With the latest version of its Fire tablet, Amazon hasn’t set out to reinvent the wheel. Let’s face it – the Amazon fire has never had the status-symbol cache of the iPad, and this incarnation isn’t going to change that. But it does offer some upgrades on the previous model that might make it a tempting purchase for those in the market for a new device.
With the same chassis and color options as last year’s model, the Fire HD 8 doesn’t look to have changed much. But the front-facing camera has been upgraded to a 2-megapixel model that can film 720p video. This makes a noticeable difference in visual quality when using the camera.
Another welcome change is the addition of support for up to 400GB of additional storage, thanks to a micro SD slot. Given that the internal storage of the tablet itself can be either 16 or 32 GB – which is still much more than the Fire 7 – this makes for an impressive increase.
The 8-inch screen is pleasantly bright. While it doesn’t offer the resolution of the more expensive Fire 10, the 1280×800 display is sharp and detailed and offers a substantial upgrade on the 7’s 1024×600 screen.
But perhaps the best feature of the new Fire 8 HD is its compatibility with Alexa devices. With the previous model, users had to touch the screen to wake the tablet up before using voice commands. With this year’s model, Alexa is always on and ready to take commands. It might sound like a small thing, but sometimes your tablet will be out of reach. Getting up and walking over to it somewhat defeats the purpose of having a voice-activated home. The new Amazon Fire 8 HD removes that particular annoyance.
This always-on functionality comes at a price, however. The battery life of the Fire 8 HD is rated for 10 hours of mixed use, down from the 12 hours of the previous model. This change is due to the added power requirements of having Alexa on permanent standby. Is the shortened battery life a price worth paying for the added functionality? That depends on your needs as a user. If battery life is a concern, you can turn off Alexa’s hands-free mode and get your two hours back. But then you deny yourself one of the most significant changes made to this version of the Fire.
Amazon has always aimed the Fire range of tablets squarely at the lower end of the market. At $80 (sometimes less on sale), the Fire 8 makes a decent tablet for most users. And with the new hands-free capability, it can even function as an Echo Show-type device at a lower cost than a true smart display. The Fire 8 continues this trend of solid tech at a reasonable price. Like its predecessors, the Fire 8 is not going to beat an iPad, and it’s not trying to. But if you’re looking for a cheap tablet that can do almost everything reasonably well, you could do a lot worse.