an Echo product, I thought it performed well in Show mode and the screen is actually a little bigger and has higher resolution than the screen on the original Echo Show. 

Hopefully, the next-gen HD 8 will get a performance boost and a slightly better screen, as well as USB-C charging. But for now this is about as good as you can expect for $80. For some people, that's plenty good.

Here's a recap of the "all-new" Fire HD 8's key specs and features, according to Amazon:

  • 8.4 x 5 x 0.4 inches (214 x 128 x 9.2mm)
  • 12 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 10 hours of mixed-use battery life for a full day of power (up to 12 hours with Alexa hands-free turned off)
  • Always-ready Alexa hands-free: Even when your screen is in standby, Alexa is enabled (you don't have to touch the home button to enabled voice commands).
  • Show Mode: Essentially turns your Fire tablet into an Echo, with full-screen visuals that complement voice responses from Alexa.
  • New front and rear cameras, both 2 megapixels, both with 720p HD video recording (and free, unlimited cloud storage for all photos taken on Fire devices)
  • Fire HD 8 dual stereo speakers are optimized for Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Atmos "for enhanced realism and dynamic range"
  • 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
  • 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

Amazon Show Mode Charging Dock

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Amazon Fire HD 8 (2018)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8