Stopping trying to compete with the iPad was a clever move by Amazon, as its Fire HD8 proves.
Dropping its tablet prices from the £300 mark to a more affordable range starting at just £50, not only gave the budget tablet market a healthy boost of options, it also created the perfect environment for Amazon to push its wealth of content.
Because that’s exactly what Amazon’s tablets are – vehicles to sell books, TV shows, films and audiobooks. In fact, so central to the Fire OS that we’d recommend a Prime membership if you want to get the most from it.
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If you haven’t used it before, Fire OS will take a bit of getting used to. Although it is built on Android, it looks nothing like it.
The homescreen will be most familiar, as it features all of your apps in a list, but swipe left or right and you’ll be taken to a number of different content menus, with suggestions for you under each one.
You can load in your own content manually, of course, but Amazon stuff takes priority here, and sometimes finding what you’ve uploaded can require a little bit of digging.
The Fire HD 8 follows in the footsteps of other Amazon tablets with its design, and in complete contrast to the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3, embraces the bold, plastic-y look with aplomb.
The shiny plastic back panel certainly isn’t the most premium feeling material, but it keeps the tablet lightweight, and you can get it in a choice of black, orange, pink or blue.
The cameras on the HD 8 are 5MP and 0.9MP, and like most tablets of this price point, are really best avoided.
The main cam will do a decent job with colours in good light, but there’s a lack of sharpness and detail in its pictures that the Yoga Tab 3’s superior snapper is a little more capable of capturing.
As for the selfie camera, it manages to focus on our face just fine (which is more than can be said for the Asus Zenpad C 7.0), but it’s still very much on the soft side, and you’ll need good lighting conditions for it to be usable.
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The screen on the HD 8 is the same resolution as the Yoga Tab 3 and the Archos 80b Helium at 1280 x 800, but wins out over both of them.
For a start it’s the brightest of the three, making the Archos look positively dull by comparison, but more importantly, it produces the cleanest, sharpest picture too.
Being restricted to 720p still means putting up with an expected amount of softness compared to a full HD display, but it delivers much crisper outlines and a clearer, more detailed picture than the competition.
The brightness the screen is capable of really helps with the contrast performance and highlights the ability to punch through a decently dark scene with more power than we see elsewhere.
At the same time, it manages to retain a good level of shadow detail too, and is able to tell us more about Ron Burgundy’s dark chequered suit in Anchorman 2 than the Yoga Tab 3.
It’s a slightly warmer colour palette than the Yoga Tab 3, but we never find it overdone or distracting, plus we really appreciate the better viewing angles on the HD 8 too.
Performance is adequate for this level, and while we’ve come to expect the odd stutter when multitasking and a bit of judder when gaming, it generally handles these things with more immediacy and smoothness than the Archos 80b Helium or Asus Zenpad C 7.0.
Certainly simple tasks, like unlocking the screen or moving from landscape to portrait aren’t hampered with the same frustrating delays, and if you don’t fluster it with too much to do at once, it’ll generally perform well enough for expectations.
Battery life feels like a bit of a mixed bag. We are able to browse the web, listen to music or read books without making a huge dent on battery life, but a 30-minute streaming of Netflix at full brightness does see a 14 per cent drop in battery, which is pretty close to the poor-performing Asus Zenpad C 7.0.
That said, the screen here is much brighter and you could get away with notching it down a bit to save some juice, which isn’t the case with the duller-screened Zenpad.
It’s worth remembering that despite being built on Android, the Fire HD 8 doesn’t have full access to the Google Play store, which can be frustrating depending on how much of an app fiend you are.
We notice a few holes in Amazon’s own app store compared with Google Play, but it’s much better than it used to be.
Musically, the Fire HD 8 doesn’t rewrite the budget tablet manual, and like much of its competition, could do with a little more bite, a bit more get up and go and much better timing.
It’s even-handed in its delivery though, so it’s a nicely balanced listen, but it does get a little more disorganised during busier tracks than the Yoga Tab 3 showed.
There are stereo speakers for headphone-free listening, and if you’re watching a movie at home, there’s enough weight and clarity here, not to mention a decent amount of volume, for you not to miss your cans.
Just be careful not to cover them when you’re holding the tablet in landscape.
At £130, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is the priciest of the budget tablets we’ve tested (and £140 if you don’t want Amazon ads on your lock screen), but in just a short amount of time with it, you can see where that extra money has been spent.
You are going to need to really like Amazon and its services for this tablet to make sense, but when it comes down to getting the best performance for your money, this shows budget tablets how it can be done.
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