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Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus Review

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is a slightly souped-up version of the HD 8.

Verdict

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is great for families and lightweight users that can't justify splurging on the cheapest iPad. But, if you don’t use any of Amazon’s services then you’re better off elsewhere.

Pros

  • It's very affordable
  • Excellent integration with Amazon's services
  • Wireless charging is a nice addition
  • Good battery life
  • Welcome switch to USB-C

Cons

  • Often feels slow
  • Don't use Amazon's service? Look elsewhere
  • Screen is very hard to read outside

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £109.99
  • 8-inch HD display
  • Qi wireless charging
  • Alexa and Echo Show mode
  • 3 months free Kindle Unlimited

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is a slightly souped-up version of the HD 8. It offers more speed and a couple of features you probably don’t expect to find on a tablet that costs this little.

If you’re an Amazon services subscriber the Plus’ upgrades make it one of, if not, the best tablets you’ll find at this price. It’s £30 more expensive than competing Fire tablets, but for the extra cost you get an extra 1GB of RAM, wireless charging and three months worth of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription (usually worth £7.99 a month).

But, as has been the case with just about every other iteration in this HD 8 series, this is a tablet quite unlike any other. The restrictive nature of its software makes it a hard well for people that don’t use Amazon services.

Design – The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is basic in a good way

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus clearly values function over form. This is a tablet that eschews metal and flashy designs for a rounded plastic shell that’s rather plain. That’s fine though – there are enough slates out there for those who want something with a little more flair.

With a basic, simple design comes a surprising amount of benefits. I would have no problem letting a child use this without a case, even if they were prone to banging it around a bit. I would also have no qualms chucking it in a rucksack and letting it slide about unprotected. The Fire HD 8 is durable and, like the brand’s Kindles, doesn’t require a lot of looking after.

If you’re buying this primarily as a reading device then there are a couple of things to note. At 335g, it is by no means heavy – however it’s a lot weightier than the Kindle Paperwhite (185g) and after an hour reading I could definitely feel it. With a Kindle I can read for hours without so much as a jerk in the wrist. Still, it’s thin and the rounded sides help it easily slide inside a small bag.

Just about all the controls and ports are grouped on the tablet’s top. That includes a mushy volume rocker, clicky power button, 3.5mm headphone and and USB-C charge port. The latter is a common sight on most Android tablets and phones, but it’s still nice to see Amazon finally, make the jump from Micro USB as it means you can use the same plug to charge all your devices.

That’s really all there is to say about the design here. It’s basic, but for £/$109.99 that’s to be expected. It does come in a few pastel-shaded colours, including soft hues of blue and pink. There are the usual black, white and grey options too.

Screen – Fine for a quick bout of video streaming

Amazon’s Fire line is very, very popular despite the fact most of its models don’t include key bits of tech you’d find on most competing devices. That is, of course, mostly down to its price and the fact it’s so tired into Amazon’s absolutely massive ecosystem.

The display, for instance, isn’t fantastic. For a device that aims to be a media hub that is a little disappointing, however, once again, it’s dictated by the cost of this thing.

The ‘Plus’ moniker is usually used to denote a larger display variant, but that’s not the case here. Both versions of the Fire HD 8 have the same 1280 x 800 8-inch LCD panel and they’re both comparable in terms of quality.

The screen here is fine. It’s colourful, bright enough for indoor use and a good step-up from the sub HD Fire 7. Videos streamed from Prime Video or Netflix are watchable – just don’t expect features like 1080p playback or HDR. For a quick bout of The Simpsons on Disney Plus or keeping the kids quiet on a long journey it gets the job done. 

The display is very reflective though, and that becomes an issue if you’re trying to read outside on a sunny day. Even with the brightness cranked all the way up I couldn’t comfortably read without finding a shady spot. If you’re primarily buying this for a way to read Kindle books I really would suggest just going for a dedicated Kindle reader instead.

Performance and software – Fire HD 8 Plus comes with its own set of quirks

The most obvious benefit of spending a bit extra and going for the Plus version of the Fire HD 8 is that extra RAM. The regular Fire HD 8 has a mere 2GB – right on the cusp of what’s acceptable for an Android device – while the Plus ups that to 3GB. Now, that’s still on the low-end but it gives you an extra bit of breathing room and should come in handy if you want the tablet to continue running smoothly for a couple of years.

Amazon claims the new line of Fire HD 8 tablets is 30% faster than before, thanks to an updated quad-core 2Ghz chip. These tablets have never felt fast, or even particularly smooth, to me and there’s still noticeable juddering when you’re swiping around, opening up apps and browsing the web. But, again, it comes back to price: for around £100 the Fire HD 8 Plus will get the job done. None of the slowdown ruins the whole experience and after using it for a few days I wasn’t noticing it as much. If you’re upgrading from the last edition then you will notice those improvements more and that’s a good thing.

Apps open slightly faster on the Plus when directly compared to the vanilla HD 8 and, as you’d expect from the larger amount of RAM, things don’t get quite so bogged down when you’re jumping between apps and especially games. This is by no means a gaming machine, but I found it fine for casual titles and it’s such a great size for this purpose.

You can pick the Fire HD 8 up in either 32GB or 64GB varieties, both of which also come with microSD expandability if you’re planning on loading it up with downloaded content. Pop in a 64GB card (less than a tenner on Amazon) and you’ve got enough space for a holiday’s worth of content.

There is a 2MP camera on both the front and back of the Fire HD 8. The rear snapper is bad, however the front cam is perfectly serviceable for video calls.

The most controversial aspect of Amazon’s tablets has always been the software. While it is built upon Android 10, it is a ‘forked’ version of Google’s software. That means no access (out of the box, anyway) to Googe’s services (YouTube, Gmail. Maps) and the Play Store itself. Replacing that is Amazon’s own App Store, which is pretty well stocked these days – especially with apps important to a media device. You’ve got Netflix, Disney Plus, iPlayer and Spotify; plus a decent gaming selection, including PUBG and Minecraft.

The whole user-experience is very different from your typical Android tablet. The homescreens are designed to pipe content from Amazon’s services to your eyeballs, whether it be Prime Video, Kindle or Audible. If you don’t use these services at all then these screens feel utterly useless, but for me it kept content I wanted to see always easily accessible. I really like the interface and for a media tablet it’s a lot more functional than just rows and rows of apps. Things to watch, read and do (as long as they’re from Amazon’s services) are valued more than apps.

Amazon has also invaded the lock screen, turning it into a scrolling feed of ads. This is super-annoying, ugly and I am sure it has an effect on performance. You can rid your device of these ‘Special Offers’ for £10.

Alexa is here too and it can always be listening for your commands. The Plus model takes things further, adding in wireless charging and a (sold-separately) dock that turns the tablet into a portable Echo Show. The mics here aren’t as good as you’ll find on a ‘proper’ Echo so you do have to shout a little louder to be heard. 

If you’re looking for a productivity tablet, though, this is certainly not it. The browser isn’t great, the email client is basic and content-lead UI will be distracting. There is, at least, a Zoom client for video calls. 

Battery life – Nothing to complain about here

Using the tablet as my main media device I found the Fire HD 8 Plus fall in line with what Amazon quotes. That’s around 12 hours of mixed-use, which puts it slightly above an iPad. The fairly low-res screen helps it manage battery drain when streaming video and 2 hours of reading only took the charge level down a few percentage points.

With the Plus model you also get wireless charging. This is supported through the same Qi standard you’ll find on devices like the iPhone 11, Galaxy Buds and certain smartwatches. In theory, if you have a wireless pad that’ll charge those devices it should work here. Amazon really wants you to use its own charger though, which acts as a dock and will juice the tablet up faster. I don’t have one of these to try but I will update this review when I have tried one out.

If you prefer the traditional cabled option then I managed to charge the tablet from 0-100% in just over four hours.

Should I buy the Amazon FIre HD 8 Plus?

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus is great for families or just anyone who won’t use a tablet enough to justify even splurging on the cheapest iPad. Of course, this tablet isn’t for everyone. If you don’t use, and have no intention of using, any of Amazon’s services then you’re better off looking elsewhere.

The benefits of the Plus model are few, though the extra RAM and wireless charging mean it’s the model I would choose. It’s probably the only model Amazon should really sell.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus sits alone in the tablet space. It’s not for those who care about the best screen, performance or replacing their laptop. This is for someone who wants a basic device for video streaming, maybe a bit of reading and light gaming. 

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