It’s hardly a secret that when it comes to devices, Amazon’s strategy is to develop practical-but-attractive hardware that can, in turn, create customers for other parts of its empire — be that video and music streaming, books, or shopping.
Just which of those services a particular device is connected to depends on the hardware: with the Echo, it’s primarily music streaming that Amazon is hoping you will buy (with some shopping on the side), while with the Fire TV Stick it’s video, and with the Dash buttons it’s shopping.
Think of this as Amazon’s more processor-intensive version of the ‘give them the razor, sell them the blades’ business model. And it’s one that seems to be working pretty well for the ecommerce giant so far.
That same strategy is at work with the Fire HD 8, the latest iteration of Amazon’s eight-inch tablet. The Fire HD 8 is designed almost entirely for consuming content, and no doubt Amazon hopes you’ll be persuaded to choose one of its services for your binge-watching sessions.
It’s a solid piece of hardware that weighs 369g; our review model came in a rather distracting ‘punch red’ colour (other shades are available) and the screen is surrounded by a relatively big bezel. All of the controls are on the top of the device if you assume it’s used in portrait mode, which seems a little odd: however, this tablet is primarily designed to be used in landscape mode for watching video, so the positioning of the controls makes sense.
The touchscreen is good enough, although I found it too reflective and prone to picking up dust and fingerprints. I also had to boost the brightness up to near max to get the best out of it, but I liked how generally responsive it was.
Unsurprisingly, the Fire HD 8 is at pains to showcase Amazon’s services, via a set of default homescreens for different Amazon products, including books, videos, games, shop, apps, music, and more.
Of course you can still surf the web, and download apps: the Fire HD 8 runs Amazon’s fork of Android, Fire OS, and has its own app store. The latter has most of the big apps you’d expect, but lacks the breadth of Google Play or the Apple app store.
The addition of Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant with this version of the tablet adds a bit of novelty, but not a huge amount more. You’ll still have to push a button on the tablet’s screen to activate the service — unlike with the Echo, which you can simply bellow at from across the room.
Since you already have the tablet in your hands and you’re looking at the screen, using Alexa seems like overkill. Certainly, after using it a few times I mostly went back to tapping and swiping instead, although others may have a different experience. Having Alexa onboard does mean you can use the tablet to control other devices around the house, which may be handy.
With this tablet, much revolves around the price. At £79.99 with 16GB of storage, or £99.99 with 32GB, the Fire HD 8 is attractively priced for a tablet that functions well and has a decent screen. However, such affordability inevitably means some compromises. For example, it takes six — yes six — hours to charge the battery to maximum, and both front and rear cameras are puny (although it’s likely that few will ever use them).
Tablets have settled into a relatively comfortable niche as devices for consuming video, combined perhaps with a bit of light web surfing or gaming. Anything more taxing than that and you’ll likely switch to your laptop; for a quick query, it’s easier to dig a smartphone out of your pocket rather than hunt around for a tablet.
Last year I bought one of the seven-inch Fire HD tablets when it was on sale at £30 — about as close to a disposable piece of hardware as it’s possible to get. It now spends most of its time sitting in a drawer: I found it a little too small to watch video on comfortably, and I got out of the habit of charging it, so that if I ever did want to use it, the battery was flat.
Sure, it was a bargain, but not one I’ve made much use of. The eight-inch version would probably avoid the same fate thanks to its bigger, better-quality screen.
It’s easy to point out the price difference between the Fire HD 8 and something like the iPad mini 4 (£80 versus £419), but really these are devices in different categories. I don’t think anyone is going to be using a Fire HD 8 to do work on, for example, although it does come with tools like calendar, email, contacts, and the ability to open documents. Amazon’s products are, primarily, practical tools that allow you to access its services.
The Fire HD 8, like Amazon’s other devices, is really best understood as a portal to a particular set of services, more like an IoT connected screen than a general-purpose computer.
If you use one or more of Amazon’s services that’s a big benefit; otherwise you may find this tablet a little limiting. But even if you only use it for a bit of web surfing, it’s hard to argue with the price tag.
Amazon Fire HD 8 specs
8-inch IPS, 1280 x 800 resolution at 189ppi
214mm x 128mm x 9.7mm
CPU & RAM
1.3GHz quad-core with 1.5GB of RAM
16 GB (11.1GB available to user) or 32 GB (25.3GB available to user) of internal storage, MicroSD support for up to 256GB of additional storage
Up to 12 hours of reading, surfing the web, watching video, and listening to music
“Fully charges in under 6 hours”
Dual-band wi-fi. Supports public and private wi-fi networks or hotspots that use the dual-band 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g or 802.11n standard with support for WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security using password authentication
USB 2.0 (micro-B connector), MicroSD slot for external storage, 3.5 mm stereo jack
Accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor
VGA front-facing camera and two-megapixel rear-facing camera