In a world of escalating costs, cheap electronics are vital. It’s important to remember that ‘cheap’ and ‘good value’ are two different things, though. Some cheap products simply aren’t good enough to be recommended regardless of how little they cost. Cheap products that are actually good value and therefore recommendable are few and far between.
That’s an area in which Amazon’s Fire range of tablets has regularly excelled. They’re not simply cheap, but they’re actually good – and believe us when we say that there are very few tablets about which we can say the same thing.
Here, we’re looking at the Fire HD 8 which – spoiler alert – is the best performance-per-pound model in the range and once again an award-winner in 2023.
Pricing for the Amazon Fire HD 8 starts at £100 / $100 (around AU$190). That price is subsidised by adverts that appear on the lock screen. Honestly, we don’t find the ads to be particularly intrusive, but you can pay an extra £15 / $15 (around AU$30) for an ad-free model if you prefer.
This entry-level model comes with just 32GB of internal storage, but the device supports microSD cards of up to 1TB capacity, so adding more storage is easy and inexpensive – to an extent that makes the 64GB edition of the tablet seem superfluous.
As with all of Amazon’s own devices, the Fire HD 8 is regularly discounted, and not just during the company’s big sales events such as Black Friday – though at those times you can pretty much guarantee a big drop. We’ve seen the entry-level model drop as low as £55 / $75, and at anything approaching that level it’s an absolute bargain.
As you’d expect, the Fire HD 8 features a lot of plastic. It is thinner and lighter than the previous version, yet it still feels pretty durable overall. The screen also features ‘strengthened aluminosilicate glass’, and Amazon claims that the device is "twice as durable as the Apple iPad Mini (2021)". That’s important for a portable that may well end up in the hands of children.
The stereo speakers face upwards when you’re holding the tablet in landscape orientation, so they’re not blocked by your hands, and the front-facing 2MP camera is in the middle of the top edge, which is the right position for most video calling. There’s also a 5MP camera on the rear, which is predictably nothing to write home about, and along one of the short edges you’ll find the power and volume controls as well as a USB-C port and proper 3.5mm headphone jack.
Powering proceedings is a 2.0GHz hexa-core processor backed up by 2GB of RAM. That’s hardly going to get you a next-gen gaming experience, but it is enough to provide a fairly fluid and snappy user experience and is enough to satisfyingly run the sorts of games that are common on Amazon’s own App Store.
Screen 8 inches
Resolution 1280 x 800 (189 ppi)
Storage 32GB or 64GB (SD card expandable)
Camera 2MP front, 5MP rear
Battery life up to 13 hours
Speaking of which, it is worth noting that while Amazon’s tablet operating system is based on Android, the Google Play Store is not supported and Amazon’s own App Store is a little less well-appointed. For those of us who are most interested in a device such as this for watching movies and listening to music on the move, most bases are covered, including big hitters such as Netflix, Disney+ and, of course, Amazon Prime Video, as well as all of the UK’s main catch-up apps plus Now and Sky Go. Spotify, Tidal and Amazon Music are all on board, too. However, Apple TV and Apple Music apps are missing, as is Discovery+ (the new home for BT Sport). There are plenty of other, less popular apps that are missing from the Amazon App Store, too, so if there are any that you simply must have access to, it’s worth checking whether they’re supported before you go ahead and buy.
Amazon quotes a battery life of 13 hours of constant use, and we’re given no reason to doubt that figure during testing. A charger is included in the box and will take the battery from empty to full in around five hours.
The screen is what we’re most interested in. As the name suggests, the Fire HD 8 has an 8-inch screen with an HD resolution (it isn’t actually on fire, though). Said resolution is 1280 x 800, which gives the tablet a pixel density of 189 pixels-per-inch (ppi). That’s a small but significant increase on the 171ppi density of the smaller Fire 7 but a significant decrease on the 224ppi of the Fire HD 10. iPads, meanwhile, have a pixel density of 264ppi in all cases except the iPad Mini, which has a disproportionately high pixel density of 326ppi.
The Fire HD 8 costs almost twice as much as the Fire 7, which is itself very good for the money, but it quickly becomes clear that the HD 8 is well worth the extra.
The extra inch obviously makes a big difference at this sort of size, making the movie experience more engaging all round. It’s also sharper and brighter, reproducing the green patterns on the displays of the Rebel base’s briefing room in Rogue One in significantly punchier fashion.
Black levels certainly aren’t inky deep from either tablet, but the HD 8’s are better and they’re good for a backlit device that costs so little. There’s plenty of shadow detail from the HD 8, too. The only real issue with dark scenes is that the screen is rather reflective, so the action can be hard to make out if you’re watching outside or in a well-lit room.
The extra brightness of the HD 8 over the Fire 7 means there’s extra contrast, and this combines with increased sharpness to make K-2SO’s metallic body more reflective and solid – essentially more realistically droid-like. Colours are impressively natural, too – the balance is a touch cooler than the Fire 7’s, but there’s still authentically cinematic warmth to the HD 8’s presentation and skin tones are accurately reproduced and fairly subtly shaded. There’s good pop to bright objects such as the sun over Jedha, too.
The Fire HD 8’s picture performance is clearly a long way behind that of an iPad, but it gets the basics right and at this price, there’s essentially nothing (other than the overly reflective screen) to complain about.
It’s lovely to use a device that has a proper 3.5mm headphone socket, and if you use it to connect a pair of headphones to the Fire HD 8 you’ll be rewarded with an impressively balanced and grown-up delivery. There’s no obvious exaggeration to any part of the frequency range, no harshness to treble and no ballooning in the bass. It’s all very composed – cleaner at the top end and weightier than the Fire 7, too.
A little more detail and drive would be nice, but the HD 8 certainly doesn’t sound dull. On the contrary, it’s a pretty engaging listen that – as with the picture performance – gets the basics right and makes no obvious mistakes. That’s a big deal at this price.
Listening via the speakers is a predictably large downgrade, but the speakers aren’t too bad in their own right. For starters, there are two of them and, when you’re holding the tablet in landscape mode, they’re on the top edge, so don’t get blocked by your hands. They sound fairly clear as well, so you can keep track of dialogue even when Rogue One’s soundtrack gets exciting.
On the other hand, there’s very little bass and not much of a spread of sound to the left or right. A little more forward projection would be nice, too.
In short, you really should listen via headphones whenever that’s an option, but listening out loud certainly isn’t the horror show that it can be with portable devices.
There are lots of people out there who would love an iPad but simply can’t justify the £499 / $449 / AU$749 cost of entry. For those people, an Amazon Fire tablet is the obvious choice – but it’s also the right choice.
This is a range of tablets that deliver on the basics, with balanced, controlled and always-enjoyable picture and sound quality. The HD 8 is, on a performance-per-pound basis, the pick of the bunch – a big improvement on the super-cheap Fire 7 but usefully more affordable and more compact than the HD 10, which is due to be replaced soon anyway.
In short, this is an excellent buy. Not just cheap, but great value.
- Picture 5
- Sound 4
- Features 5
Read our review of the Amazon Fire 7
Read our Apple iPad (2022) review