Amazon wants you to think of your Fire tablet as not just a tablet, but a full-fledged Alexa-enabled device -- or more precisely, a slimmed down
It's called Show Mode, and it's available now as a free software update for current-generation and tablets. Like the Echo Show, the new mode serves up full-screen visuals to complement voice responses from Alexa. Without touching your tablet, you can ask Alexa to play music and Prime videos, see trending news, the weather report, calendars, camera feeds and more. It's a pretty nifty feature, and owners of those tablets will definitely want to check it out.
If you already have a case with a built-in stand, you can just put your Fire tablet into Show Mode -- you access the feature by swiping down from the top of the tablet to reveal the settings menu -- and pretend your tablet's an Echo Show (the HD 8 has to be plugged into power to use Show Mode but that's not required for the HD 10).
What the new Show Mode Charging Dock does is create a more elegant Show experience. This docking station accessory costs $40 for the HD 8 and $55 for the HD 10 and is only compatible with current models. It includes a cover that magnetically adheres to the dock, fixing your device in place on the angled stand. (UK and Australian pricing is not yet available, but we'll update this when we get it.)
How does it work? Well, the basic, slim case -- it's made of hard plastic -- has a short, integrated Micro-USB charging cable that plugs into the USB port on the bottom of your tablet. To charge your tablet, you set it in the dock -- there are two contact "pogo" pins -- with the magnets in the tablet cover helping to align the back of the tablet cover with the pogo pins in the stand. So while there's a wire from the dock to the wall, for all intents and purposes it's a wireless charging experience.
If you're wondering whether leaving the tablet in the dock for extended periods will damage the battery, it won't, says Kevin Keith, general manager of Amazon Devices. It's also worth mentioning that the dock has no additional microphones to enhance Alexa's listening capabilities.
And no, the microphone array in a Fire Tablet isn't as robust as the one you get with an Echo device. But in a relatively quiet room, my Fire 10 HD test tablet had no problem hearing my Alexa voice commands from several feet away. Occasionally I had to repeat commands, but overall it worked pretty well, and I found the Show Mode feature really did extend the usefulness of the tablet.
When it's sitting out in the open in a dock, fully charged, you're much more likely to interact with it on a daily basis rather than having it sit idle somewhere. I suppose that's part of Amazon's mission here: Get you to use your tablet more so you can consume more Amazon content and perhaps buy more Amazon products. It's good for you and good for Amazon. Or something like that.
Needless to say, the speakers in a Fire tablet don't exactly produce the biggest sound, but you could connect your Fire tablet to an external speaker via Bluetooth. To that end, Amazon sells a Fire bundle that includes the Show Mode Charging Dock and a UE Wonderboom speaker.
The big question for many people will be whether it's worth spending the extra dough on this accessory. The list prices of $40 (Fire HD 8) and $55 (Fire HD 10) are a little high -- by Amazon standards anyway -- but expect Amazon to discount these guys on a regular basis. A launch special had them priced at $5 off, and I would definitely wait forif you're thinking of taking the plunge.
It's certainly worth considering if you've had your eyes on an Echo Show but didn't want to spend the money on it -- or if you just want a larger screen than the Show's 7-incher. Show Mode is a good feature, and this charging dock lets you get the most out of it while also keeping your tablet topped up.