A closer look at Amazon's Fire HD 8 2017 edition
Amazon Amazon Prime Kindle Fire tablets Android hardware
I picked up a Kindle Fire HD 8 on Prime Day for $50, which seemed like a pretty cheap way to get a new Android tablet at the time. Having fiddled with it for nearly a month, I thought I would share my impressions for those curious or on the fence about the Fire line of tablets.
The specs for this tablet are available on Amazon's site here; I'm not enough of a hardware guru to really nitpick the minutiae of those aspects of it other than to say this: don't buy this for the cameras. The 2MP rear-facing camera and the front-facing VGA camera are the same ones that this class of Kindles have, um, boasted for several generations now and they're fairly terrible. Almost any other tablet out there will have superior cameras to what's on offer here.
The second thing that I will say is that you should go ahead and pony up the extra $15 to get rid of the lockscreen ads. I also have a Kindle Paperwhite and the ads are innocuous enough when I'm opening it for an extended reading session that I haven't felt a need or desire to pay Amazon to eliminate them--a quick swipe of the finger makes them go away and I can continue enjoying my book. On the Fire, however, it quickly becomes annoying when you're just checking to see whether you have any new emails and you see a screen offering you a terrific deal for the next 36 hours on a lifetime supply of tampons.
Not Your Average Android Tablet
The third thing that I will say is probably fairly obvious, but I'll put on my Captain Obvious hat anyway: this isn't a standard Android tablet. Amazon sells these cheap tablets as a way to sell you more everything Amazon--Amazon books, Amazon streaming video, Amazon magazines, Amazon apps, Amazon music, and Amazon physical stuff. As a result, they are custom-tailored to use Amazon stuff. They are preloaded with Amazon's Fire OS 5 instead of Jellybean or Lollipop or whatever sweets Google has decided to utilize as the next cute moniker for an Android update. Of course you can root the tablet and install your preferred version of Android onto it, but the Fire OS actually comes with a few convenient features that have made me hesitate in doing so. Many of the built-in apps work well and are useful for utilizing your Amazon-purchased digital content. Because we're something of an Amazon family (we have a Fire TV, an Echo, and a Prime subscription), the Fire does make getting more Amazon stuff easy (for good or ill). If you want to watch a Prime video, the OS will store your recently-viewed content on a readily-accessible tab and the app will remember where you left off and let you pick up on your tablet or stream to a Fire TV if you like. A Prime sub will net you access to a number of free books and magazines that are easy to download and peruse, and if you have or had an Audible subscription, your content is likewise easy to access. The OS also allows for easy automatic backups of content to the cloud, although I believe you're still restricted by the size of the Amazon Drive that you have (5 Gb are free, while an upgrade to 100 Gb is a reasonable $12 per year).
Some downsides, especially for those who aren't significantly invested in Amazon infrastructure, rear their ugly heads: Amazon doesn't make it easy to access the Google Play Store (you have to jump through some hoops to get the app running on the tablet), so if you don't want to be stuck with the apps in the Amazon Appstore, you're going to have to tweak some things (if I can do it, it's not that hard); because both Amazon and Google have their own GameCenter-like apps, if you have a version of an app downloaded from the Play Store that uses Google's "Play Games" architecture, it may not run properly on the Fire; wallpapers are static by design, and there is no way to rotate wallpapers automatically or use a live wallpaper or live wallpaper app (different people have different feelings about this sort of thing--iOS devices don't really have live wallpapers either, and the main argument against them is that they're serious drains on battery life--while this is true, often I keep my tablet plugged in next to my computer during the day, so that's not really an issue).
I'm fairly pleased with the Fire at this point. I had an iPad mini 3 that I had been using for a few years but it was a lease from Sprint, which I ended up returning. I actually own an iPad mini 1, but it's essentially so out-of-date as to be useless at this point--you can't update the iOS version past 9 and the hardware is frankly just ancient. A new iPad is about $400-500. A new Fire is one-tenth of that price. While this isn't the place for an Android v. iOS discussion, I've always preferred Android for the control that it gives you over your hardware and software. While in its native form, this tablet does take some of that control away from the user, how problematic that trade-off is will really depend on how you want to use it. The overall package here is a solid value for the money--you're getting 1280x800 HD video, stereo sound, 16 Gb of internal storage (just barely enough), a microSD card slot (which you WILL need to fill), a processor and internal RAM that's fast and large enough to run modern apps for less than $100. If you want/need premium hardware or the greater breadth of apps available on iOS, this tablet isn't for you. You're not getting a fingerprint reader or facial recognition or a high-quality camera, but those features will cost you 5-10 times as much as you'll drop on one of these. If you're looking for a fairly customizable tablet that will stream video, surf the web, handle emails, and run the latest Android apps, and you don't mind the Amazon skin, this might be for you.
- Odinsfury likes this