Do you prefer your candy bars king size, regular, or fun size? I’ve always favored the middle. Regular size bars are big enough to satisfy, but not so huge that I feel that pang of guilt in my sugar-ridden stomach. Buying a tablet from Amazon is similar. You can opt for a cute 7-inch Fire, but there’s a good chance it’ll feel too small. Or you can buy a big 10-inch Fire, which, for some, will be unwieldy. The 8-inch Fire? In my opinion, it’s just right.
The latest Amazon Fire HD 8 has a 1,280 x 800-pixel, 8-inch screen that’s robust enough for watching movies on a long bus ride (though the viewing angles aren’t amazing), and small enough that you can still hold it with one hand. Its size makes it easy to type with your thumbs, play games like Red Ball 4, or read like a book. It’s just about ideal.
Amazon Fire HD 8 (2017)
An ideal size for a lot of tablet uses. The $80 price is outstanding. The battery lasts a long time. MicroSD card slot lets you add extra storage for cheap.
Alexa is not hands-free, requiring a button press to use. The hardware is passable, but far from attractive or speedy. The screen is a museum for fingerprints. Content can look washed out at certain angles.
It’s no bastion for beautiful, high-end design, but the plastic Fire feels sturdy enough. The screen is glass, like you’d expect, but collects finger grease like crazy. The front and rear cameras take photos, and that’s the highest compliment I can give them. Most of the ports and buttons are crammed onto the top edge of the tablet, but they usually don’t get in the way (though things got messy when I needed to charge, plug in my headphones, and adjust the volume at the same time).
On the inside, the processing power and internal storage (available in either 16 or 32GB capacities) are like what you might have found in a flagship tablet a few years ago.
Is any of this ideal? No. Does the Fire get the job done anyway? Yes, especially when you consider the price.
At $80, Amazon has priced the 8 so low you may think it’s a joke. No other name-brand tablet is this affordable. That’s by design—Amazon wants to sell you everything, and the Fire tablet is crafted to do just that. From Alexa and Audible to Prime Video, all the company’s best content is easily accessible from the HD 8.
The Fire tablets run on a remodeled version of Google’s Android software that lets you swipe through a page for every type of goodie Amazon hopes to tempt you with. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, these pages will also serve you thousands of “free” items that come with your $100-per-year subscription, or anything digital you’ve bought from Amazon over the years.
Amazon’s app ecosystem is a little thin, but you can find many basics like Facebook and Hulu (sadly, there are no Google apps like Keep or Drive). Even though the bare essentials are available, don’t expect to get access to the latest trendy game or social network with this tablet.
Naturally, Alexa is ready to help you. Just this morning, I asked Amazon’s trusty assistant to play some Tom Petty, and I sang along to “Wildflowers” as I took a shower. The stereo speakers were loud and clear enough that I could hear it out over the din of the water, which surprised me. But, when I wanted to change the track, I was out of luck. Unlike Amazon’s larger Fire HD 10, Alexa isn’t fully hands free. That means you can’t yell commands at the Fire from across the room, like an Echo speaker. On the HD 8, you need to tap the home button before Alexa starts listening.
The Fire HD 8, like its brethren, doesn’t push the envelope, but it works. There are perks to the 8, too. Its battery life is advertised at 12 hours, and I haven’t had to charge mine in days. Amazon’s magnetic standing case classes up the tablet with fabric on the front and back, as well, and you can also add a MicroSD card for more storage.
In many ways, it’s hard to compare this tablet to what you could buy from Apple or Samsung. But, at $80, you can buy four HD 8s for the price of the cheapest iPad—enough for the whole family. And because of that, there are few tech bargains better than the Amazon Fire HD 8.
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