October 2, 2015
Amazon has a new, affordable lineup of tablets. This one is the best of the bunch, in my opinion, and beats other tablets in the same price range thanks to the family-friendly and content-rich features. Please note that I will update this review as time goes on and I have the tablet for a longer period of time. I did a LOT of research though before purchasing, and have used the Kindle heavily since I received it, and my very lengthy review below reflects that. :-) UPDATES are at the bottom of this review. I'll continue to update periodically! After reading my review, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments and I'll try to respond in a day or so (or more quickly if possible)!
So, how does the new Fire HD 8 stack up to the older Kindle Fire HDX (3rd in the list of tablets, just like this time)? I’ll make a list below with the new specs on the left and the old Fire specs on the right.
149.99 - 214.99
8” - 7”
1280 x 800 (189 ppi) - 1920 x 1200 (323 ppi)
Quad core 1.5 GHz (MediaTek) - Quad core 2.2 GHz
8 hours mixed use - 11 hours mixed use
DOLBY ATMOS dual stereo speakers, built in microphone - DOLBY audio dual stereo speakers, built in microphone
Dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac - Dual-band, dual antenna (MIMO) Wi-Fi
720p HD Front-facing + 5 MP rear-facing with 1080p HD video recording - Front-facing HD camera
8 or 16 GB expandable to 128 - 16, 32, or 64 GB
11 oz - 11 oz (with 4G or 10.7 without)
Mayday screen sharing, Activity Center available soon (extensive parental controls and monitoring), advanced streaming and prediction, on-deck download of video / movie content in the background – available soon, new OS Bellini (more Android-like), no more carousel, etc. - Mayday help feature
As you can see from the list above, the new, more budget-friendly model sacrifices a little bit, but nothing that will be noticeable for what you’ll be using this tablet for. The improvements to the OS (operating system), as well as the new Activity Center for kids who’ve outgrown Kindle Free Time, and the expandable storage makes it well worth the purchase, even though you’ll sacrifice a tiny bit with the resolution, battery life, and a bit shaved off the processing speed. For 65 dollars less, I’d say that’s not anything I’m worried about. This tablet still works seamlessly with the Amazon ecosystem and does what it’s supposed to do – well.
First of all, these tablets are surprisingly rugged. In a tumble test that ended up cracking the iPad, the new Fire came through with just a bit of scuffing on the corners. The screen is made from Gorilla Glass, which is designed to be damage and scratch resistant. I’m really happy about this, as I plan on taking my tablet out to the garden as well as when we travel. I feel like my investment (which is much less than if I had purchased an iPad) is going to better hold up to an accidental drop. Considering this will be my recipe book in the kitchen, that’s a good thing! ;-)
The new parental controls (called the Activity Center) are a huge boon. They are set to come out in a free over-the-air update. Parents will be able to see how kids are spending time on the tablet –from how much time they are spending to which websites they visit. Combine that with the free Norton Family app, and you are set with tech-savvy teens and/or kids who don’t need to be reined in from web browsing and so on by Kindle Free Time. Current parental controls included on the tablet allow you to choose what you want to block or allow such as email, web browsing, purchases, apps, password protect video playback, and more.
For younger children, Kindle Free Time lets you hand your kids a tablet without having to worry about them getting into something they shouldn’t. It’s very tightly controlled with a separate environment just for them. A big complaint about Kindle Free Time was that kids couldn’t browse the web. With the new Activity Center, your kids can be set “free” but are still monitored. I’ll update this review when the update comes out with more details about how the Activity Center works. My suggestion though, is if you want to get a tablet for the kids, get one of the 49.99 models. That’s what I purchased for my son and am very happy with it (as is he). I feel much better knowing that if he breaks his tablet, it’s a much less expensive replacement. ;-) It also does everything the HD 8 can do, but just with a slightly smaller screen and a few downgrades like mono speakers and lower quality cameras.
So how does the tablet function and look otherwise?
This is not the tablet you want to do your spreadsheets and business work on. If I were purchasing a tablet for business, I’d feel better getting an iPad. They have a better selection of apps for that kind of thing, as well as better resolution for all the tiny details, etc. I’m a little disappointed at the small downgrade in processor speed. It’s not a slouch though. In a Geekbench 3 benchmark test, it got 766 single-core and 1523 multi-core scores. That beats some more expensive and more high-tech tablets like the Asus ZenPad 8.0. Compare it to an iPad 4 though, and it’s a great deal slower (1716 single-core and 3116 multi-core benchmark results). I suppose sacrifices had to be made to keep this tablet in the target price range. This tablet was made to consume videos, to play games, to read recipes in the kitchen, to entertain your kids on that 25 hour drive to another state, to quickly look something up, to get extra info on movies and such while you watch them on your big screen (with the fling and X-ray features), to read, listen to music, to skype grandma straight from your garden, and so on. Anyway, it will handle your apps and casual games and movies. Movies run smoothly, like butter, although the tablet might need a few seconds to respond if you quit right in the middle of one. ;-) Things like Candy Crush play without a hiccup. You can surf the web with no issues. Just don’t expect to play really heavy and super-graphics intensive games without a bit of a slowdown, especially if you have downloads going. Otherwise, though, it doesn’t really lag except maybe for 1 second when switching apps (that I’ve noticed so far) and does what it was made to do – well.
This is no retina level screen, but it looks crisp and colorful to my eyes. Movies and games look lovely on it, at least to me. I have no problems with text in books, etc. One thing I like is that it has a polarizing filter and IPS (in-plane switching). You can tilt it and still see your stuff at different angles. You can really tilt it and still see what's on the screen fairly accurately. It’s bright (very bright) and pretty. I did notice that it looks better overall than the new Kindle fire (49.99). I can see visible pixels with my glasses on if I look reallllly closely, but they are not really noticeable and overall it looks nice and smooth.
Build / Design:
This tablet looks like something Fisher Price made, but who cares? It’s unpretentious and honest, lol. It has sharp corners and a plastic back that reminds me of a Barbie toy that collects fingerprints, but I actually really like cheerful color (I got magenta). It’s 0.3 inches thick – not the thinnest tablet, but thin enough to throw in your purse. It’s rugged, with gorilla glass, and I’ve read in various places that it beats the iPad in tumble tests hands-down. You get a little lift-up flap that hides the MicroSD slot. Buttons are on the edges and not where you are generally going to accidentally bump them. I purchased the official Amazon case (also in magenta). The new case fits like a glove (and doesn’t collect fingerprint, lol), has an auto-sleep function and the cover bends so you can set your Fire up in portrait or landscape mode hands-free. There is a cut-out for the camera and a magnetic closure keeps it from flying open. I have the official Amazon case (in matching magenta) and it fits like a glove. You can see my review of the case if you click on my user name. :-)
It says it gets 8 hours mixed use, but if you are sucking down the power with movies and games, expect less. Surprisingly though, 8 hours is pretty accurate for mixed use. If you are traveling, I highly recommend an external battery pack/charger to extend playtime.
I’ve never loved the fact that the Amazon app store is more limited than Google Play, but it’s easy to side load apps (which just means to put them on your Fire without going through the Amazon store – it requires a few extra steps but nothing hard- just Google it). As for the ones in the Amazon ecosystem, they’ve added a great feature called Amazon Underground where you can get games and premium content for games for FREE. No, you won’t get Candy Crush extras, but there are lots of freebies there that aren’t junk. Your kids will be happy and your pocketbook will be happy. ;-) Amazon keeps expanding its offerings, and I feel good about getting them from the Amazon app store as I feel they will be pretty stable and safe.
New OS 5 Bellini (built on top of Lollipop):
Ok, I love this update. This is a huge plus and reason enough to upgrade. I really didn’t care for the dark carousel design of the other OS. This one is a lot more like a regular Android environment. It’s easy to navigate, focused on your content, and everything you want to use is easily at hand. Menu screens are organized by content. Videos, books, apps, music and so on all have their own page of content (just keep swiping to the left and you’ll scroll through them). I really like this as it makes everything so easy to locate and feels so much more organized than previously. The search bar puts your searches into 3 different categories: Amazon store, your content, and Bing. This makes searches easier to accomplish. Another cool thing is that if you subscribe to content (like a magazine or newspaper), your new issue will appear at the top of the home screen.
One of the things you may not like is that Amazon takes the opportunity to show you things you “might like” which is basically trying to get you to buy more, more, more….I don’t mind this though, as often I get good ideas for things I’d like to explore and look at later (mainly books). I can see how some would be really annoyed by this, though.
The updated Silk browser is also cleaner and faster than before.
Other content / extras:
We are Prime Members and that is where this tablet SHINES. I love being able to easily access all of the Prime content as well as movies you can download and watch later. A new and useful feature (especially if you travel or are out of Wi-Fi range for any period of time), set to come out soon via a free update, is that Amazon will now try and guess what movies and videos you will watch based on your viewing habits and pre-download those in the background to be ready to view even when you are away from Wi-Fi. It’s totally behind the scenes and won’t eat up space you need to use. This is a super thing if you are traveling and stuck somewhere wanting to watch something, but away from Wi-Fi. Amazon will have you covered. It will also pre-buffer the next show in a series, etc.
Another new and nifty thing is Word Runner. This is a speed-reading tool that will show you individual words at a faster and faster pace until you put the brakes on (and it slows automatically for more difficult words). I probably won’t use this much, but can see myself playing around with it some and I know my son will probably use it more, to increase his reading speed for some of his school texts. I’ll update this review later to make a note of how it affects comprehension (we are homeschoolers, so that will be an interesting experiment).
I like that I can share content with the Family Library feature. Two adults who make up a household can share their purchased books and content like apps, etc. No more worrying that a book was purchased on a different account. We both can read it. You can share items between 2 adults and up to 4 children.
I'm also looking forward to flinging content to my Amazon Fire TV stick (which is on its way, lol). I downloaded the Amazon TV app for it. Speaking of apps, so far every single app I've downloaded (and side loaded) have worked except for Facebook. The Facebook messenger app works great though.
This is perfect for some members of my family who just don’t “get” tech (Hi grandma – I love you! lol) Mayday customer service reps will show you how to do things by writing and drawing on your screen and talking to you directly. This is not the old "mayday button". You have to call customer service first, before activating this feature. This is perfect for your grandma or any of the Luddites in your family. They can get connected to the family and the Internet (and email and so on) with someone right on screen helping out. Most of the really techy people won’t be buying this tablet, but for the rest of us or our beloved tech challenged family members…this feature could save you from having to wash your mouth out with soap! ;-)
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity:
I had no problems getting connected to Wi-Fi and once I had it, I didn’t lose it, even when walking around my backyard (which is rather large). I lost a couple bars of signal when really far out by the compost pile, but it still functioned. I also had no problem hooking up our Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that I purchased for our other Fire tablet (the cheap one) so my son can more easily do schoolwork. I plan on using them when we travel and I need to respond to emails for my business. It makes typing a lot easier than the little on screen keyboard. Everything responded smoothly.
I like the fact that this new version has 2 cameras – one in the back and one in the front. I’m not sure why the older model had only one front facing camera. It’s good enough to do Skype with a clear picture and I like that it does 1080p HD video. I wish I had it just a couple months ago when we went to Alaska! It's good for a quick picture or video and you can save your pics and videos to the Amazon cloud.
To wrap it all up, I’ve researched other tablets, and for me, this one was the best deal with the most features I’m going to use at this price. Would I have liked a new, giant iPad Pro with the new pressure sensitive pen? You bet!! As an artist, I would have liked to be untethered from my computer for digital art, etc. But at 799, that’s out of my price range. Even the iPad air at 400 bucks is not in my price range, lol. I’m stuck in the budget tablet market for now. I’m really glad that Amazon’s new lineup made a tablet purchase more feasible for me, and in fact, made it so I can purchase two (which I did…one for me, one for my son).
I feel good about buying it from Amazon as they have some of the best customer service anywhere. I have had to replace my Kindle e-reader (due to a single faulty pixel that was bugging me) and also sent back a Fire for no reason other than a new one came out not long after. Amazon never blinked an eye or gave me one iota of trouble with the return process. With the Kindle Paperwhite I was sent a new one even before returning the old one (who else does that?!). With the Fire, I was given a full refund. When my ancient Kindle e-reader died (it was like 4 generations old), they gave me a credit to use on my son’s new Fire. I TRUST them based on experience. I also like the fact that at this price, I don’t have to sweat things too much with my rough and tumble son. I like and appreciate the parental control options and like how Amazon designed everything in their ecosystem to work very smoothly. I had a Dell Venue and had NO end of trouble with that piece of junk. Compare that to my experience with this tablet and it’s like day & night. Everything I install works without giving me trouble, playback is smooth, and it does what it needs to do. This is NOT going to do what an expensive iPad or other premium tablet can do, but it’s really not designed for that.
This tablet will make a terrific gift and at this price and with the parental controls (especially the updated controls that I’m sure will be out before the holidays), you can feel good about giving it to any kids on your Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever) list, if you want something with a bit nicer features than the 49.99 tablet. It’s also great for yourself to throw in the kitchen for recipes or in the car or for travel or whatever!
I am really happy with mine and don’t regret the purchase at all. Because of the OS upgrade, the better cameras, etc. I’m happy I was able to get this tablet instead of the previous generation, even with the small downgrades. The upgrades make it worth it. I’ll come back and update my experiences and thoughts after a bit, as these are just my initial thoughts!!
UPDATE AT ONE WEEK:
I've used this tablet heavily over the first week and am still in love. I haven't had a single app crash or freeze. It functions flawlessly (unlike the piece of bleep Dell Venue I had previously). We visited someone in the hospital and the tablet connected to the Wi-Fi there in just a few seconds and kept me connected to family, etc. I've not had any issues with the Wi-Fi at all, no matter where I've connected. This tablet always picks up a strong signal. Downloads are also very quick, much quicker than my other tablet was.
I like the email app. The tablet gives you a notification when you get email (you never have to worry about turning that app "on" - it will check your mail anyway and let you know in the system notifications). It's easy to use, clear to read, etc. I don't usually do email on a tablet, but since I was away from home for a few days in a row, it was really handy and very intuitive.
I've watched T.V. episodes on it via the Directv app (which works even better than it does on my PC) and also via Amazon Prime. The video quality was very good and I noticed I didn't have to buffer the next episode (when watching a show on Prime). It just played right after the episode I was finished with (as I mentioned in my review above). This feature works really well. Video playback was very smooth and looked great/clear/smooth without any stuttering, etc. The audio via the speakers is good, but this tablet really shines with audio via headphones/earbuds. You catch every little nuance of sound and it's multi-directional. It's actually quite amazing and I was surprised at what a difference the Atmos sound system makes. I looked up some info about Dolby Atmos and instead of the sound being constrained to channels, it exists as individual entities that are precisely placed and moved in three-dimensional space, even overhead. There is such a depth to the sound. Pair it with some good headphones and you will likely be amazed. Note: I used Brainwavze earbuds which are a bit higher quality than your run-of-the-mill Walmart earbuds.
One thing I am starting to love is my subscription to the Washington Post app. It updates itself with new news (I went ahead and paid 1 dollar for a 6 month subscription) and the articles are varied and interesting. I can see why they suck you in with the cheap subscription as I'm already addicted to it, and so is my teen son (who loves reading the news). It's very intuitive to navigate, etc.
The only thing negative I can say for now is that I still would rather read regular books on my Kindle Paperwhite. While the text looks nice enough on this tablet, I prefer to read on a non-backlit device like the Paperwhite. I also got frustrated with one of the books I recently bought that was formatted for a tablet and for some reason it was a real pain in the rear (only in that particular book and not the others) to get to the menu by touching the top. It kept turning the page instead of making it so I could adjust the font settings. That is the only book (so far) where I had that issue. Also, I think fonts just look nicer on the Paperwhite, although they were very clear and just fine on this tablet. For some reason I can also use the Paperwhite without my glasses with no eye strain, but this tablet does give me a bit of eye strain when reading for long periods of time and I seem to need my glasses more (but not in the Washington Post app for some reason - maybe it's formatted differently or something). I think that's because it's backlit and the font is not rendered as well as the Paperwhite, and/or the lower resolution. The Paperwhite has a resolution of 300 ppi (points per inch) and this tablet is 189 ppi.
I'll update more before too long - probably when the an update is applied, or when I run into any issues, or just to remark on something else I'm really enjoying! So far, I am SO happy with my purchase and am finding this new Fire to be a handy little tool that I am using all of the time everywhere I go in some form or fashion!
UPDATE: 1 Month - I ran into my first problem when I tried to get the content of my Fire to mirror to my Amazon Fire TV stick. 2 1/2 hours with customer service and over 25 transfers to different customer service agents finally got me an answer and a fix - which was really a very simple stupid thing that should have taken them 2 minutes to tell me. On that front, I am NOT happy. Amazon usually has such great customer service, but the agents I spoke to were giving me wrong information based on the older Kindle HD models. Anyway, that isn't a problem with the Fire itself, just customer service. ;-) For those of you wondering, the Fire mirrors content perfectly to compatible devices. In this case I was mirroring it to the Fire TV stick, but I am sure it can do it for other devices like Chromecast, etc.
I've also had an issue where the sound would jump up or down every once and in a rare while. I did a factory reset and so far am not having that issue anymore. Not sure what the deal was or is, but I'll keep an eye on it.
Other than that, this little tablet has become indispensable. I throw it in my purse when I go somewhere and it's been humming along and working great for all sorts of things. I do think it would be nicer if it had a better processing speed as I am sometimes impatient for it to respond to a touch every once in a great while, but this is a super minor inconvenience. There are some things this little tablet does better and faster than my PC! I've never had it crash or freeze or anything else. I like having a tablet dedicated to the Amazon ecosystem, so I think I would stick with a Fire tablet vs. another Android brand. Even if I ever get an iPad, I'll still want a Fire for all of my Amazon Prime benefits. I'm very happy with my Fire 8!
UPDATE: 3 months - Well, I ran into my first issue. I bought a micro SD card to expand my storage so I can download some TV shows and things like that to have on hand to watch when our family's Wi-Fi doesn't have enough bandwidth to share streaming content. Once the SD card was installed, I kept getting a "SD card removed unexpectedly" error. I thought it might be an issue with the SD card itself, so I got a replacement card and put that in, instead. It also got the same error. I had a chat with Amazon tech support and they are sending me a replacement tablet. I'm a little annoyed that I will have to reinstall all my goodies on the new tablet, but I'm glad that Amazon is not a hassle to deal with. The replacement is being sent via 2 days shipping and I don't have to send mine back until I get the replacement (although I had to verify my credit card info so they can charge me if I didn't return it).
That's the bad news - but as far as the good, the new updates to the OS are terrific. There was an improvement made to the email, so now it's easier to delete unwanted emails, etc. I also LOVE the new parental controls. The new features let you see exactly what your kid is doing on the tablet, like how much time s/he spends on games, reading, etc. You can even see what specific books your kid was reading (and how much time was spent reading whichever books), what websites were visited (and when), what games were played and for how long, and you can set a "curfew" on the device to turn it off at bedtime (or whenever). This is the icing on the cake of an already really good parental controls system. Now you have all of the specifics in hand, so you can really monitor what your child is doing, while allowing him/her the freedom to browse the Internet or use the tablet. It's perfect for a teen. They have all the accountability and just however much freedom you think is appropriate. It's truly one of the best parental controls I've seen for a tablet, and they actually work, unlike a well-known parental controls app (non-Amazon related) that only worked part of the time and only reliably on some of our devices. With the Amazon controls you get all of the reporting via a page (with graphs) that is accessible from your account area (from the manage your content and devices area via a tab). It's really easy to set up and because it's integrated into the Amazon tablet, it's foolproof.
The other update to the OS is the special blue shade setting, so that you can read before going to bed without the type of light that can affect your body's production of sleep promoting melatonin. Supposedly having this setting on can help you fall asleep faster than if you had been staring at a regular tablet screen. I don't think the science behind this is 100% proven, but it's a nice feature, and it's not as glaring for bedtime reading. When activated, Blue Shade turns your tablet screen a kind of yellowish-orange hue. You can adjust the color to get several different shades from "yellow moonlight" to "red candlelight". I like it as it's much more soothing to look at right before you go to bed. I'd only use it for reading though and not for general tablet browsing, unless you don't mind the colors being totally washed out and weird looking. ;-)
So, I love the new updates, but I'm not happy that I have to exchange my current tablet for a replacement. I am at least happy that Amazon is very easy to deal with, though, when it comes to warranty issues. That's one of the reasons why I wanted a tablet from them vs. someone else. I knew it would be more reliable in general (when it comes to apps working and so on) and if I ran into any problems (as you so often do with tech items), I wouldn't get any hassle in getting a replacement. It literally took me a 6 minute chat (or so) to get the ball rolling with getting a new Fire sent out to me. I will update my review again, to let you know how the replacement behaves, and if I have any more microSD card problems, or anything else.
Even with the SD card issue, I am sticking to the 5 star review because of the general functionality and features of the tablet, and because it's my go-to tablet, even with several others in my house now to choose from (that are different brands/types). If I had had any trouble with the return process, I would have knocked off a star, but since it was made so seamless and trouble-free, I'm still a happy customer, despite the hiccup with the tablet itself.
UPDATE: Jan /2016 - I got the replacement Kindle sent to me and it arrived in just 2 days. I'm happy to say that it does NOT have the SD card problem and everything else functions perfectly. One thing I liked about the replacement process is that my other Kindle had a backup, so I was able to install that backup onto the replacement. It remembered how I had all my apps, and how I had arranged my home screen, etc. The only thing it doesn't save are your passwords (which I like for security reasons). So, I had to reenter those in for things like Facebook, but that's about all I had to do, to get things up and running again. Other than the download of the new OS and my backup, it took me literally like one minute to have everything restored the way it was. Replacements are refurbished Fires - but whatever issue it had, it seems to be perfectly fine and came to me looking brand new, so I'm happy enough. I'll be back again after awhile, or if anything else crops up. :-)
UPDATE June 30, 2016 - I've had this tablet for about 8 months and I still totally love it. I love it even more since I've installed the Google Play store on it (which is not in the scope of this review - but is easy to do). Now I can run apps that weren't available in the sometimes anemic Amazon app store, and yet still have the Amazon ecosystem at my fingertips. I wouldn't want any other tablet, now that I've fixed my one biggest nitpick about having an Amazon tablet. It was irritating that you cannot get the newest version of Facebook Messenger in the Amazon appstore, etc. I was always getting these notices saying "You don't have the most recent version of the app - click here to update", but you can't update, because Amazon doesn't have the updated version. Frustrating. That's one potential negative about Fire tablets. You can't get thousands of apps that you might want, or if you can, they may not be the newest versions of the apps. This is one area Amazon needs to improve. But, as I said, it's no longer an issue for me as I have access to all of the Google apps. Yay!! Every once and awhile I run into an app that won’t run on the Fire, but that’s not a usual occurrence. I am beyond thrilled to have access to all the apps I want, but via the Fire tablet format (which is much nicer and friendlier than a regular Android OS, in my opinion). Plus I’m a rabid Amazon fan, so now I have the best of both worlds. ;-)
Wow, I ran out of room in the review window. It won't let me type up the rest of my review. See the comments for the rest, lol!