Best tablet for the money
Looking for fun? Look for a tablet that can serve movies, TV shows, books, games, music and much more. Amazon’s Fire models are basically entertainment screens, and every few years they get a modest update.
So there goes the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus, just updated to the end of 2022. These were already good tablets for the money; now they’re a little better, with faster processors, more storage and slightly longer battery life.
And a prize skin. Starting at $100, the Fire HD 8 costs $10 more than the 2020 model. It’s to be expected these days; inflation affects everything. But here’s good news: The previous Fire HD 8 sold a dozen times over the past dozen months, sometimes for as low as $45. And the new Fire HD 8 has just been slashed to $55, which means now’s the time to get one.
Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus: Which should you choose?
The Fire HD 8 and HD 8 Plus have 8-inch screens (both fingerprint magnets, unfortunately) with a screen resolution of 1200 x 800 pixels. While it’s far below what you get from modern iPads, it’s definitely sharp enough for the likes of books, games and movies. It’s also noticeably better than the Fire 7’s 1024 x 600-pixel display, which I found so grainy that I ultimately couldn’t recommend that tablet.
Similarly, while the Fire 7 is a fairly slow device, the Fire HD 8’s recently upgraded hexacore processor provides the horsepower needed for basic tablet tasks.
This is where I stop to recommend spending an extra $10 (normally $20) for the Fire HD 8 Plus, which offers three main benefits: 3GB of RAM instead of 2GB (which helps with performance and multitasking), support for wireless charging (via Amazon’s $50 wireless charging station or any Qi charging pad) and a much better rear-facing camera: 5 megapixels, to the Fire HD 8’s 2 megapixels.
In fact, if you add that dock to the mix, you can better take advantage of something called Show Mode, which effectively turns the Fire HD 8 Plus into an Echo Show 8 smart display. Although you get hands-free Alexa voice control anyway, Show Mode makes it a full-screen experience.
Back to the cameras, they are… fine. Good for kids to mess with, good in a pinch for Zoom meetings, that sort of thing. iPads offer vastly superior cameras, but ask yourself if you’re really going to be taking photos with the tablet anyway. I do it once in a blue moon.
The tablet’s built-in stereo speakers are, as you might expect, tiny and tinny—fine for listening to podcasts and watching videos, but ultimately you’ll be happier with a paired Bluetooth speaker or headphones. (There’s also a traditional headphone jack if you prefer something wired.)
As mentioned, the Fire HD 8 Plus supports wireless charging, but both models have USB-C ports and actually come with both a USB-C cable and an AC adapter (unlike some Apple tablets, reap). Amazon promises up to 13 hours on a charge, which is extremely good battery life, and my informal testing bears it out.
The two tablets include 32GB of built-in storage, although you can opt for 64GB at purchase for $30 more. My advice: Save your money. If you need more storage space for movie and game downloads, you can insert an affordable microSD card. (Example: Here’s a 64GB card for just $10.)
Let’s talk about the advertising elephant in the room…
Like other Fire tablets and Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, the Fire HD 8 displays ads on the lock screen. I honestly don’t mind this, and in fact barely notice it, as the ad disappears the moment you swipe to unlock. But if you find it offensive, you can pay a one-time fee of $15 to banish the ads forever. (On the HD 8 Plus, it’s $25. Don’t ask me why.)
The other cost consideration here is Amazon Prime. Although a subscription to the service ($139 annually) is not strictly necessary, it provides quick and easy access to mountains of movies, music, books and TV shows. But even without Prime, you can install apps to access Netflix, Spotify, TikTok and more, and read any books that are already part of your Kindle library.
Thus, I disagree with the common refrain that “Fire tablets are only good for Prime subscribers.” If you already have a subscription, great; you will no doubt like all the extras it provides. But will you find this tablet bright without it? I do not think so.
The bigger caveat is that Amazon limits you to its own app store (which, again, has nothing to do with Prime). While most popular apps are available for the Fire, there are a few that aren’t — most notably Google’s YouTube. There are ways around this limitation (starting with: only access YouTube in your tablet’s browser), but you shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to use the world’s most popular video app.
Another criticism: Amazon’s Fire OS isn’t the most intuitive operating system. For example, if you increase the font size for better visibility, many app names are shortened because the text no longer fits. And I’m not sure I follow the logic behind the For You, Home, and Library screens, because there’s so much duplication between them and not much organization within them.
The warranty also remains an issue: it’s only 90 days. It’s kind of a head scratcher; Amazon’s Fire HD 10 is covered for a full year, like most modern electronics. Finally, the Fire HD 8’s color options have shrunk to just three: black, pink and denim. The HD 8 Plus only comes in grey.
However, let’s remember that we’re talking about $100 and $120 tablets that are currently discounted by nearly 50%. So a few nitpicks are easily forgiven.
In fact, if you want a ton of entertainment at your fingertips, in a size that strikes the right balance between visibility and portability, it’s hard to beat the Amazon Fire HD 8 or HD 8 Plus. For the extra $10, I’d go with the latter, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the former. These are value packed tablets.
Of course, if you have Amazon Prime, you get free shipping. Not a member yet? No problem. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial here. (And by the way, those without Prime still get free shipping on any of these tablets, as well as any other order of $25 or more.)
More Christmas gift ideas
We’ve got your Christmas shopping list covered with fantastic gift ideas for everyone on your list. You’ll find expert picks for the best tech gifts at Engadget, the best gift ideas for car enthusiasts at Autoblog, gifts for the young (and young at heart) at In the Know, and picks for just about everyone else on your list (moms, dads, teens, nurses , you name it!) in Yahoo’s Christmas Gift Ideas section. At AOL, you’ll find gift ideas for seniors shopping for moms, dads, teens, and toddlers.