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With models available in 7-, 8- and 10-inch screen sizes and priced as low as $50 before Prime Day discounts, Amazon's Fire tablets have long been the go-to option for bargain gadget hunters. But with its 2020 refresh of the 8-inch Fire HD 8 tablet, long the Goldilocks option of its line, Amazon is adding a twist that may leave you wondering which one to buy. There are now two 8-inch models to choose from: a baseline Fire HD 8 starting at $90 (£90), and the $110 (£110) Fire HD 8 Plus, which adds wireless charging and slightly better performance. The tablet isn't currently available in Australia but the starting price converts to about AU$160.
The two models look identical on the outside. The HD 8 Plus is only available in a slate color while the standard HD 8 is available in black, white, plum, twilight blue and slate. But apart from the white version, they all have a black bezel around the display. Both models are improved over the previous 2018 Fire HD 8 version with a faster processor, USB-C charging, better Wi-Fi performance and a bump from 16GB to 32GB of storage in the base model. The standard HD 8 has 2GB of RAM -- that's up from 1.5GB -- and the HD 8 Plus has 3GB of RAM, which is where you get the performance boost. The USB-C charging does help reduce charging times by about an hour from the previous HD 8, with the HD 8 Plus charging even faster.
What's a big deal is that Amazon has moved the front-facing camera. It used to be at the top of the tablet when you had it in portrait mode. Now it's on the side, so it's at the top when you have it in landscape mode. That helps when you're doing video calls with Zoom and other video-calling apps, including Amazon's own. The new model is a bit wider than the 2018 HD 8, but it's shorter and the bezel is now a similar width around the whole display, which remains the same 8-inch size. Only a high-end tablet like the iPad Pro has more screen and less bezel: Other budget tablets typically have wide bezels.
Thanks to the combination of a new 2GHz quad-core MediaTek 8168 processor and some software updates, battery life is now rated at 12 hours of "mixed use" instead of 10. The other small upgrade is that the microSD expansion slot now accepts up to 1TB cards. Previously, the maximum capacity was 512GB.
So all in all, there are some substantial changes. And you'll have to pay more for them. As stated above, the standard HD 8 now costs $90 instead of $80 and the HD 8 Plus with wireless charging and the extra gigabyte of RAM is $20 more at $110. The price for the Plus goes up another $20 if you buy the companion wireless charging dock for the Plus, which you probably want to do.
Both new Fire HD 8 models have the same 1,280x800-pixel resolution display as the previous HD 8. The screen is technically HD but it's basically 720p and not 1080p. It's fine for watching videos but it's not nearly as sharp as the screen you get with, say, an iPad, which is why you're paying a lot less for this. At 355 grams, the new Fire HD 8 weighs a touch less than its 363g predecessor.
A few years back, the HD 8 seemed sluggish, but its performance has steadily improved and now it's pretty zippy (Amazon says the new HD 8s are 30% faster than the 2018 HD 8 thanks to the new processor and software optimization). It isn't as responsive as an entry-level iPad, which is often on sale for about $250, but it's overall pretty smooth and I didn't have any problem running games like Asphalt 9: Legends. That said, the eight-core processor and GPU -- the graphics processor -- are faster in the 10-inch Fire HD 10, which also has a sharper 1080p display. When that model goes on sale for $100, it's probably the best value in tablets. But some people are looking for a smaller, lighter tablet and the HD 8 is a significant bump up from Amazon's cheapest tablet, the Fire 7.
I didn't see a big difference in performance between the HD 8 Plus and standard HD 8, but the extra gig does help. Apps open a touch faster and it can help with multitasking and more graphically intense applications. It never hurts to have more RAM, I can tell you that.
The HD 8 Plus seems to wirelessly charge on any Qi-enabled charging pad -- at least the ones I tried with 7.5 watts or greater charging power. But you really want the charging dock that Amazon bundles in for an extra 20 bucks. That's because one of the big appeals of the Fire HD 8 Plus is that you can drop it in the dock and it automatically goes into show mode, turning your tablet into something much like an Echo Show 8, complete with hands-free access to the Alexa voice assistant. It's still using the tablet's internal speakers instead of a real speaker and the tablet doesn't have a more extensive microphone array for picking up your voice like an Echo speaker does. But it works well enough and the sound is OK for watching video (it's not so great for music). You could wirelessly connect a Bluetooth speaker to augment the sound.
I put the dock in my kitchen and used the HD 8 Plus as a mini TV because I have Spectrum TV as my cable provider. There happens to be a Spectrum app that gives me all my channels on the Fire HD 8 or HD 8 Plus so long as I'm on my home network (you get a reduced number of channels when you're away from your home network). Like the Fire HD 10, the HD 8 now has a picture-in-picture mode for watching video in a small window in the corner of the display while using the tablet's other applications, such as using a browser to look up recipes. You could get a cover with a built-in stand -- Amazon sells plenty of those, including its own nicely designed but expensive covers -- and create the same setup for watching videos with either the HD 8 Plus or standard HD 8. But you wouldn't be able to wirelessly charge the tablet at the same time.
The Fire HD 8 has always been a handy tablet for consuming Amazon video content, ebooks and music, and it's still particularly useful for Prime members. You can also watch other streaming video services such as Netflix and Hulu, but the selection of apps in the Amazon Appstore has always been limited compared with what's available for Android and iOS, especially when it comes to games. You won't find apps for Vudu or HBO Max, for instance (though HBO Max may be coming).
The tablet runs on Amazon's latest Fire OS, a customized version of Android P, which was released in the fall of 2018. And while Amazon doesn't encourage it, you can install the Google Play store by following some instructions on the internet. That would allow you to run a lot more apps. But some people may feel intimidated by the process.
The previous Fire HD 8 was popular with parents wanting an affordable tablet for their kids. If that's who you're buying this for, the standard HD 8 is going to be just fine. (There's also a $130 Kids Edition that bundles in a protective case and a year of Amazon's Freetime Unlimited all-in-one subscription service that gives kids access to thousands of age-appropriate books, videos, apps, Audible books and games.)
I like being able to wirelessly charge the Fire HD 8 Plus and the dock is nicely designed. I think you'll end up using the tablet more because it does double duty as a more modest Echo Show substitute; it's basically always charged and ready to go when you want to use it outside the dock. That said, the bundle with the dock is currently $40 more than the standard HD 8, and for some folks that's a big jump in price if you're looking for a budget tablet.
The previous Fire HD 8 sold for as low as $50 during the holidays last (and other flash sales this year). This one probably won't go that low, but expect to see it for $20 to $30 off at some point in the future. At $90, it's a decent value, and it'll be a real bargain if it drops to $60 or $70. I do wish the screen were 1080p, but you apparently can't have everything at this modest price.
Editors' note: Because the Fire HD 8 reviewed here is very similar to its sibling product, the Fire HD 8 Plus, most of this language is borrowed from our review of that model.