Amazon's Fire HD 8 tablet is a versatile tablet at the right price, but it has some key limitations. First among them is that it wasn't designed for business use. But the $90 slate is nicer than its dirt-cheap price tag might suggest, giving you a bright 8-inch display, long battery life and enough performance for basic on-the-go productivity.
Amazon's app selection isn't as good as what you'll find on other Android tablets, so you can't install productivity staples like Google Docs or Microsoft's Office apps. Otherwise, the Fire HD 8 is a surprisingly capable device for workers who want something that has a bit more screen space than their smartphones can provide.
Don't be alarmed by the bright orange backing of the Fire HD 8 featured in these photos; the tablet also comes in a more modest black iteration, as well as blue and magenta. Personally, I like the orange, since it makes the slate so easy to spot in a cluttered office.
Cheap tablets tend to be chunky and heavy, but the Fire HD 8 is relatively svelte. The device weighs 12 ounces and measures 0.4 inches thick, making it lighter but just as thin as its closest rival, Lenovo's $150 Tab 2 A10 (17.6 ounces, 0.4 inches thick). Compared to a premium slate such as the iPad mini 4, which weighs about 10 ounces and is 0.3 inches thick, the Fire HD 8 is downright skinny.
On the tablet's right edge, you'll find a microSD card, which can expand the system's modest 16GB of storage by up to 200GB, for a total of 216GB.
The vast majority of Android smartphones and tablets give you full access to Google Play, which is the official store for Android apps. Not so on Amazon's Fire tablets, which instead restrict you to Amazon's own app store. And there's a big difference between the two: The Amazon app store offers a selection of 600,000 apps, which is a fraction of the 2.2 million you'll find on Google Play.
While Amazon has a majority of the most popular mainstream apps — Instagram, Spotify and Netflix are here — there are plenty of exceptions that workers are likely to notice. Full-featured versions of Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint are available on iPads and other Android slates, but Amazon's tablet simply doesn't offer these programs to download. Likewise, Google's productivity suite — which includes Docs, Sheets and Slides — isn't available for download on the Fire HD 8. That also means you may not be able to get other proprietary apps to load.
The slate does come with Amazon's own apps for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations. But the apps limit you to uploading your content to Amazon's own cloud drive. If you use Microsoft Office 365 at work, you might run into some compatibility issues.
There is a work-around if you absolutely must run Microsoft Office apps on your Fire HD 8; it involves downloading the app files from a third-party side, then side-loading them onto your device. The process requires a bit of technical know-how, though, and since it can potentially leave you vulnerable to malware by installing the wrong files, we don't recommend it. Workers who can't deal with Amazon's native app selection should buy a different tablet.
You can also use Microsoft or Google's productivity apps by accessing the web versions in Amazon's Silk browser. Those versions don't have all the features you'll find in the stand-alone apps, but it's a decent option if you need them.
Otherwise, the Fire HD 8 comes preloaded with most of the apps you'll need for everyday productivity. The stock email app makes it easy to set up your email account, including Microsoft Exchange email accounts. And the stock calendar makes it easy to add meetings and reminders with a few taps.
Despite the relatively limited selection, there are still hundreds of worthwhile productivity apps on the Amazon App store. Some of my favorites are Microsoft's OneNote for jotting down notes and AM Appointment Manager for scheduling your workday.
Fortunately, there's an easy way to scout out Amazon's app selection before you buy the Fire HD 8. Just browse the company's online app store to see what's available.
The Fire HD 8's 8-inch, 1280 x 800-pixel panel is well-suited for basic productivity, but it can feel cramped for screen-intensive tasks. The sub-1080p panel doesn't offer full-HD resolution, so viewing large documents and spreadsheets can feel a bit claustrophobic. For example, in the included spreadsheet editor, the app's UI takes up more space on screen than I'd like.
The Fire HD 8 is a decent device for catching up on your Netflix queue after work. The display is bright and sharp enough for an 8-inch tablet, but color quality could be better. When watching the HD trailer for HBO's Westworld, I could make out detail in flying dust motes, though the red and orange colors in a sweeping desert vista looked muted.
The Fire HD was designed primarily for entertainment, not work, and it shows. The tablet actually runs on a customized version of Android called Fire OS, which puts the focus on media consumption instead of creation.
From the main screen, you can swipe through a variety of panels that give you quick access to the videos, music, games and books that you've purchased through Amazon. Too bad there's not a panel that lets you jump straight to your most recently edited documents. It's easy enough to ignore that stuff, though, and open favorite productivity apps from the home screen. This shows all apps that are currently installed.
Otherwise, the interface will be familiar to anyone who has ever used an Android device. It includes many features from the most recent versions of the operating system, including handy system functions that can be accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen. You can adjust your screen brightness and toggle Wi-Fi or Do Not Disturb mode, for example, without much fuss.
You can feel comfortable leaving the Fire HD 8's charging cable at home. The tablet lasts and lasts, running for an impressive 11 hours and 19 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That blows away the tablet average of 8:58, and ensures that the slate will run through the end of your longest business flight.
A front-facing camera is located just above the slate's display, and it will come in handy for workers who want to meet remotely with clients or colleagues via software such as Skype. The 0.3-MP camera doesn't pick up much detail, though; images look grainy, blurry and dark, especially in low light.
There's no fancy fingerprint scanner available on the Fire HD 8, but you do get the typical lineup of security options available on every other Android tablet. That includes the ability to set a lock screen password and native VPN support. You can also encrypt your files so they can be accessed only by users who know the assigned PIN.
The Fire HD 8 has been touted in advertising as the first Amazon slate to come preloaded with Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant service and the company's answer to Siri on the iPhone and Google Assistant on stock Android. Unfortunately, the tablet shipped before Alexa was ready to roll out on the device. The feature is now expected to launch sometime before the end of the year.
When Alexa becomes available, it will be a nice productivity booster on the Fire HD 8. The voice-command-based service can streamline all sorts of tasks, including setting reminders, adding appointments to your calendar, fetching turn-by-turn driving directions, delivering weather reports and more. But workers who want to take advantage of Alexa will have to wait a while.
Due to their sluggish performance, older Amazon Fire tablets couldn't pass muster as work slates. The Fire HD 8 bucks that trend, with more than enough power for basic productivity tasks like editing documents, checking email and browsing the web. The slate comes equipped with a 1.3-GHz processor and 1.5GB of RAM, which was enough to let me switch between apps quickly with only the occasional stutter.
The Fire HD 8 still lags behind the competition on benchmark tests, though. It racked up a score of 1,929 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, trailing both the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 (2,371) and the overall tablet average (2,833).
Amazon sells the Fire HD 8 in two very similar hardware configurations. The entry-level model provides 16GB of internal storage for $90, while a pricier model gives you 32GB for $120. There's also the option to pay $15 extra to remove advertisements that appear on the slate's lock screen. The ads aren't too obtrusive, though, and they help subsidize the tablet's low cost.
If you're looking for a reasonably capable tablet that will fit any budget, Amazon's Fire HD 8 Tablet might be it. The 8-inch slate boasts long battery life and decent performance in a supremely affordable package.
But Amazon's tablet wasn't designed for business use. The slate's biggest downside is its limited app library, which is missing such key offerings as Microsoft Word and Excel. Other than that, you get what you pay for: decent (but not fast) performance, a bright (but dull) display and a plastic design that feels sturdy but probably isn't as durable as what you get with a pricier tablet. Despite those limitations, this $90 slate is hard to beat for the price.