It's ridiculously good value because it's a subsidized Amazon consumption device. If you're ok with that, love Alexa, and you're a Prime user, this is an absolute must-buy.
The Amazon Fire devices have never been particularly amazing, but they’ve always been great value. This year’s Amazon Fire HD 10 refresh adds some seriously cool features and drops the price further. We think that makes it the best value sort-of-Android tablet around – but it won’t be for everyone.
Read on to find out what we thought of the device, then enter the competition to win your own.
Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017) Specs and Design
- Mediatek MT8173 Quad-core CPU, 2GB RAM
- Dimensions H: 10.3″ (262mm) x W: 6.3″ (159mm) x D: 0.4 (9.8mm)
- Weight 17.4 ounces (500g)
- 32GB internal memory as tested (64GB also available)
- 6300mAh battery
- Stereo speakers on left (portrait) or bottom (landscape)
- MicroSD card slot up to 256GB.
- 10.1″ 1920 x 1200px 16:10 IPS display
- Dual-band AC Wi-Fi, USB2.0, Bluetooth 4.1
- Fire OS 5.5
- Lacks Google Play store (and YouTube)
- Available in black, blue, orange; from $150
Packaging is as minimal as it gets, likely because Amazon doesn’t need to worry about your device being damaged in transit or passing through the hands of unknown retailers.
The device itself looks quite like an unimaginatively typical tablet from the front, while the sides and rear are are covered in a cheap feeling, matte plastic. It feels like you should be able to remove it to reveal the sleek metal unibody design below; but no. That is the actual back of the device.
It doesnt feel quite solid enough to me; the plastic bends and creaks slightly in places. I don’t think it’ll actually break – if anything, the plastic should withstand scuffs better than a bit of milled aluminium – but it still feels cheap.
The power and volume buttons are awkwardly placed on the top of the device, when looking at in portrait mode. An SD card slot sits on the right side. Dual speakers sit on the left, top and bottom, such that they’re oriented perfectly for watching media in landscape mode.
Ads In Your Face for Just $15: Bargain?
The base model is equipped with 32GB of storage, and can be yours for as little as $150. That’s including the discount for permanently having specially selected apps and products advertised full-screen on your lock screen. But don’t worry, if you do get sick of them, you can pay $15 at any point to remove them forever.
It’s a unique strategy that other device makers, including Apple, haven’t tried yet. I suppose $15 off $450 doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, and would ruin the aesthetics of our cultural icon, the iPad. It’s really quite an ingenious tactic though. We have to think that $15 to highlight some apps every single time you pick your device up is a great source of revenue for Amazon. And for the consumer, a 10% subsidy on the already cheap entry price is a strong psychological push given that they can either take the discount and put up with the unobtrusive ads, or upgrade at later point to remove them. It’s the choice that makes this a win-win situation. If the option wasn’t there, and Amazon just said “we make this device cheap by permanently showing you all ads”, there’d be an outroar.
Setting Up The Device, or, More Ways to Spend Money
Setup was an absurdly simple affair: the device is actually pre-registered to whomever ordered it, but you can deregister that and sign in on another account easily. Then you’re asked if you want to add a user for your child too – which of course I did. At which point, you’re encouraged to sign up to the Freetime Kids Unlimited service for $3/month (known as Fire Kids Unlimited in the UK), with a free trial month. Of course I did!
Thats right: no less than two minutes since turning this thing on, and I’ve already handed more money over to Amazon, because I doubt I’ll remember to cancel whatever this kids service is.
After that, by the way: do you have an Audible account? Would you like to try that for a month? Of course you would, sir!
Fire HD 10 Display
At 1920 x 1200, the resolution is slightly better than 1080p, with a pixel density of 224ppi. On paper, the specs are mediocre compared to some of the ludicrously high pixel densities of some devices, but in reality: it looks fantastic.
The interface is pin-sharp, movies and TV shows look good, and the colors pop.
The 16:10 screen ratio shouldn’t present any problems for either TV or movies, with minimal black bars. You aren’t going to be disappointed by the screen, that’s for sure. It’s the best or brightness, but it’s good enough for most people, and that’s precisely the point you want a budget tablet to hit.
Alexa is Always Listening, but Does it Affect the Battery?
The new Fire HD 10 has one more fantastic trick up it’s sleeve: it’s got Alexa, just like the Echo line of devices, and she’s always listening to you. There’s no button to press – just say Alexa, and she’ll spring to life. (We needed a day one patch to Fire OS 5.5 before this worked though)
I was expecting this to have an absurd impact on battery life, but actually, it’s as good as any other 10 inch tablet around. With streaming live BBC news at full brightness and full volume, it managed a few minutes short of 7 hours. In normal usage then, you should expect a few days between charges.
One great thing about having Alexa on a device with a screen is the visual feedback and additional skills you can access, as with the Echo Show. Having not used an Echo Show before, this was quite novel to me. Given the Show is roughly twice the price, I can certainly see the benefit of just sticking a few Fire HD 10’s around the house.
Unfortunately, things are a bit disjointed at launch: Spotify isn’t available yet (though being worked on), and you can’t make calls. We expect that to be updated soon.
Alexa is decidedly less useful when you set a passcode lock on your device, however. She wakes up, but can’t actually interact or do anything, instead asking you to unlock your device. While this is logical from a security perspective, it’s not all that useful. What’s even more galling is that if you have both an Echo and a Fire HD in your kitchen, and happen to be closer to the tablet, Alexa will opt to respond from that instead of your Echo, yet refuse to carry out said task.
Do You Use Kindle and Prime Video?
If you do, you’re all set. The whole premise of Fire OS is that it gives easy access to all your Amazon digital content. There’s even a special Shop screen for your recommended Amazon purchases. For You is probably the most useful, listing all your most recent items from across the library. Of course, it’s still basically an Android tablet at heart: a screen for all your apps is there too. But it’s designed to bring your digital content front and center, and it does that in a particularly parallaxed and beautiful way, echoing your book covers in the background of each tab. It really does look lovely.
I didn’t even known my Prime account included some magazines. Within a day, I’d bought something new to read. The form factor and blue light reduction mode make this a great bedtime e-reader, assuming you’re a normal person that’s grown up with screens everywhere and not one of those fervent “I can only read on e-ink” types.
App selection is limited though. There’s no Google services to speak of. Being new to Fire OS, it took me a while to figure out that “Silk” is actually a web browser, but it was familiar and responsive enough once launched. I wasn’t going to touch whatever email client they provided, and there’s no Gmail – but to be honest I don’t care. I have so many devices scattered around that I really don’t need yet another obtuse and intrusive notification system on this particular tablet. Until now I’ve been using an old third generation iPad that I never setup my email on either, because why should I? Use this to read and watch movies, and don’t get distracted by the psychological vampires that barrage us on a daily basis.
On the downside, there’s no YouTube app either. That’s a pretty big omission. I’d say around 50% of all the media I watch comes from YouTube at the moment, with about … 0% from Prime Video. It’s not that I think the service is terrible or there’s not enough select, it’s just that there’s more relevant videos out there and my time is limited. During the course of this review, I explored a lot more Prime Video content, simply because it was easier than opening up the browser and navigating to YouTube. The in-browser YouTube experience is quite substandard, and for some reason, appeared to have a lower maximum volume than the native media apps.
And that, right there, is really the point of this device – isn’t it? Here’s this fantastic value little tablet – all you have to do is come over over to the Amazon side. They’ve got cookies (and can deliver those cookies to your door in less than 2 hours with your Amazon Pantry subscription – would like a free month trial of that?)
I’d love to give you some hard performance figures, but the version of Antutu on the Amazon store was seemingly incompatible. The app opened, but immediately gave the option of updating via Google Play or “website”. Upon choosing to update, it ran through some motions but failed to install. You can cancel out of the update and attempt to run it anyway, but the test process refused to complete for me.
That said, I don’t put much trust in raw performance numbers – they rarely tell the whole truth. It’s really the speed of the interface that matters for most people: is there a lag when typing? Can you scroll webpages smoothly? How fast is app launching and switching? In this respect, the Fire HD 10 performed well above what I’d expect at this price point. It runs casual games fine, but I wouldn’t suggest taxing it much more than your average “cut the rope” session. App and user switching was fantastically responsive, and browsing webpages was smooth. At no point did any of the interface feel sluggish.
Who is the Amazon Fire HD 10 For?
Is it for kids? Switching between the full adult user and child user is gloriously fast and seamless. The kid friendly interface is far less complex, and access controls allow you to either set limits or assign daily goals, like an hour of reading. You can even tell it not allow videos until that reading goal has been met. These aren’t so relevant to my 3 year old, since he wouldn’t have unsupervised use anyway, but they’re there if you need them. The browser is also disabled by default, and you can choose to enable it subject to the child safe list of sites.
Unrestricted access to a massive library of books and content make the extra $3/month for a child account absolutely worth it. You’ll never have to worry about little Johnny downloading premium content, because it’s all free.
The Amazon Fire HD isn’t so much an Android tablet, as a subsidized Amazon consumption device. If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account and don’t plan on getting one, it’s very difficult to recommend the Amazon Fire HD to you. It’s still enormously good value as a tablet, but you’re probably going want a more pure Android experience with out of the box access to Google Play store, which you won’t find here.
But if you do have a Prime account, and you’re already an Alexa fan, it’s a must buy. There’s no better way to read your Kindle books and watch Amazon Video, and the always-on Alexa functionality is as cool as you’d expect (if a little crippled by a passcode). But know that you’ll almost certainly spend more on Amazon as a result, whether that’s for a Kid’s media account, Audible subscription, or more Kindle books.
Now go forth and consume (on Amazon, please)!