Top positive review
Great basic tablet for Amazon fans
Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2016
As a background, I am a retired Information Systems professional and I am writing my first impressions of the NEW Fire HD 8 released on September 21, 2016 from the perspective of being a long-term Kindle user. I have all the current e-readers and Fire devices from Amazon including the basic Kindle, the Paperwhite (2013,2014,2015 models), the Fire HD6, Fire HD7, Fire HDX7 and Fire HDX8.9 (3rd and 4th generation), the old Fire HD 8 and the Fire HD 10. Here is a summary of my initial impressions of the new Fire HD8.
Amazon has replaced the original HD 8 released in 2015 with an “All-New” HD 8. Amazon is also removing the Fire HD6, which is a shame as it is a great little tablet.
The new HD 8 differs from the old version as follows:
BEST NEW FEATURE:
The price has been reduced! The 16 GB version of the old device cost $169.99 with special offers (ads). The new 16 GB version costs 89.99 and you can get a 32 HB version for $30 more.
Amazon has removed the ability to mirror your display on Miracast devices such as TVs. Now that feature is now only available on generation 4 and 5 Fires including last years HD 8. However, you can still cast Prime videos to a FireTV or Fire Stick.
WHAT COMES IN THE BOX:
The HD8 Fire, a short 3-foot USB cord and a power adapter so you can charge and use the device right out of the box.
The new HD8 is a fraction thicker than the 2015 HD8. Leather cases for the old HD 8 will fit the new HD 8 but hard shell cases will not. However the auto wake feature of some older cases won't work.
One complaint I had about the earlier versions was that the back was very slick and slippery to hold without a case. The new version is finely matted or textured so it is much easier to hold without dropping it and is no longer a fingerprint magnet on the back.
The resolution of the screen is the same 1280 x 800. However, the new HD 8 seems to have darker blacks with more contrast when compared to the older version. The display is nice and bright but still barely readable in bright sunlight. Amazon has added adaptive brightness to the new 2016 HD 8. When enabled, the brightness of the display changes depending on the level of light in the room. Practically speaking, this is only useful indoors when adjusting for night time reading because it is difficult to see the display in bright outdoor sunshine.
I do like that you can choose your own wallpaper! It comes with 9 stock images and if you don't like one of them, you can choose your own image in your Amazon Photos folder.
Both the new and old HD8 use a System on chip (SoC) platform where the CPU, GPU and Bluetooth are integrated on one chip platform. The new HD 8 has a faster MediaTek MT8163V/B 64-bit quad-core processor advertised as running at 1.3Ghz. Tests show that this processor operates with a CPU frequency of 1300 MHz max and 600 MHz min.
The old processor was a MediaTek MT8135 32-bit processor which was advertised as having one quad-core processor operating at 1.5GHz. Tests reveal that operating speeds were 1200 MHz max and 364 MHz min frequencies.
The GPU (graphics processing unit) on the new HD8 is an ARM Mali-T720 versus the older PowerVRg6200. Overall, the newer chip operates faster than the old chip.
Bluetooth version has been upgraded from 4.0 LE to 4.1 LE.
The HD8 is now available with 16 GB and 32GB instead of 8 GB and 16 GB and Amazon still has a slot where you can insert a microSD card. The 2016 HD 8 accepts a MicroSD card up to 200 GB instead of the maximum 128 GB on the 2015 HD 8.
I recommend purchasing the 32GB version instead of ordering the 16 GB and adding an SD card. You will probably not need an additional card with the 32 GB version, but if you find that you are running short of space, you can always add one later. If you do add an external card, I do not recommend installing apps on an auxiliary card for several reasons. 1) Some apps WON’T install on auxiliary cards and those that do, use space on the internal drive as well as the microSD card. 2) the Fire apps seem to run faster on the internal drive. 3) If your SDcard goes bad, you are going to have devote some time reinstalling all your apps and resetting your settings.
More importantly, the new device has 1.5 GB of RAM versus 1.0 GB. Because of these upgrades, the new HD 8 is much snappier than the old version.
It is heavier: 12.0 ounces vs 11.0 ounces thanks to the larger battery
The battery life is a big improvement. The new battery has been sized up to 4,750 mAh from the previous version which had a 3,210 mAh battery. The older model was rated at 8 hours but the new model is rated at 12 hours of mixed use. My biggest criticism of the old version was the battery which ran down very rapidly. I just kept the thing plugged in all the time because I could only use it for about 5 hours, not 8 hours, without being plugged in. The new version is definitely improved and it seems to last about 50% longer than the old one. Your own results may vary from mine depending on use.
Sadly, Amazon installs a single antenna and has removed the 802.11ac wireless protocol from the new HD 8. What does this mean? In a nutshell, speed.
802.11 ac WiFi is much faster, but its peak speeds are not really the selling point. Its speeds at long range are. The AC protocol factors in “beamforming.” Beamforming is a “smart signal” which detects where connected devices are and increases signal strength specifically in their direction. So the performance as well as higher speed of 802.11ac are maintained far better at long range. Speed is not a factor for really short actions such as downloading books but if you plan on downloading movie videos, plan on taking a long lunch break.
When testing both my old and new HD8 devices from a far corner of my house, the new 2016 HD 8 connected at 65 Mbps but the old 2015 connected at 433 Mbps.
As you can see, the results show how much faster 802.11ac operates.
The new HD 8 has been reduced to the same camera specs as the basic Fire. The camera quality is not as good on the new HD 8 as the old HD 8. Instead of maintaining a 720 HD front-facing camera with a 5 MP rear-facing camera with 1080p HD video recording, the new HD 8 comes with a VGA front-facing camera with a 2 MP rear-facing camera with 720p HD video recording. The quality of the new camera is obviously inferior and it shows when taking pictures. The image inferiority is really obvious when used in indoor settings. There is no flash so the pictures often come out very grainy when used indoors.
This is where the HD 8 shines. Amazon includes Dolby Atmos and dual stereo speakers. The HD 8 has one of the best sounds, both in quality and loudness, as any tablet I own.
UPDATE October 14, 2016. I need to clarify my comment about the sound. The speakers are terrible on all the Fires, including this one. This has become so second nature to me that I always use headphones, bluetooth speakers and occasionally even pair up my device to my Amazon Echo. When connected to an alternate speaker device, the sound quality is excellent.
The volume buttons are placed along the top of the HD 8 along with the power button, the headphone jack and the power receptacle. So all the buttons you would touch are on top. No buttons are on the sides or bottom.
The nice feature of the volume buttons is that they are “sensitive” to the orientation of the tablet. So if you are watching a movie in landscape mode with the volume buttons on the left, the upper button increases volume and the lower button decreases sound. If you flip the tablet 180 degrees so that the buttons are now on the right, most devices will use the same buttons for volume but in order to increase volume, the button you will need to press is now the LOWER button. The Fire HD 8 is smart enough to reverse the functions so that the upper button still increases the volume.
Atmos is a surround sound technology, developed in 2012, that expands upon the current 5.1 and 7.1 set-ups. With Atmos, each speaker has its own feed, enabling new front, surround and ceiling-mounted height channels. I was watching a movie with cheap headphones and thought I heard helicopters fly by my house. It took me a minute to realize that the sound was from the helicopters in the movie. It really sounded like they were coming from the left and moving to the right OVERHEAD. Wow, I was impressed!! (Note: I used Bluetooth headphones to test the Atmos quality of the sound.)
The new 2016 HD 8 location services are only WiFi-based. Some older Fires such as the HDX 7 and the HDX 8.9 also included GPS and a-GPS. Assisted GPS (a-GPS) significantly improved startup performance of a GPS satellite-based positioning system.
What this means is that location services in the new HD 8 really does not exist because there is no GPS location service utilizing satellites. Instead, the device approximates your location based on your WiFi IP address. When WiFi is turned off or not available, apps that utilize location services such as mapping apps do not work. This is a real bummer because I use my older devices in the car while traveling with downloaded maps and would like to replace them with the HD 8. The older Fires work so much better than my phone because of the larger screen size. This was a feature I really miss in the current Fires. I could connect to my car Bluetooth to listen to music and Audible books and receive driving instructions at the same time. I could also set my HERE map app to let me know when I was driving over the speed limit to ensure that my foot didn’t become a little too heavy.
2016 HD 8 is Fire OS 5.3 based on Android 5.1.1, API level 22. 2015 HD8 is based on Android 5.1, API level 22. Effectively, the settings menus are slightly different.
I like the new HD 8. It is a good basic tablet for those who love the Amazon experience. Even though it has some features that have been degraded, overall it is a snappier and brighter tablet at a very reasonable price. I cannot evaluate the Alexa enhancement nor On Deck for Prime members feature as they have not been released for any Amazon Fire yet.
The 8-inch size seems a good balance for those who want only one device. It is slightly larger than the basic Fire but not so cumbersome as the HD 10. If you only want one Amazon tablet, I would recommend this one, especially if you are an avid Amazon prime customer. If you have the older HDX 7 or the 2014 HD 7, it is probably not worth the upgrade unless you are running out of storage space.
If you want a device to read books, I recommend that you get the Paperwhite or the Voyage. They can be read ANYWHERE, even in bright sunlight, have incredible battery life and have a few features specific to reading that are not available on the Fires.
There are some default settings that I change for personal use. All changes are done from the Settings menu. For those who want to know what I prefer, some of the more important changes are:
1) I change the wallpaper. Amazon has some nice pictures but I like my own better.
2) I set the display sleep to 10 minutes instead of the default 5 minutes. I get sidetracked too often so need the extra time so that my display doesn’t go into sleep mode.
3) I set the “Find Your Tablet” to “ON.” You never know if it could be stolen or if you do stupid things like leave your tablet at Starbucks. :-}
4) I turn “Collect App Usage Data” to “OFF.” If you play a lot of games or use certain Amazon Underground apps that require it, you might need to keep this on.
5) I disable auto-correction. Under Personal->Keyboard and Language->Fire Basic Keyboard Settings->Text Correction->Auto-Correction, I select Off. I hate it when I am typing and I don’t catch it when the tablet changes my words because the auto-correction decided on something totally irrelevant.
6) I change my search provider from “Bing” to “Google” under Apps & Games->Amazon Application Settings->Silk Browser->Advanced settings->Search engine
7) I change my Email group into conversations settings. Go to Settings->Conversation Settings->Group Messages Into Conversations and set to “OFF.” Too many times, I can’t tell if I got a reply because it’s buried in the conversation.
8) I also change my “After delete, go to” setting to “Older message.” When I am reading an email and delete it, I prefer to go to the next message instead of back to the list of messages.
9) Under Home Settings, I turn Home Recommendations OFF as well as turning Show Apps on the Recent Page OFF. This helps to remove clutter.
10) On the Home screen, I move my more frequently used apps to the top so that I don’t have to scroll down to find them. The less used ones, I arrange alphabetically so that I can find them as I scroll down.
CAVEAT: The Amazon Fire tablets do not use Google play so many Android applications such as Google maps and a lot of games are not available. There are ways to get around this but I don’t recommend it unless you know what you are doing. I also noted that a few apps on my old tablet do not show up as available on my 2016 HD 8. I use HERE WeGo which is an excellent replacement for Google Maps. Now I don’t have Google maps or HERE. Amazon has its own Map app but it is inferior to the other two.