Amazon Fire HD 8 – Software
Before I get onto regular software, let’s have a look at what makes this edition of the Fire HD 8 special: Show Mode. When enabled, this turns your Fire HD 8 into a portable Echo Show. The regular home screen is replaced by a display showing off the time, weather, news stories and calendar events. Everything is much larger and more colourful, perfect for viewing across a room.
Show Mode works with or without the charging dock, but paired with the dock it can be a nice cheap alternative to the Echo Show.
Alexa is also here – the excellent personal assistant that lives inside the Echo and Fire TV. It has all the skills you would expect – setting timers, playing songs, controlling your smart home – and with the 2018 Fire HD 8, hands-free Alexa is supported.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 runs Fire OS, which is based on Android but looks and feels completely different. If you’ve used an Amazon tablet before, then nothing significant has changed. But it’s worth a quick primer if you’re new to the Fire range.
Fire OS is the most brazenly service-driven tablet software system anywhere. It’s made up of a bunch of homescreens, most of which push other Amazon-owned platforms. There’s Instant Video, the Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk, Audible, and more.
Related: Best Android Tablets
It’s the equivalent of Google getting rid of customisable homescreens and instead just giving you pages featuring different parts of the Google Play Store. The reason the Amazon Fire HD 8 is so affordable suddenly becomes clear: Amazon makes most of its money elsewhere, badgering you into spending money with these services.
This interface style is overbearing and potentially very annoying. It won’t be for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for me. I find the ‘advert’ home screens sloppy, and would prefer to spend a little more money for a more subdued Android style. However, the approach is legitimate given how much you save, and the fact that Amazon’s services are generally quite good.
For example, the app store may not be quite as well-stocked as Google Play – and new releases tend to take longer to appear – but there’s plenty here, and much of it can be tried/played for free.
Amazon Fire HD 8 – Performance
The Amazon Fire HD 8 isn’t all that quick, however. Fire OS feels slower than a reasonably specced Android alternative. Scrolling isn’t always entirely smooth, the custom homepage makes terrible use of screen space, and flicking between 10 of them just isn’t an effective way to get around.
I’ve been playing intensive games on the Amazon Fire HD 8, and all are fast enough to be fun. There might be a bit of frame-rate slowdown at the start of races in Asphalt 8, and the rate also slows in Riptide GP2 when the nitrous motion-blur effects start kicking, but it’s isn’t so serious that it stops games from being fun.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 has a MediaTek processor at its heart, which is somewhat comparable to the low-end CPUs from Snapdragon. It has four 1.3GHz Cortex-A53 cores and the dual-core version of the Mali T720 GPU. This is the same processor that was inside the previous Fire HD 8.
The Amazon Fire HD 8 has 1.5GB RAM, which is as little as an Android-based tablet can have without tending to feel annoyingly slow. But as in most areas, Amazon has used exactly the right tech for the price.
For a small and cheap tablet, the Amazon Fire HD 8 sounds pretty decent. Audio is loud, clear and there’s a headphone jack for private listening.
There’s a 2-megapixel unit on the rear of the device and a 2-megapixel camera on the front, and these are as basic as mobile device cameras can get. The resulting images barely hold up to viewing on the Amazon Fire HD 8’s screen, let alone any zooming in or having a closer look on your laptop. The front camera – which was previously a VGA module – is an improvement over the 2017 model.