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(Pocket-lint) - Amazon churns out Fire tablets at a great pace; available three sizes, with regular updates, the Fire HD tablet has been a constant of technology for a few years.

The offering hasn't changed hugely over recent years, with minor tweaks defining the different versions, rather than the bigger steps you'll find on premium tablets like the Apple iPad.

So is the Fire HD 8 worthy of your interest?

Design and build

  • Dimensions: 202 x 137 x 9.7mm / Weight: 335g
  • Finish: Black, Plum, Twilight Blue, White colours
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Dolby Atmos speakers
  • Plastic build

The Amazon Fire HD 8 launched alongside an enhanced version of the same tablet - the Fire HD 8 Plus, which adds wireless charging to the mix. There's little to set these two tablets apart, except that the regular model reviewed here also comes in a wider range of colours.

Pocket-lintAmazon Fire HD 8 review photo 9

Amazon has changed the Fire HD 8's design slightly in 2020, making the bezels equal on all sides and moving on from the slightly elongated look of the past. We certainly think it looks better in this new aspect.

The build stays the same, however, with Amazon sticking to plastics and eschewing premium materials. That's understandable given the price, but there's also an honesty to it: this isn't trying to compete with much more expensive devices, it's designed with practicality in mind instead.

The result is that you have a tablet that will take a little more abuse, wearing scratches and marks a little better, avoiding the cracks or dents that some other tablets will accrue through their life. It also has plenty of grip, with soft, curved edges. It's easy to wipe clean too.

Pocket-lintAmazon Fire HD 8 review photo 2

Amazon has changed the Fire HD 8's design slightly in 2020, making the bezels equal on all sides and moving on from the slightly elongated look of the past. We certainly think it looks better in this new aspect.

For those who want to use the speakers, the Fire HD 8 is particularly well equipped. There are stereo speakers, carrying the Dolby Atmos label, that are actually very good for game and movies use, with appreciable volume and respectable solidity to their delivery. There's Bluetooth too, for those who want to go wireless.

Display

  • 8-inch LCD display, 16:10 aspect ratio
  • 1280 x 800 resolution (189ppi)

We've always felt that the Fire HD 8 sits in the sweet spot of the Fire tablet range. It's large enough to be immersive, small enough to be portable. While the size and resolution on the 8 - at 8 inches, as the name suggests - hasn't changed, the latest models of this tablet have boosted the quality a little over older models.

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The resolution is modest, claiming the HD tag (but only just), but lacking the ability to render finer detail that you would get from a larger phone or the iPad mini. But given the price, that's not a great loss, because the performance is good enough on the Fire HD 8.

The real weaknesses are in peak brightness and viewing angles. Sit in bed looking straight-on at the screen and you'll have a great experience, but watch at a slightly oblique angle next to a window drenched in summer sunshine and the experience doesn't exactly pop.

It's a little glossy and reflecting and will need a wipe to clean off fingerprints - especially when in the hands of children where it will undoubtedly get a little grubbier - but we've always found it to clean up easily enough.

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The real consideration, however, is the content that you're going to be viewing on this tablet. The Fire HD's real strengths are casual games and content from streaming services like Amazon Video or Netflix - and you simply don't need the extra detail that some rival devices are capable of offering, but which you'd rarely use to full effect.

Specs and performance

  • 2.0GHz quad-core processor, 2GB RAM
  • 32GB/64GB storage + microSD (to 1TB)
  • 12 hours battery, 5 hours charging time

The core specs of the Fire HD 8 are essentially the same as those of the Fire HD 8 Plus. Although it sticks to 2GB of RAM while the step-up model offers 3GB of RAM - not that you'll notice this in daily use.

Pocket-lintAmazon Fire HD 8 review photo 5

There's no escaping that compared to the latest phones - even the latest run of mid-range phones - the Fire HD 8 takes a more sedate approach to things. It's not a hugely fast tablet and you can sometimes feel that in the user interface (UI) and the keyboard, but then you don't use it the same way as you do a phone.

Well, you can, but it's not advisable, because the limitations start to show if you're trying to multi-task by switching apps, doing a lot of keyboard entry, and so on. Again, that underlines the Fire HD 8's prime position as an entertainment tablet, rather than something you'll be using to work on.

The Fire HD 8 comes in 32GB or 64GB options, but the ability to use a microSD card (up to 1TB) does expand the excitement here - as you can load up the tablet with movies or content when you're on your travels so you're no dependent on Wi-Fi. Downloads are supported by most of the major streaming services on the Fire tablet just as they would be on your phone.

The other thing that can make the Fire HD 8 feel a little slow is the display surface coating. It's just not as slick as premium devices and you'll find that results from finger movement is a little slower. That means it's not quite so good for playing games - and it does offer some premium gaming titles from its store - but for casual gaming it's just fine.

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Missing out on the wireless charging, you'll have to use the cable to charge. It takes about 5 hours to fully charge, but then you get a realistic 12 hours of use out of it - and the Fire tablet is also good for holding onto that charge when in standby. Without the constant background drain that some devices have, you can come back a week later and find the tablet is still charged and ready to go.

Amazon software

  • Fire OS
  • Alexa integration
  • Smart home control

Fire tablet devices run on Amazon's own software. It's Google Android-based, so will be familiar to such phone users, but is a fully customised experience, drawing applications from Amazon's own store. The software itself is based around a series of home screens, serving up content from your Amazon account and giving you access to the content you get from Amazon Prime.

You don't have to be a Prime subscriber to use the Fire HD 8, but it certainly helps, filling it with movies, TV, music and books. If you're a regular Amazon user then you'll find your content in place and ready to resume.

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That's on top of the ability to install a wide range of apps from the Appstore. There are many popular apps and services available, although you don't get the full range of apps that you'll get from the Apple App Store or Google Play. There tends to be lots of imitation apps, heavy ad-supported games and, in some cases, fake versions of popular apps. Just search for Call of Duty and you'll find Call of Mobile, Call of Sniper, Call of Counter Strike and a whole lot more besides.

Most of the major streaming and entertainment services are supported, like Disney+, there's Minecraft, PUBG Mobile and many more. The Fire tablet also supports Zoom, so it's a cheap way to get talking - as well as supporting Alexa Calling.

But you can't really escape the feeling that Amazon's services offer the best experience on the Fire tablets. In recent years that's increased, adding Alexa as a handsfree voice assistant on all the Fire tablets. We usually turn it off, but if you don't have an Echo within earshot, your tablet will do the job for you.

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Pocket-lintAmazon Fire HD 8 review photo 1

Amazon has also expanded on Alexa's skills, offering a device control screen. This means you can swipe into your smart home controls from your Fire tablet and turn off the lights, change the heating, or interact with whatever else you have linked to Alexa (if you've got the relevant smart homep products, but of course). It's really handy and a great admission that Alexa-powered households are a reality.

Verdict

Fire tablets have always been about value for money, which rings true for the Fire HD 8. It's also a little cheaper than the Fire HD 8 Plus model, so we can see that it would be the popular choice for many.

It's a great size for travel and if you don't really want to do more than consume steaming video or play causal games, then it's perfectly equipped. We've always favoured the Fire HD as a travel tablet for that very reason, with decent battery life and a solid enough build to be happily thrown in a bag.

It also makes a great tablet prospect for kids - an easy and affordable option for entertainment on longer journeys, with the convenience of a headphone socket and solid build.

Alternatives to consider

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Apple iPad mini

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King of the small tablets is the iPad mini. It's definitely a step-up in quality over the Fire tablet, but it costs three times the price. It opens the world to a range of high quality apps, with convenient Apple ecosystem syncing.

Writing by Chris Hall. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 4 December 2020.