MEGATech Reviews: Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet
If you go into the Amazon Fire HD 8 with the right set of expectations, you'll be suitably impressed by what less than $100 can buy you.
  • About as affordable as it gets
  • Tight Amazon integration
  • Robust parental controls
  • Lower quality/resolution screen
  • Speakers aren't very loud
  • Below average performance
9Overall Score

As far as “pure” tablets go, some people will tell you that if it isn’t an iPad, it’s no longer relevant. While there may be a place for convertibles and 2-in-1s like Microsoft’s Surface Pro lineup, the “traditional” tablet is dead. But is it really? Devices like the Amazon Fire HD 8 beg to differ and I’d argue that they still very much have a place in our modern digital lifestyle, especially if you’ve got some tech-savvy kids around the house.

This Tablet Is On Fire?

With people spending upwards of $1,000 (or more) on smartphones with increasingly larger displays these days, it can be difficult to justify spending a lot of money on a secondary (or tertiary) device like a tablet. I thought the ZTE Grand X View (around $200 at the time) was a pretty good value, for instance, and it’s still a device I use now and then. For my part, it feels like this is where current tablets really belong and that’s why it’s harder to convince yourself to pick up something like a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 (at about $600) when you’ve already spent so much more on a Galaxy Note8.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 isn’t trying to put itself in the same league as something like an iPad Pro, because it’s not at all like an iPad Pro. For starters, you can pick one up for about a hundred bucks. By comparison, the cheapest iPad Pro is $650. The point of the Fire HD 8 is that it’s cheap, cheerful and perfectly functional. You even see this in Amazon’s approach to packaging. It’s in a cardboard box with a triangular profile with the typical hole cut up top for hanging in a store display.

Inside the box, you’ll find a micro-USB charging cable, the USB wall adapter, and a very minimal user guide. The tech specs aren’t going to impress anyone. There’s a 1.3GHz quad-core processor of unspecified origin, 1.5GB of RAM, an 8-inch 1280 x 800 pixel HD display, dual stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, VGA front camera, and 2MP rear camera. Reallly, the only thing I have to say about the cameras is that, yes, it does have them.

The Daily Fire HD 8 Experience

Amazon boasts that this tablet is “more durable than the latest iPad.” Especially when protected using one of the optional stand covers, this thing does feel like it could survive a bump or two. It’s heftier in weight than it looks, and with thicker bezels and a thicker profile, it’s hardly the slickest piece of technology out there. All this being said, it doesn’t feel very solid in the hands, especially given the sub-$100 starting price point.

For me, the Fire HD 8 is just about the perfect size for a tablet. If you save a few bucks and get the Fire 7, you get not only a smaller screen, but also a lower resolution one. And at just seven inches, it’s getting a little too closer to phablet territory. Bump up to a larger 10-inch tablet and you lose some of that go-anywhere portability. The eight-inch size hits a Goldilocks zone.

Coming from devices that use the more standard Android operating system, I had to take some time to familiarize myself with the Android-based FireOS. There are some similarities, like the back, home and multitasking soft buttons on the bottom and the search bar at the top, but the content is organized into several tab-based home screens. This aligns with Amazon’s M.O. that the Fire tablet isn’t really there to make money on its own; it exists to convince you to buy more stuff from Amazon.

To that end, you get tabs for video (geared heavily Amazon Video), books (geared heavily toward Kindle), and music (geared heavily toward Music). There’s even a tab specifically for Audible. This really comes as little surprise. On some levels, it’s convenient if you’re already well ensconced in the Amazon ecosystem for buying content. It’s not so great if you prefer YouTube or iTunes, for example.

And while you’ll find a good variety of apps in the app store, it’s still not as big or up to date as the Google Play Store. I couldn’t find Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, a game that has already stolen untold hours from my productivity. But you won’t have any trouble finding other big titles like Candy Crush and apps like Netflix.

I didn’t go in with the highest of hopes for this tablet, given its very budget-oriented price point, but I will say that it easily exceeded my expectations. I didn’t really mind the lower resolution display most of the time, though the screen quality could use some improvement. Viewing angles aren’t the best, contrast and saturation could use a little work, but it’s perfectly serviceable most of the time.

Watching the premiere episode of Jean-Claude Van Johnson was a joy. One quibble I have about the official case, which is a little pricey at $29.99 US ($39.99 Canadian), is that it can only work in landscape “stand” mode on one side. That’s not a huge issue except the one side is such that the headphone jack of the tablet is on the right and many headphones, like the HyperX Cloud Revolver, have cords that lead to the left. I do like the overall build of the case, though, with the premium fabric and magnetic wake/sleep mechanism.

Parental Controls and More

My daughter is three years old and I’m not yet prepared to let her have a device of her own or even to let you have free run of any of my devices. When that time comes, which is positively inevitable at this point, I can breathe a little sight of relief thanks to the integrated parental controls built into the Fire HD 8 (and presumably the other Fire tablets too).

Most tablets and smartphones are designed for a single user. The Fire HD 8 allows you to set up multiple profiles, including child profiles, and it is easy enough to switch between them from the lock screen. What’s key here is just how granular I can get with the parental controls, not only locking out certain apps or disallowing purchases from her profile, but also setting up other restrictions.

I can make it so the tablet just doesn’t work at all during “bedtime” hours. I can set educational goals so she reads for a certain amount of time each day and I can make it so she can’t access any “entertainment content” until she’s reached her daily educational goal. I can limit total daily screen time, disable the web browser, disable the camera, and so much more. This is all really powerful and makes parenting in the digital era just a little bit easier.

Performance Benchmarks

This is no powerhouse. I think that much is clear. It’s not even on par with the most entry-level of modern smartphones at this point. In running the Fire HD 8 through Geekbench, it was only able to earn a single-core score and multi-core score of 649 and 1878, respectively. That places it just barely above the second-generation Nexus 7 tablet and below the Nexus 5 smartphone, both of which launched in 2013. We’re talking about five-year-old technology at this point.

The resulting score in 3DMark’s Sling Shot (ES 3.1) benchmark is even more laughable, generating a score of 152. If you look at the second screenshot on the right, you’ll see that the tablet was only hitting single digits for frames per second on several of the tests. That’s about as unusable as it gets.

But these are all artificial benchmarks, right? In practice, I found that the Fire HD 8 was able to keep up with serial monotasking on the available apps without too much of a struggle. The bundled Charlie Brown Christmas app was a favorite of my daughter’s with narration and animated “pages,” though I found the page turns to lag sometimes. Similarly, browsing through the home screens can feel slow and jittery. Silky smooth this is not.

Thankfully, streaming HD video (through Amazon Prime Video or Netflix) really wasn’t a problem at all. Your mileage may vary and it’ll really depend on how far you want to push this little number. Playing simple games like Worms 3 and Candy Crush was fine, but you may have some trouble with more demanding titles (if they’re available through the Amazon app store at all).

MEGATechie Hot Commodity or MEGATechie Fire Extinguisher?

This is the kind of product that really isn’t going to wow anybody. It doesn’t come with any fancy bells or whistles, and its spec sheet (at least on paper) leaves much to be desired. But then again, it’s only a hundred bucks (or less) and it can handle about 95% of what you want it to do in a package that feels surprisingly well-built. It plays Netflix like a champ, the screen isn’t nearly as bad as I had anticipated, and the parental controls are top notch. The speakers may not be especially loud or crisp and the display might not be as gorgeous, but it’s still a great value and an overall positive experience.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet sells for $79.99 US for the base 16 GB model with special offers, going up to $124.99 US for the 32 GB model without special offers. In Canada, we don’t get as many color options as our American neighbors to the south, but we also don’t have to deal with the “special offers” options either. The 16 GB and 32 GB variants are listed $99.99 Canadian and $129.99 Canadian, respectively.

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