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Sunday, 26 July 2020

Review of the Fire HD 8 Plus

I intentionally chose to review the Fire HD 8 Plus, to see if its extra cost, in comparison to the regular Fire HD 8, makes it a better choice. Amazon markets its tablets as budget content consumption devices. In this review, I'll argue that the HD 8 Plus's extra features do not add, considering the use case of Fire tablets, anything significant and that the Fire HD 8 is the better option. 

Positives

Most of what I'll consider as positives, in this section, also apply to the Fire HD 8. The previous generation of the Fire HD 8 was frustratingly slow - often the user experienced lag and delays when doing simple tasks, e.g. launching apps, opening e-books and browsing media-rich websites. The Fire HD 8 Plus is noticeably better, but the sluggishness is still there. For media streaming, reading e-books, navigating menus performance is adequate. However, try loading and browsing a media-rich website, and you begin to notice significant slowdowns. 

Considering Fire OS - an operating system designed around Amazon services - the Fire HD 8 Plus's extra RAM, in comparison to the Fire HD 8, is helpful but does not significantly affect the user experience. The Fire HD 10 does not have the 3GB RAM but still performs well. I would instead Amazon bumped the processor performance in the Plus model than add memory.

The Fire HD 8 Plus also exclusively supports wireless charging. This feature makes it is possible to dock the tablet using a charging dock accessory to generate Alexa show mode and convert the tablet into a smart assistant. The smart device experience is compromised as the speakers and microphone are weak. The audio problem can be remedied can with a Bluetooth speaker but the microphone problem is permanent. The microphone does pick-up voice commands but can suffer when the user is further away or when there is even moderate background noise. Another positive of the dock is fast charging - the dock is capable of 10W high-speed wireless charging.

Battery life is fantastic. The advertised up to "12 hours" is accurate - the Fire HD 8 Plus easily gets more than a full day of mixed usage. In standby mode, the Fire HD 8 Plus conserves energy and lasts days with little or no usage. In previous generations, Amazon Fire tablets tended to drain quicker - possibly due to Alexa being enabled - but the issue has now been resolved.  

Amazon also changed the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus's aspect ratio. Both tablets have identical dimensions that are now closer to the iPad Mini. This means the tablet is wider, which makes it more suitable for reading. 

Negatives

Out of the box, Fire tablets don't support the Google Play Store. More experienced users will find it relatively straightforward to sideload and install Google Play. However, for the general user, it could be challenging to identify the required applications that need to be installed to get Google Play working. There are minor issues too with the lack of native Google Play support, e.g. updating apps can cause conflicts when the same application exists in the Fire OS and Google Play stores.

The biggest negative is the screen. The Fire HD 8 Plus has the same screen as the Fire HD 8, and this means no lamination and oleophobic coating. The screen is also very reflective even indoors - I would say darker video scenes are almost unwatchable due to the glare. An anti-glare screen protector is a must to remedy fingerprint smudges and the reflective screen.

Of course, there are the expected negatives that are understandable considering the Fire HD 8 Plus is an entry-level tablet. The speakers are weak, performance is adequate at best, the front camera just works, and the screen resolution is passable. Yet none of these negatives severely impacts the use case of this tablet as a content consumption device.

Other budget options

At the £110 full retail price, the Fire HD 8 Plus is now closer to 8-inches budget tablets offered by other vendors. Alternatives include the Huawei MatePad T8, Lenovo Tab M8 and Samsung Tab A 8.0. All these devices, at a similar price, have better cameras, screens and build quality. However, the Fire HD 8 Plus, in comparison to other tablets in this category, has an extra GB RAM. It also should be noted, in contrast to the Fire HD 8 Plus, that Huawei and Lenovo's smaller budget tablets don't support USB-C charging.

One big plus for the Fire HD 8 Plus is its support for HD streaming in both Netflix and Prime Video. Both Samsung and Huawei support this feature, but surprisingly Lenovo does not. Lenovo may remedy this problem with a software update. 

Overall, as is the case with the Fire HD 10, the Fire HD 8 Plus is good value when discounted by Amazon. At full retail price, the better option would be going for one of the Android tablets offered by other vendors.

Conclusion

Considering the use case of Fire tablets, the HD 8 Plus's extra RAM and wireless charging don't substantially improve the user experience. Consequently, it makes better sense to opt for the regular Fire HD 8 model. If Amazon released the tablet with two GB RAM but slightly improved the processor and screen then the Fire HD 8 Plus would justify its place in Amazon's tablet line-up. 

However, the Fire HD 8 Plus's support for wireless charging is unique in the budget tablet category. It also offers useful use cases too. The charging dock accessory turns the tablet into a permanent smart speaker with a screen that can be used, for example, in the kitchen to watch cooking instructional videos or hands-free streaming of radio, podcasts, music and TV shows. Of course, it is possible to use a tablet stand and use voice command to turn on show mode, but this is less convenient than using the charging dock.

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