Check out the Amazon Fire HD 8 compared to the Apple iPad mini 2 and the AT&T Trek HD 2 here.
Amazon.com has become a respected, household name in many countries around the world. Its reliable service, low prices and Prime memberships keep consumers flocking to it. An Amazon package hits my door literally every day, and more and more of them are delivered within an hour by their Prime Now service. I have extensively used and personally own their Echo, Fire TV, multiple Fire tablets, Prime Video and even owned the Fire phone.
The tablet market may be in the doldrums with double-digit unit declines and a price race to the bottom, but Amazon.com is cleaning up in the space. Last quarter, IDC reported Amazon grew 320% year-on-year shipping 3.1M units while the market declined roughly 15% to 43M units. Remarkable, right? When people ask me why they are doing so well in tablets, I respond with, “it’s complicated”.
Amazon Fire tablet growth: it’s complicated
There are many moving parts here. Overall, Amazon.com retailing loses money, subsidized through its money-printing AWS cloud services division. Last quarter, AWS brought in $861M in operating profit on $3.2B in sales while the rest of the company disclosed a $286M operating loss on $29.5B revenue. AWS subsidizes product prices, shipping costs and those sweet video deals.
Amazon uses AWS profits to subsidize the Fire tablet’s pricing, too. Fire tablets are also a direct avenue to their digital books, movies and music which, again, subsidizes that pricing. For what it’s worth, the consumer could care less how Amazon does it, they just enjoy the low prices.
You get ads, many ads with the Fire HD 8 tablet
To subsidize pricing further on Fire HD 8 tablets, Amazon.com also serves up ads in the lock screen, full screen video ads beyond the lock screen, and in the notification area. Every time you turn Fire on, you will see a full-screen ad. And they also will place ads in the notification area, too. Amazon calls these Fire tablet ads “Special Offers”. They’re ads.
For an extra $15, you can pay more for the Fire if you want to make those ads go away, but the company leads with ads on the “buy page”. I’m glad to see that they put the option on the first page, not on the second page like they did last year.
You must use the Amazon App Store, not the Google App Store
With an Amazon Fire tablet, you also need to buy all apps through Amazon.com’s app store, not the Android App Store. The selection of apps is lower and typically older. Important apps to me like Instagram, YouTube, Hangouts, Snapchat, Ring Video Doorbell aren’t available in the Amazon App store. If you have an Android smartphone, you cannot load those paid apps from the Android App Store onto your Fire tablet. Also, you cannot use any video content from Google or Apple.
Fire HD 8 design decisions lowers price, too
What I want to focus on here, though, is the performance and experience of the tablets driven by the design and component selection. To cut to the chase, you do get what you pay for. Amazon has made design trade-offs to hit those price points and it’s not necessarily about getting that “screaming deal” on the highest quality electronics. I believe there’s nothing wrong with that as long as consumers know what they’re getting and not getting. I want to outline those trade-offs here. Before I became an analyst, I spent 20 years making products, so I know a little about this.
Fire HD 8 display
The Fire HD 8 has an 8”, 1,280×800 pixel display delivering 1M pixels at 189 pixels per inch. Amazon calls the display “stunning”. A 1080P TV has 2M pixels, twice the Fire HD 8. A Samsung Galaxy S6 has nearly 4M pixels, 4X more pixels. I’m not finding anything stunning about this display.
Why could low pixel count be an issue? Well, the closer you view something and the lower the pixel count, be prepared to potentially see pixels when surfing the web, reading that book, playing that game or watching that video. Amazon’s web page says, “enjoy millions of movies, TV shows, songs, Kindle e-books, apps and games”, so they want you to do just that.
This limitation isn’t reserved for Amazon tablets, but you should beware of any low pixel tablet. I do take a little issue with “HD” in the product name as the Fire HD 8 as the tablet will not display content in 1080P HD resolution. Personally, I can see pixels in the Fire HD 8 and it drives me crazy. I can’t recommend the Fire HD 8 to you without seeing it first.
Fire HD 8 Storage
The tablet comes with 8GB storage and 800MB memory. Amazon says storage can be upgraded to 200GB via an external, microSD card, which you will likely need if you get the 16GB version and play games or play videos. You see, the Amazon’s own software including ads takes up space so you have around 12GB storage available for apps and content. You can also buy the 32GB version for an extra $30. The reason why you should consider getting the 32GB version versus buying a cheap SD card is that not all content will load on an SD card. It’s a licensing issue, not a technical one.
Fire HD 8 cameras
Fire HD 8 has a 2MP world-view camera and a front-facing, selfie camera at .3MP, VGA resolutions. Your smart phone probably has a 16MP camera, effectively 8X the resolution, so don’t think of this as a substitute for your digital camera or smartphone. Pictures are very blurry, like most low cost tablets. Fun for the kids, yes, but no replacement for your phone. Skype is available for videos but not Facetime for Apple users, Duo for Google users, or even Snapchat in case you want to post some of those beauties.
Fire HD 8 Wi-Fi
I didn’t do any special testing, so I cannot attest to the exact Wi-Fi throughput capabilities. The Fire HD 8 does not support the latest AC specification, but I’m glad to see it supported 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz., unlike its little brother, the Amazon Fire tablet. The max speed I could connect to my wireless router from my bedroom was 135 Mbps while other Android tablets in the same price range, like the AT&T Trek HD 2, I could connect at 433 Mbps, over 3X the link speed. Unscientific, but telling.
Amazon says that the Fire HD 8 is “2X more durable than iPad Mini 4” measured in “tumble tests”. There’s no link to details or substantiation so I cannot validate that. Amazon also claims “up to 12 hours of reading, surfing the web, watching video, and listening to music.” Like durability, there are no details on what it does for 12 hours or at what display brightness nor is there substantiation for this.
Price is the strength of this tablet. The Fire HD 8 lowest cost configuration is with ads and 8GB of storage at $89.99. Without ads and 32GB will set you back $135. Amazon.com would like nothing more than sell you some accessories so they can recapture some of that profit. Amazon recommended in my checkout a $29.99 case, $29.99 kid-proof case, $10.59 32GB storage card, and a $24.99 3-year protection plan. Pricing seems really low, right? It is, but you really do get what you pay for in my opinions.
Amazon is doing really well in tablets as they don’t really need to make a profit on them. They view the tablet platform as an on-ramp to their other products and services like books, video, games, store items, apps, music, audiobooks, and magazines. This order of goods is exactly how their UI is laid out, too, which reinforces this position.
Amazon also lowered prices by lowering specifications on the components they used compared to higher-priced, better experience tablets. There’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion, as long as you know what those trade-offs were.
In my next column, I’ll share some performance tests I ran comparing the Fire HD 8 to other, more expensive tablets like the Apple iPad mini2 and the AT&T Trek HD 2. You can find that here.