Review: Amazon Fire HD 8 (2016) – fantastic tablet for the price

Last year’s Amazon Fire HD 8 was a decent cut-price tablet, but it struggled to stand out against its cheaper Fire 7 sibling, or the larger Fire HD 10. This year, Amazon has revamped the 8in Fire tablet with more storage, more colour and more powerful internals. And what a difference it makes.

Where last year’s model was hamstrung by 8GB of storage, the new Fire HD 8 comes in 16GB and 32GB models that can be expanded by up to 200GB via microSD. Plus, there’s a new quad-core 1.3GHz chip inside and a more generous 1.5GB of RAM.

It’s chunky, weighing 341g, but Amazon distracts from the thick bezel by offering a choice of four colours: black, blue, tangerine and magenta. Despite its girth, it feels robust and well-suited to the rough and tumble of general home life, particularly if you’re considering buying this for a child. At $120 or so for the basic 16GB version, it’s one of the best-made tablets for the price. 

I wouldn’t call it fast – the quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek processor falls into the low-to-mid range, as evidenced by a Geekbench 3 single-core result of 644 – but menu transitions are smooth, and there are no horrible shudders as you navigate through options or watch video. It also copes well with simpler games such as Threes and Temple Run, but high-intensity games aren’t suitable; it managed an average of only 7.1fps in GFX Bench GL’s onscreen Manhattan 3 test. 

Web browsing was smooth, but I saw noticeable performance dips when scrolling through media-heavy pages, such as The Guardian. This isn’t surprising given its Peacekeeper browser performance score of 568. 

Where the Fire HD 8 really shines, though, is battery life. Setting the screen brightness to our predefined measurement of 170cd/m2, the Fire HD 8 managed 13hrs 4mins of continuous video playback, which is a great time for an 8in device. It’s by far the longest-lasting Fire tablet we’ve seen to date, surpassing both the Fire HD 10 and Fire 7 by around four hours. 

For this price, the Amazon Fire HD 8 was never going to have an award-winning screen, so its 66% sRGB colour gamut coverage isn’t surprising. That score falls well behind  Android rivals such as the Huawei MediaPad M3 and Acer Iconia Tab 10 – but don’t be frightened off: colours were neither too warm nor too cool, so it isn’t the disaster it might at first appear.

Likewise, its 1,280 x 800 resolution might sound humdrum, but text is still crisp and easy to read, and its contrast ratio of 968:1 helps text stand out against lighter backgrounds. It’s exceedingly bright, too, hitting a high of 455cd/m2. That’s more than enough for outside use, and I could see the screen clearly, even in sunshine. 

One thing you won’t be using the Fire HD 8 for is photography. Its rear 2-megapixel rear camera is a token effort from Amazon, and even outdoor shots showed a lack of detail. Colours were washed out, too, with grain evident throughout. Turning on HDR makes things even worse, thanks in part to the lengthy amount of time it needs to take an image: camera shake and stabilisation became a major issue. There’s no rear flash, making dark indoor shots near-impossible to make out. 

As always with a Fire tablet, you’re restricted to Amazon’s own version of Android. That means you can’t access Google Play on this device, and it doesn’t include Google apps such as Maps. If you’re already deeply tied into Amazon’s various services then this proprietary approach has many benefits. If not then the only plus side comes from Amazon’s Underground app store – this always includes a sprinkling of exclusive offers and freebies. 

Despite its shortfalls, Amazon’s latest Fire HD 8 tablet is easy to recommend. You won’t find an Android tablet of similar quality for less, especially with such great battery life. The Fire HD 8 is a solid choice for anyone looking for a family-friendly tablet, or a cheap, second device to use on their travels. 

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