Amazon Fire HD 8 Tablet Review

Kindle Fire HD 8

Amazon got me with one of their Black Friday deals. The Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet without special offers was marked down to a remarkably low $74.99 (it’s $104.99 as of this writing).

Despite enjoying reading books on my phone recently, I’d been casually looking for a dedicated tablet reader. I like the form factor, and I like having a dedicated device that I can use without the possibility of getting interrupted by a notification. Now that blue light blocking apps have become ubiquitous, I would rather have a tablet that I can also use for reading on the web and occasionally watching a video as opposed to a regular Kindle for just reading books. I primarily read indoors at night, if I do read outdoors in the sunlight I prefer paper anyway.

If you’re a Prime member and if you utilize Kindle to read books, this is the best value for a tablet or an e-reader on the market…even at full price. I’ve been enjoying using it on a daily basis.

What I love about it:

  • The price – you can’t beat $75!
  • I only installed a few apps for reading and a few for videos and that’s it. I love the simplicity compared to the hundreds of apps I have on my phone. The key one for me was Feedly so I could read my RSS, everything else was a nice-to-have but not required.
  • The 1280×800 screen is surprisingly good, I was worried that the “HD” wouldn’t be very “HD” to my eyes but it hasn’t been an issue.
  • Fire OS seems to be very snappy, possibly in part because of how locked down it is vs Google’s version of Android.
  • I really like the Fire app launcher and carousel. It works great for quickly moving between Amazon apps.
  • Their blue light blocking app Blue Shade is very simple but very well done. Set a time for it to turn on, pick a few options, and forget about it.
  • There’s a microSD slot for expandable storage. This will come in handy when I’m traveling and want to download movies or shows from Amazon Prime or now Netflix.
  • It comes pre-configured for your Prime account. Just boot it up and it’s ready, a nice touch.
  • It feels really well made, like a much higher end device than the price point would indicate. Even the speakers sound pretty good.
  • The claimed 12 hours of battery life is about right, which is more than enough for me. A full day of travel usage wouldn’t run it out.
  • Update 6/21/17 – it makes a great retro gaming machine!

What I don’t love about it:

  • I knew there would be a lack of apps, but a few key reading apps like Instapaper and Wikipedia are missing. In general the non-Amazon app selection is pretty weak.
  • It feels a little too solid. I know some people like that, but I would prefer as light as possible for a device that I use one-handed a lot. At 12 ounces it’s only an ounce more than an iPad mini so maybe it’s just my preference.
  • The keyboard sucks. It’s the old stock Android keyboard with seemingly no improvements. I’m used to using swipe gestures on my phone. It feels like a step back in time. Thankfully I’m not typing much.
  • There’s no way to change the default search engine from Bing to Google.
  • You can’t add a bookmark to your home screen, something I wanted to do for Instapaper, Wikipedia, and a few of my favorite sites.
  • Other browsers aren’t available, so I side-loaded Firefox.
  • I bought the official $34.99 case (it was on sale for $29.99). It feels very basic. It’s fine, just probably not worth the price. Update 6/21/17 – I’ve come around on the case, the stand works exceptionally well, I would probably buy it again

All in all though, it’s a great device and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re OK with the limitations going in, it’s a tremendous value. If you need a thorough app store, spend 3x-4x more on an iPad mini. If you’ve bought into Amazon’s ecosystem and you’re just looking to read, watch some video, and play a reasonably good selection of games, it’s hard to argue against this Fire HD 8 for the price.

Update 2/7/17 – we purchased the cheaper 7″ Fire Tablet for our warehouse. It serves it’s purpose and gets the job done for what we need it to do, however it also reinforced that the right call for my personal use is to buy the HD 8, which has a noticeably better screen and feels like a much more premium product. The extra ~$30 is well worth it.