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Amazon Fire HD 8 to get hardware upgrades, including Show mode and hands-free Alexa

Written by  Sep 06, 2018

Amazon’s tablets may not be the last word in power or luxury but they do the job and models like the Amazon Fire HD 8 make great gifts for children. It helps, too, that Amazon continues to improve the tablets year on year and in 2018 that trend is continuing with a handful of small updates to Amazon’s middle child tablet.

The new Amazon Fire HD 8 will ship on the 4th of October and if you were considering buying one, it’s probably worth waiting, but only just. That’s because it’s essentially the same tablet as the previous model.

What’s new?

So what’s new? The front-facing camera is now a 720p unit, up from and the tablet’s microSD card slot can take SD cards up to 400GB in capacity. That’s it for new hardware and the rest is as you were before. There’s an 8in 1,280 x 800 IPS display up front, a two-megapixel camera at the rear and Dolby Atmos-enabled stereo speakers. A 1.3GHz quad-core CPU with 1.5GB of RAM powers the tablet.

More interesting are the changes Amazon is making to its Fire OS software. First, up, the Fire HD 8 is getting hands-free Alexa support, allowing it to respond to the “Alexa” key phrase without you having to touch the tablet. Alexa on the Fire HD 8 operates just like an Echo Speaker does, including the ability to make calls and drop-in on friends and family via their Echo speakers.

 

Next is “Show Mode”, a feature that fires up a display onscreen that’s basically the same as what you see on the company’s Echo Show speaker. It shows the time, news, hints and tips on how to use Alexa, and adds visual aids to various Alexa queries, such as timers and questions about the weather.

This feature first debuted in the US earlier this year and it’s designed to work alongside the new Show Mode Charging Dock, which you can buy in a bundle with the Fire HD 8. This comprises a case, which connects to the tablet’s Micro USB port and provides a couple of charging pins on the rear, and a simple hinged stand which can be connected to any USB power source. Whenever you drop the tablet, in its case, on the stand it both begins to charge and fires up Show Mode automatically.

Finally, Amazon is making some changes to the Fire HD 8 Kid’s Edition tablet offering. As before, this package includes the 32GB regular Fire HD 8 tablet with a simplified kid-friendly interface and a colourful impact bumper case for protection. It still includes a one-year subscription to the Amazon Kids Unlimited service and Amazon’s two year, no questions asked, damage and breakage warranty.

New features include a new interface, designed to make things even simpler for kids to get to grips with and the addition of kid-friendly Audible Audiobooks to the Kids Unlimited subscription package.

Performance

Nothing has changed inside the Amazon Fire HD 8. It still runs on a fairly slow, quad-core 1.3GHz MediaTek MT8163 chipset and is backed by a miserly 1.5GB of RAM. In other words, expect performance to be exactly the same as the old model. It will be adequate, with enough power to play casual games and stream video at the screen's native resolution, but will occasionally feel sluggish in operation.

The same core components are accompanied by the same battery, so stamina should be the same as the old tablet as well. In our testing, the 2017 Fire HD 8 lasted around 13 hours, which is exceptional. It's also good to see that Amazon has kept the microSD expansion slot and, as mentioned above, you can use it to add up to 400GB extra storage space this time around.

Early verdict

With so little changing on the hardware front, it’s pretty easy to predict our eventual verdict on the Amazon Fire HD 8. You’ll have the usual caveats about not all apps being available on the Fire OS app store, the general lack of performance and the poor quality of the rear camera.

However, there aren’t many other tablets that offer as much as the Amazon Fire HD 8 for so little and it’s likely that the new version will retain its best budget tablet crown. We'll be updating this early look with a full review very soon.

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