(Pocket-lint) - The tablet market has polarised, with many companies cranking up the specs and price of their tablets and pushing them toward working on the go. That's left something of a gulf at the bottom end, where Amazon has not only been thriving, but dominating.
The Fire tablets have been a big success for Amazon, with the company telling us that they are still seeing year-on-year growth in the tablet business. Earlier in the year we saw the Fire 7 and the Fire HD 8 get updated, and now it's time for the big one, the Fire HD 10. This is perhaps the device that's the least contested in the Fire family. While there are lots of tablets around, few now stretch to the full 10.1 inches - and not for this little money.
If you want to go big on entertainment, then it's the Fire HD 10 that you should set your sights on.
Amazon Fire HD 10 review: Design
One thing that Amazon isn't changing in its tablets is the design. Big, bold and finished in plastic, the updated Fire HD 10 fits in with Amazon's other devices. There's no outlandish play towards premium materials, instead a nod towards durability and fun. As such the Fire HD 10 is available in three different colours - blue, black and this striking red - with a range of cases and accessories to keep it protected.
Move around the body and you'll find that things match the Fire HD 8 in many ways, with 3.5mm headphone socket, volume controls, Micro-USB and the standby button all sitting on one end, with a covered microSD card slot on the side.
There are neatly drilled speaker holes on one side for the stereo speakers and their positioning on the side very much dictates that this is a tablet that wants to be used in landscape.
That fits the 16:10 design: Amazon want this tablet to be all about entertainment and it's sticking to a similar aspect to your TV, rather than switching to the 4:3 aspect that a number of tablets have recently used. There's no play to working on the move here, only consuming your content.
We like the tactile finish to the Fire HD 10. Sure, it's plastic and if you want something higher quality you have options out there, but it provides plenty of grip, while importantly keeping the price down. There is an upshot from that: there's some movement in the casing towards the centre of the longest sides, meaning it can creak a little when gripping. We can't be sure if that's just our review sample, or something that all these devices will exhibit, but that's not a critical failing given the price.
Amazon Fire HD 10 review: Display and performance
With 10.1-inches across the diagonal, the Fire HD 10 is a big tablet. There's a boost in the resolution moving this from HD to full HD with a 1920 x 1200 pixel resolution. Again, it's a move that's firmly focused on entertainment and means that the display has greater potential to show you more detail from your content.
While people are getting excited about high resolutions in smartphones, we don't see quite the same movement in tablets. This display, although only full HD, isn't actually too far in terms of resolution from the iPad. The iPad's 2048 x 1536 resolution is a little higher, but it only bumps that £339 tablet to 264ppi, so it's only a little sharper than the display you get here.
The important thing in reality is suitability to task and what your device will actually be used for. Fire up Bosch on Amazon Video and the Fire HD 10 quickly ratchets up to 1080p, where you're squeezing all the quality out of the display. You're not wasting pixels when you're watching video, you're using them. Amazon's own video source is good that tells you what you're watching in a sort of hand and glove relationship.
Netflix looks great too, but it will only say that it's available in "HD". Watching Star Trek Discovery, there's plenty of quality on offer, a real richness to this display that belies its price. Interestingly, the Fire HD 10's display is to our eyes much better than the Fire HD 8. Partly that comes down to being a more immersive size, but it looks richer and more vibrant in colours and the contrast looks better too, so it's the better device for watching video, if you can accommodate the size.
That's all very positive, but there is a downside: this display is hugely reflective. What watching content like Bosch or Star Trek Discovery which both use a lot of dark scenes, you'll be staring at your own reflection. When switching to lighter scenes the brightness will cut through that, but this isn't a tablet that's great for use in bright conditions because of the reflectiveness of the display. If you spend most of your time watching in the dark in bed or on night flights, then that doesn't matter.
Amazon Fire HD 10 review: Upgraded hardware
- MediaTek quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
- 32GB or 64GB storage + microSD
- 10 hours battery life
- 2-megapixel rear camera, VGA front camera
- See now on Amazon US - Amazon UK
Sitting at the heart of the Fire HD 10 is a MediaTek quad-core processor with 2GB of RAM, a boost over the other tablets in the family and a faster set of components than the previous version of this tablet. MediaTek's hardware is best known for being affordable and Amazon will have used this to keep the price down, aiming to balance performance for the price. This will never be the fastest tablet on the market nor the most powerful, but the important thing is how it handles the jobs you throw at it.
There are two elements that come into play here. Firstly how the hardware performs and how well the software is optimised to run on it. In standard Android terms you can compensate for less powerful hardware by changing much of how the user interface behaves, by switching off things like complex animations that would add graphical demand that you perhaps don't need. The Fire OS is fairly simple and we suspect that's part of the reason - to ensure smooth running on lower power devices. In the case of the Fire tablets, they don't have the snap that you'll get from the latest smartphones, but at the same time things run smoothly enough.
Amazon uses its user interface on the Fire to offer its native content on the home screen which is often the easiest way to find things and return to things. Although there's a full range of apps and services in the Amazon Appstore, there's a definite feeling that if you're an Amazon Prime customer then you're better served.
The base level of storage on the Fire HD 10 is now 32GB which is rather generous, with the option to expand this with microSD card. Tablets will quickly fill with content, especially if you're one for downloading video content to watch when you're not connected to the internet and you'll be glad know that you can download from services like Netflix, as well as Amazon's own video store. Being able to add an SD card is also a distinct advantage over Apple's iPad.
The official figures say that the Fire HD 10 now offers 10 hours of battery life and that appears to be true from the time we've spent with it. That's pretty solid performance and an improvement over the older version of this tablet. Charging is via the Micro-USB port and it takes about 5 hours to get fully charged up, which is a pretty long time compared to the latest smartphone: this is the sort of tablet you're best to leave on charge overnight.
We've mentioned the grilles for the speakers. Amazon is referring to these as Dolby Atmos speakers, although don't be drawn into thinking that they will give you the same effect as your 5.1.2 home cinema system. They are stereo speakers designed to virtualise a wider soundstage. It's a bit hit and miss in that regard: they are pretty good speakers, better than your average tablet, but the Atmos name really doesn't bring anything to the party. There's plenty of volume from those speaker, but the highs will get a little shrill at louder volumes.
Amazon Fire HD 10 review: Software and features
- Amazon App Store
- Handsfree Alexa
If you've looked at Fire tablets in the past, you'll know that they run on Amazon's own Fire OS. This is effectively a forked version of Android, so it behaves much in the same way as Google's mobile operating system. That means that there's an easy familiarity to the interface. Again, this is very much geared toward your content that you have with Amazon, such as your Kindle books or Amazon Video that you'll have access to through the Amazon Prime membership that you might have.
The latest version of the tablet software (that's now rolling out to other devices too) adds a "For You" tab that presents your content ready to dive back into, be that books, video or that game you were just playing and this is helpful for just returning to what you were doing, although if you're mostly enjoying Amazon's content, then tapping the tab to jump to video (for example) is just as fast.
The Fire tablets don't have access to Google Play, instead using Amazon's own version of an app store. Many of the apps are the same, but if you're a heavy Android phone user you might find you can't get everything you want. However, on an entertainment front you'll find that most services are offered, like BBC iPlayer and Netflix, but there's no denying that the integration of Amazon's content makes for a preferable experience. Like other Fire tablets, if you're a Prime customer, you'll find it's full of content you can access without buying anything else.
Things run smoothly enough on this tablet - as we mentioned in the hardware section - and we found the Silk browser to be plenty fast. At this size, this is a great tablet for browsing, with the on-screen keyboard easily large enough for two-handed typing. As we've said, the real appeal is Amazon's own content, here benefiting from a number of exclusive features, the one we make the most use of being X-Ray in Amazon Video, instantly giving you access to loads more information about characters, actors or the movie that you're watching.
Amazon also does more than any other manufacturer to give you effective parental controls, with a range of options to let you make the Fire tablet a safe tablet for kids. This includes setting up their own profile, but also being able to restrict what that profile can access, while services like Fire for Kids Unlimited will let your child get access to age-appropriate content to keep them entertained - without you having to constantly approve everything. There's even a parent's dashboard so you can keep an eye on what they've been doing, with the option to set reading targets before they can watch videos, or limiting access times on the tablet.
Making its debut on the Fire HD 10 is handsfree Alexa. To access Alexa on Amazon's other tablets you'll have to press and hold the home button, but on the HD 10 you can just say "Alexa" and ask questions at your will. As the Alexa app on the Fire HD 10 is signed into your account, it means it's instantly equipped with the skills you might have set up on your Echo. That means you can use the tablet to control any smart home devices you might have already set up, like changing the brightness of your Philips Hue lights or changing your Nest heating.
For the Fire HD 10, the idea is very much that you can stand this tablet up in the kitchen and talk to Alexa while you are cooking or doing something else. One of the advantages it has over the Echo is that it can present full screen cards - so you can look at the weather or football scores.
There's an added bonus that Amazon has let us know about as a "coming soon" feature. You'll soon be able to ask Alexa to show you your security cameras too, so you can just ask and get the video appear on your tablet. We're not sure when this feature will land and what devices you'll be able to use with it, but we can see that asking Alexa to show you your Arlo, Ring or Nest camera is going to be really handy.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 takes the experience of the smaller Fire tablets and boosts it. The size of this device is perhaps a little uncharacteristic now, as larger tablets have generally fallen from favour - unless they are made by Apple. While you don't get the lightest, thinnest or highest specs in the Fire HD 10, this is undoubtedly good value for money, with a price that's hard to ignore.
Compared to the previous Fire HD 10 tablets that's enhancements all round. With the screen carrying full HD resolution, it's best placed to serve you Amazon Video content, although reflections can be a problem. Still, snuggle up in bed and feast on Amazon Originals, and there's little else that will serve you so well.
Finally, the addition of handsfree Alexa adds a string to the Fire HD 10's bow that other Fire tablets lack. You can use it to control your smart home or feed you information and all without having to touch it. If you've got an Echo in your Kitchen already, being able to ask Alexa from any room in the house will quickly become habit.
The Amazon Fire HD 10 is a great (big) tablet at a very little price and it's now available from Amazon.