December 10, 2017
SUMMARY: The Fire HD 10 is for those who are NOT heavily invested in non-Amazon cloud services and apps, it's good hardware at a great price, however the non-standard implementation of Android (Fire OS) is very buggy and doesn't play well with apps, regardless of the app store they are installed from which ruins this tablet for advanced users.
Into: after two weeks of use I returned the Fire HD 10 (FHD) tablet and replaced it with a Galaxy Tab A 10.1 (GTA) for a few bucks more. I'll compare the two through this review.
Hardware: The Fire HD 10 is great hardware fire the price! The IPS screen is very crisp and clear, especially for text reading, however IMO I think they set the contrast way to high -- this high contract causes dark video scenes to be washed out, essentially obliterating blacks. I tested this with calibration videos and proper black levels cannot be achieved, they're gray no matter what level of brightness you set and this is not enjoyable for videos with lots of dark scenes. The GTA, also an led panel though TFT, suffers similarly but not as bad. Neither screen gets that bright. They're ok, but really need a boost for daylight viewing! The second issue with hardware I've had is incomplete charging of the battery -- this is a common issue with Fire tablets over the years! I've never owned or heard of such an issue in 30yrs of owning tech gear. The speakers are well placed and sound good though I needed to install a volume booster for non-Amazon content, the GTA (Gallery Tab A) has the speakers at the bottom of portrait which is terrible for videos and games and the volume level is worse than the FHD and if get to find a volume booster app that works for the GTA. The plastic shell of the FHD is well designed IMO and doesn't feel cheap, while the GTA is all aluminum but very slippery. The FHD is reasonably easy to hold, the GTA is not so easy to hold with its narrower bezels. Battery life: the FHD gets a consistent 10 to 11 hours max. The GTA seems to have a lot more variance in battery life depending on I how I use it -- 12hrs seems to be the low end for mixed use, 7 hrs for video at full brightness, but with less intensive use it had gotten 16 hrs of screen on time. The FHD also lacks WiFi direct and gps, though they have maps pre-installed?!?! The cameras on the FHD are not good while the GTA cameras are surprisingly good, though I don't care that much about tablet cameras myself. Finally OTG on the FHD is sketchy at best. Copying files to and from an external hard drive often failed while the GTA excelled in this area with the fastest transfer speeds I've ever had.
The main negatives of hardware are: both need a boost in display brightness, reduction in contrast, boost in volume, 1gb more ram, OTGon FHD, and the GTA speakers are in the wrong place & its capacitive buttons are a pain!
I would choose the Fire HD 10 hardware over the GTA hardware even at equal price, however hardware is nothing without software.
Fire HD 10 vs Galaxy Tab A 10.1 hardware summary:
FHD has better screen, better speaker placement, more storage (32gb vs 16gb), on screen navigation buttons.
GTA has better cameras, larger battery, better build quality, Wi-Fi direct, gps, etc -- pretty much better hardware except for screen, internal storage, speaker placement, and the God awful capacitive navigation!
Operating system: Amazon has chosen to use a non-standard version of android (currently based on android 5, though android 8 is the current android release!), heavily skinned, heavily modified, and tightly locked down into what I can only say is an attempt to be anti-competitive and to lock you, the customer, into Amazon services. The GTA uses a standardized version of android 7.0 with Samsung's skin (touchwiz) also with their own services added in. I tested the FHD with and without Google play store & services installed. Without Google installed apps generally didn't function properly, regardless if side loaded or direct from Amazon app store. With Google play store installed the FHD becomes slower and there's issues with push notifications and still many apps don't work properly, not to mention the increased RAM used -- no vpn app worked that I tested (6), apps don't work well with the external SD card, and direct file sharing only worked with one app. Without Google's apps installed the apps I tried that utilize Google drive didn't function, installed from Amazon app store! And you can forget about Google photos! In other words, if you aren't all in with Amazon's stuff it's a pain! Obviously the GTA doesn't suffer these issues as it has Google play services integrated. The hassle with 3rd party apps was THE breaking point for me -- I could find a way to work around most issues, but why should I waste my time and be frustrated constantly by a device that should be easy to use?
Launcher (how screen): IMO Amazon's launcher is horrible! Non-customizable, non-replaceable, locked in, oversized icons, ugly, etc! I wouldn't mind it if they, 1) made it customizable for icon sizes & layout, widgets, etc, and 2) made the tabs function consistently according to how the apps function -- swiping left/right on rows should scroll that content...etc. It's just another half-baked implementation IMO -- that pretty much sums up all of Amazon's software IMO! They aren't making things better! The GTA, similar to all android devices, allows for launcher customization and even replacement, widgets and all those things we android users love....
Default apps: no matter if I use Amazon's apps on the FHD or on another device they are consistently buggy and run in the background excessively (bad behaving). I'm shocked at how below average Amazon's apps are -- I'll leave the rest for the specific app review, suffice it to say that there are major bugs with their apps that should not exist -- I'm talking major bugs not minor glitches. Furthermore they don't add anything significant, they don't make my experience with their services enjoyable. In fact Amazon's apps have turned me off totally to their Prime membership -- I don't buy enough for the free shipping to mean anything. I've given up on Prime music totally! Between the bugs and lack of proper playlist backup and lack of proper integration of my on device music it's not worth my time and frustration! And I prefer to get my books in a non-locked in form. Thus I'm left with Prime video which Amazon seems to want to go out of their way to ensure it's the least enjoyable to use as possible -- no pinch to zoom, arbitrary download limits, often no zoom at all especially on Amazon original content. This all equals either large black bars or massive cropping = great on a 10" device! /sarcasm
Samsung adds a lot of their own bloat as well. Neither Amazon or Samsung make me happy with the way they try to steal my data and try to lock me into their ecosystem -- you can't disable most of their bloat, certainly can't uninstall it, and this junk is usually eating up your ram and battery running in the background even if you never use them!
If Amazon wants me to use their apps/services then make them better than the competition, don't try to lock me in via anti-competitive tactics. I would be more than happy to use a device that didn't have Google on it, gave me better privacy, etc. But Amazon isn't doing that, their just trying to do the same as Google, apple, and Samsung = use and abuse the customer info and privacy.
Ads: I actually didn't mind the lock screen ads though the notification ads were annoying because they kept sending the same one over and over -- I would view it, clear it, then it would come up again....wash, rinse, repeat...to the point I blocked its notifications. The ads that started driving me nuts were the ones on the home screen tabs. They just made a mess of things and were generally irrelevant thus I turned them off. Example: I don't have any games installed, though Amazon put an anatomy app into the games tab, but the games tab is loaded all the time with recommended games -- this is where advertising goes wrong! This is how you annoy the customer! I don't use games, don't play them, and they should notice that by the lack of games installed and reduce the spam on that tab, but they don't! In fact this is where I should be able to remove that tab! But no! Thus I turned all of it off -- now maybe someone at Amazon can explain to me how that's ultimately helping Amazon?
In general 3rd party app use on the FHD was a pain -- only shareit would transfer files back and forth but only if you set it up in a specific way, send first from the tablet....VPNs don't work, Google cloud services? Use the browser, you wanna greenify bad behaving apps? Nope! etc..... it just feels like a buggy wanna be locked-in apple product with a sad app store. And there's the problem! It's fine for those that only need the basic default apps but anyone that's going to need to install a lot of non-game apps will most likely run into frustration. And this makes me question Amazon's whole approach with fire os. Why bother with it? All its doing is sucking up more resources and limiting the devices. It failed on phones! The app store is sad and hasn't taken off and most of the apps I tried from the app store still relied on Google play services in some way, meaning the apps are not being developed for fire OS! Thus Amazon spends all this time & money to make a limited version of android thus limiting their tablets to a smaller audience. That makes no sense whatsoever. User android, straight up! Don't waste time and money modifying it! Spend that time and money on your apps for your services. Make them better than the competition! Give your hardware the widest audience possible and put your services front and center, but make them desirable to use so advanced users will want to switch. As is, the hardware is limited to a smaller audience by the software and the apps for Amazon services makes me not want to use them. Just my opinion!
Conclusion: I would be more than happy with the Fire HD if it ran a standardized version of android, and I would use Amazon's apps and services if they worked better, offered better features and user experience but that's not the case. Amazon's software makes using the Fire HD and their services a pain, to the point I see no reason continuing Amazon Prime next year -- I bought it for the videos and music...not shipping, but it's not worth dealing with the bugs and absolute stupidity taking place! I'm knowledgeable enough to use other methods that aren't going to lock me in and cause me annoyances. I don't find the GTA to be perfect either. Samsung's bloat is unnecessary and often redundant, their skin is often confusing, speaker placement is stupid and volume far to low, but it does function like a normal android device and 3rd party apps generally run properly and I can replace the launcher. Thus I won't even consider another Amazon Fire OS device until they are using a standardized version of Android, and I'm 90% certain I won't be continuing Amazon Prime next year. Thus a well done to the Amazon software team is deserved for demonstrating how not to do things!