Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus tablet review: A budget tablet you can rely on
The Amazon Fire series has been offering budget tablets to the masses for almost a decade now, and the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is the newest in the range (alongside an updated Fire HD 8). It continues the long run of solid, cheap, reliable devices, and we've been testing one out for the past few days.
At a glance:
- The low price is its best feature
- Geared towards Amazon apps
- Solid, chunky build quality
- Not a huge upgrade over the 2018 model
Neither the new Fire HD 8 or the Plus model we're reviewing offer a huge leap forward from the previous Amazon Fire HD 8 that launched in 2018 (Amazon tends to stick to the same naming all the time, so it's really only by the year of release that you can tell them apart). The storage options are now 32 GB and 64 GB (up from 16 GB or 32 GB), battery life increases from 10 hours to 12 hours, and a USB-C port replaces the old microUSB one.
The 2020 Plus model adds wireless charging capabilities and more RAM – 3 GB instead of 2 GB – over the 2020 Fire HD 8. The Plus model should also charge a little bit faster. It's not a massive upgrade, but wireless charging is convenient, and that extra RAM is always handy for keeping apps and games responsive.
Otherwise it's quite a familiar story. You get an 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 pixel LCD screen, a matte back finish that's pleasing to the touch, and stereo speakers that will do the job for movies and shows (a headphone jack is also included). We do like the new colors introduced this year – the slate, plum, white, black, and twilight blue options are much better than the gaudier options that came with the previous model (we're testing the standard black model here).
An iPad this is definitely not, with its chunky bezels and its lower resolution screen, but it's also much cheaper than Apple's line of tablets – a trade-off that a lot of people are likely to be willing to make. It's all as you would expect if you've used an Amazon FIre tablet before.
You'll certainly be left in no doubt that what you've got is an Amazon device You'll go past two or three special trial offers for the likes of Audible before you've even reached the home screen. After that, Amazon's video and audio services, as well as Alexa, are kept front and center while you're using the tablet.
If you're new to Amazon's tablets, they run an adapted version of Android known as Fire OS, though it's nothing really to do with Google – a lot of key apps are here however (including Spotify, Netflix and Instagram), but there are no Google apps at all, so you'll have to do without Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube and Chrome.
That's going to put off some potential buyers, but won't bother others at all – it really depends what you're planning to do with your tablet. Most video streaming apps are here, including Disney Plus, Hulu, Netflix and Plex, but some of the others are missing. There's no Slack, no Airbnb, no Uber, no WhatsApp. Some of the gaps (such as YouTube and Airbnb) you can fill in by using the mobile websites instead, but it's worth bearing in mind before you buy an Amazon tablet – besides the hardware, you need to know what limitations the software has as well.
Of course if all you want to use are Amazon apps then you're well covered. Alexa is baked right into the operating system, and the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus works a lot like an Echo Show at times, especially if you buy the optional charging dock (Amazon even calls it Show Mode). You can ask Alexa for the weather forecast, start playing something from Prime Video, control your smart home, start up some music, and so on.
In fact, Alexa is one of the most impressive parts of the whole Fire HD 8 Plus experience, quite apart from the physical device itself (just as it is with the Echo speakers). Having a gadget that works as an Echo Show is almost worth the price of admission alone, and then you've got all the added extras of using it as a tablet too.
In use, we found the tablet perfectly fine, if a little on the slow side – it's noticeable but it's not a major issue. Loading up your movies, or websites, or ebooks all works well, as long as you don't try and overdo it. The screen is another area where compromises have been made, and it's not as sharp or as bright as you would get from something at the premium end of the market.
This is nothing new though, it's the path Amazon Fire tablets have gone down since their inception, offering well-built, reliable devices with cheaper components. It's really the price rather than anything else that appeals about this range, and it's the same story with the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus.
One of the benefits of an average spec and a low-res screen is better battery life. An hour of The Fellowship of the Ring knocks this tablet down just 8 percent from a full battery charge, so you'll get through hours and hours of movie watching. In general use, it's not quite so great – with constant use you should get a day out of this, just about, but then tablets aren't really devices that we stay glued to all day anyway.
We suspect most people will be buying this to browse the web, watch videos and read ebooks, and in all these categories and others like them, the Fire HD 8 Plus scores highly. Like the Fire tablets that came before it, it's an affordable, no-nonsense, no-frills tablet for people who already use a lot of Amazon stuff.
If you're wanting a tablet to be productive or creative on the go, then you're probably going to want to look elsewhere. You can't load up Word, for example, like you can on an Android tablet or an iPad, and the range of image editing, video editing and sketching apps is much smaller too. Gaming is a struggle as well, not just because of the limited titles on the Amazon App Store, but also because of the slow internal processor.
Those of you who already have the 2018 version of the tablet probably don't need to upgrade, though the wireless charging might appeal. If you're brand new to the line and are considering whether or not to buy the Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus, just double-check that it's going to run the apps you want it to – a quick web search should tell you. As long as you're sticking to the basics, and don't mind the app gaps, the Amazon Fire tablet series continues to offer terrific value for money.
The Fire HD 8 Plus tablet is available now for US$124.99 (32 GB of storage) and $154.99 (64 GB of storage). You can knock down those prices by $15 and $20 respectively by ordering a model with Amazon's Special Offers adverts on the lock screen. The standard Fire HD 8 models are arguably even better at $20 less in both cases (without Special Offers), while the official wireless charging standard will cost you an extra $30.
Product page: Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus