Amazon’s tablet lineup is known for being impressively affordable and providing access to Amazon’s long list of products and services. But the downside is that the company has cut corners to keep costs low, which has affected design and performance.
The new Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus follow the same approach when it comes to price and services, but their new design — something Amazon doesn’t acknowledge on the product page — is perhaps the most exciting part of the Fire HD 8 lineup.
You can order the Fire HD 8 for $89.99 or the Fire HD 8 Plus for $109.99 right now. Both models come with 32GB of storage, or for $30 more, you can get 64GB of storage. The HD 8 comes with 2GB of memory and the HD 8 Plus comes with 3GB.
Both tablets landed on our desk a few hours ago, so we’ve had some time to set them up and poke around a bit. Here are our first impressions.
An entirely new design
Amazon’s Fire tablets have always had a rectangular and boxy look to them. They, frankly, looked as if Amazon didn’t put a lot of thought into the overall design as an effort to cut as many costs as possible.
The new Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus have the same new design, a gentler overall look that reminds us of Amazon’s approach to its Kindle devices. We’re into the rounded corners and edges that make the device easier and more comfortable to hold.
The front-facing camera has been moved from the top of the screen when you’re holding the tablet in portrait mode, to centered when you’re using the Fire HD 8 in landscape mode. It’s a small, but smart change, as most of us take part in more video calls than ever.
The new camera position invites people to place the tablet in landscape mode for calls, which gives them a wider viewing angle.
There are two speakers along the top of the Fire HD 8, with the volume rocker, power button, USB-C charging port and a headphone jack on the right side. On the bottom is a microSD card slot that accepts up to 1TB of additional storage.
We’re huge fans of the new design and can’t wait to see it trickle down to more Fire devices.
Wireless charging is a nice touch
For a $20 premium, the Fire HD 8 Plus comes with a couple of extra features, one of which is wireless charging. Specifically, the Fire HD 8 Plus will work with any Qi-compatible wireless charging pad. Naturally, Amazon sells a wireless charging stand that perfectly fits the Fire HD 8 Plus.
Instead of paying $109.99 for the tablet, you can buy the HD 8 Plus and the wireless charging stand for $139.99. It’s hard to find wireless charging pads for $30, let alone one of this size and design.
Instead of using a bare plastic design, Amazon covered the stand in a cloth-like material that won’t be an eyesore, whether you place the charging stand in your kitchen, bedroom or living room.
The charging stand holds the tablet at the perfect viewing angle for video calls or watching videos, but our favorite part so far is that it auto activates Show Mode, a feature that turns the Fire HD 8 into what amounts to be an Amazon Echo Show, complete with cycling through weather reports, alerts and standing by to respond to Alexa commands. It’s pretty cool.
Amazon also added a USB Type-C port to the HD 8 lineup, using the same connector that most smartphones (outside of Apple) use, as well as more tablets and accessories. The HD 8 Plus comes with a 9W wall adapter to speed up charging to just four hours, while the HD 8 comes with a 5W wall adapter.
Fire OS will take some adjusting
By far, the biggest adjustment for anyone who hasn’t used one of Amazon’s Fire tablets will have to make is to Fire OS. The operating system is based on Android, but Amazon has tweaked and customized it to remove Google services and other components.
What you get instead is a familiar experience, but with Amazon in place of Google.
The browser, for example, isn’t Chrome. It’s Silk. The Play Store, where you download apps, is now Amazon’s Appstore.
Another byproduct of ditching Google’s services is the lack of developer support and apps in Amazon’s Appstore. Most of the key players are there, like Facebook and Twitter, but the YouTube app is nowhere to be found. (To be clear, there are YouTube apps made by individual developers, but Google’s YouTube app is not.)
Getting around the tablet is familiar, as well, using navigation buttons along the bottom of the screen. But the app drawer is broken into categories, and at times it can feel confusing due to its carousel of categories of books, videos and games, to name a few.
The Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus offer plenty of promise at an affordable price point. The HD 8 Plus is clearly the better deal, with more memory, wireless charging and a fast charger which is probably why it’s back-ordered until mid-June.
Either way, it’s hard to imagine that you’d regret buying a Fire HD 8 as a tablet that doubles as an Echo Show or Kindle with the added bonus of checking your email or browsing the web.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.