The 2018 Amazon Fire HD 8 is only a tiny upgrade to last year’s model. But that just shows how no other companies are really competing with Amazon in producing a decent, sub-$100 media tablet these days. With no significant competition, Amazon doesn’t have to work so hard now. That also means the $79.99 Fire HD 8 remains our Editors’ Choice recommendation in the ultra-low-cost tablet category.
The Fire HD 8’s default model, for $79.99, has 16GB of storage and comes with ads on the lock screen. For $15 you can turn off the ads; for $30 you can upgrade the storage to 32GB. There’s also microSD card support, but if you intend to use Netflix downloads a lot, I strongly suggest getting the 32GB model, as Netflix won’t download files onto a microSD.
Like last year’s tablet, this one is a plastic 8.4-by-5.0-by-0.4-inch (HWD), 16.7-ounce slab that comes in black, blue, red, or yellow. The 1,280-by-800-pixel screen on the front is colorful, but very reflective, and it isn’t the brightest. There are dual stereo speakers on the bottom when the tablet is in landscape mode. They’re perfectly loud if you’re holding the tablet.
The Fire charges and transfers files using a standard micro USB cable. It also has a standard headphone jack. It supports dual-band Wi-Fi for internet access and Bluetooth for audio. It’s relatively durable, but not waterproof. It has the basics.
The camera is the only meaningful change from last year’s model. The new tablet improves the front-facing camera to 2 megapixels with 720p video, up from VGA. Its real purpose is for video chats—specifically, doing Drop In calls—and it’s fine for that, maintaining 30 frames per second of smooth video indoors. But the camera still takes awful stills. At best it’s soft and grainy, with photos looking like they were taken by a 10-year-old smartphone, absolutely covered in artifacts and without good exposure control. The rear, 2-megapixel camera is the same as last year’s, and not very good.
Not a Roaring Fire
Performance is fine. The Fire HD 8 uses a Mediatek 8163 processor running at 1.3GHz, which is slow, but Amazon is aware of its limits. The tablet’s Fire OS, based on Android 7.1.2, seems to pre-cache its image-heavy interface so that it doesn’t seem slow. With reading, playing music and video, and basic web browsing, the tablet didn’t feel sluggish or unresponsive.
Still, though, with frame rates on even the basic GFXBench T-Rex test not passing 16 onscreen and 10 offscreen, you can’t play high-end games like Fortnite here. Battery life is the same as last year’s model, clocking around 4 hours, 50 minutes of web video streaming.
Amazon’s Android-based OS is designed, as always, to easily consume Amazon content. During the setup process, the tablet suggests free books and TV shows to fill up your library. The home screen shows where you left off in reading or watching various forms of Amazon content; from there, you have different screens letting you buy or consume other Amazon content, plus a web browser and (you need to scroll right for this) your app library.
Amazon’s app store has become its tablets’ biggest liability. It has basic email and document reading apps, streaming video services, and a lot of mediocre games. Popular apps may not be there, or may not be updated; it’s definitely a lake compared with the ocean of Google Play. Google apps such as YouTube are unavailable. My life right now is the spelling game Alphabears, and I can’t get it on this tablet. I can’t get the Marvel Unlimited comics reading app, either. If you have another Android device and some technical proficiency, you can sideload APK app files onto the tablet. There are also ways to hack Google Play onto Amazon tablets, but as it violates Google’s terms of service, we can’t advise doing so.
That said, if you’re keeping things basic, you’ll do fine. The tablet takes a microSD card up to 400GB along with its 10.6GB of free internal storage (on the 16GB model), and the Amazon store has third-party music and video players for all the various files you have around. You can install multiple user profiles, unlike on an iPad, and you can lock down a child’s profile to eliminate web and app usage.
Like last year’s tablet, and unlike other Android tablets, this one supports Amazon’s hands-free Show Mode. This is a pretty big feature, because it lets the tablet act as an Alexa-powered Echo Show, showing query results and videos powered by voice. You can even make speakerphone calls, to any number in the US or Canada.
In our tests, the tablet’s far-field microphones recognized a loudly stated command at up to 30 feet, but you really don’t want to be more than 10 feet from the tablet anyway because it has relatively quiet speakers. The speakers registered about 76db at six inches in our speech sample, which is quieter than a Galaxy S9 or iPhone XS smartphone. At top volume, we even heard a bit of distortion. If you’re trying to fill a room with sound, make it a small one.
Fire HD 8 Kids Edition
For $129.99 ($50 more than the base model, albeit in 32GB only), Amazon sells a Kids Edition of the Fire HD 8 in blue, pink or yellow. It’s the same tablet, with three extras thrown in: a big rubbery case (probably a $20 value), a year of FreeTime Unlimited child-friendly streaming content ($36) and a two-year no-questions-asked warranty (call that $40).
FreeTime Unlimited is very much aimed at kids 3 to 10. There are lots of picture books and mainstream, branded apps and video content from publishers like Cartoon Network, Disney, and PBS. If you don’t have your own library of books and videos, and you aren’t satisfied with the kids’ offerings on other streaming services, it will certainly keep the kids interested.
It’s a good deal if you intend to use the streaming content and think you might use the warranty, making the Fire HD 8 one of the best tablets for kids.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Other sub-$100 Android tablets exist, but they’re just not very good. For a few years now, Amazon has delivered the best inexpensive media consumption tablets, and the addition of Show Mode makes you more likely not to stick your HD 8 in a drawer when the kids aren’t watching Spongebob or Sailor Moon on it.
That said, the focus on Amazon content and the lack of Google Play can chafe if you’re looking for a broader range of app uses than just consuming Amazon content, watching video, and surfing the occasional web page. The $129 Lenovo Tab 4 8, our choice for inexpensive Android tablets, gets you similar specs and access to a much bigger software library.
Down at this price range, though, we think the vast majority of people will be satisfied with what Amazon’s tablets can do. The HD 8 is still a better choice than the less expensive Fire 7, because the 7-inch model’s 1GB of RAM makes for slower performance. For delivering the basics satisfyingly at a rock-bottom price, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is worthy of our Editors’ Choice.