A Full HD upgrade, but for less cash? Yes please.
As far as tablet bargains go, you’ve got to hunt far and wide to find a better deal than a Fire HD.
Amazon’s price-slashed slates might not impress if you fixate purely on specs, but they’re perfect if you want something that gets the job done, without also putting a serious dent in your wallet
That’s especially true of the Fire HD 10, which was already the ideal entry-level multimedia machine thanks to its big screen and stereo speakers. This 2017 iteration goes one better with a Full HD resolution, finally doing justice to all those 1080p Amazon Prime Video streams - while somehow managing to cost ess than the outgoing original.
After spending a week with one, it’s tricky to see exactly how that price-slashing was done: the Fire HD 10 really is an awful lot of tablet for your cash.
DESIGN: PLASTIC FANTASTIC
The 2017 edition tablet doesn’t look all that different from last year’s Fire HD, although it does come in a few new colours: Marine Blue and Punch Red, as well as traditional (and in my opinion, boring) black.
The more premium-feeling aluminium shell is gone, though, swapped for less expensive plastic. I don’t think that’s a big deal: the metal-bodied Fire HD never felt all that luxurious, and the plastic seen here doesn’t feel cheap.
The sturdy construction should make this tablet perfect toddler fodder, too. OK, so there’s no optional silicone case like you get with the Kids Edition versions of Amazon’s smaller slates, but it’ll still survive a beating better than an ultra-delicate iPad Pro you’d have to take out a second mortgage to buy.
You get the same stereo speakers, same microSD expansion slot (for adding more storage should 32GB in the base model not be sufficient) and the same micro USB port for recharging as last year’s model. While it would have been nice to get reversible USB-C, it would probably have bumped the price up, so didn’t make the cut.
There’s still a headphone jack, of course, because what good is a multimedia machine without one of those?
DISPLAY & SOUND: FRIENDLY FIRE
This year’s big upgrade is the 10.1in screen, which has seen its resolution bumped up to Full HD 1080p. That’s a real improvement from 1280x800 in the old model, which was noticeably grainy and pixellated.
You’ve got to get much closer to the panel to spot the individual pixels now, and that extra definition helps text, photos and videos look much crisper. It squeezes in more detail, and makes the most out of 1080p video streaming apps like Amazon’s own Prime video.
OK, it’s not going to rival an iPad Pro or Galaxy Tab S3 for sheer pixel count, and the LCD panel shows its limitations when you open a video with lots of dark scenes - contrast and black levels aren’t amazing. Colours are reasonably vibrant, so games have plenty of pop, and the panel isn’t left wanting for brightness. It’s not enough to see clearly outdoors in bright sunshine, but it’ll be fine for using indoors.
The display is paired with stereo speakers, which are Dolby Atmos-certified just like the smaller Fire HD 8. They were never going to replicate the effect of a full cinema surround sound system, but are loud and clear enough to binge on box-sets or play Ames without reaching for a pair of headphones first.
Podcasts are no problem, and it gets plenty loud enough for playback in the kitchen while you’re cooking dinner, but there’s no real bass to give your music the depth it deserves.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE: JUST ENOUGH
Underneath, Amazon pretty much stuck to the same formula as last year’s HD 10, with a MediaTek CPU doing all the heavy lifting.
It’s faster - 30% faster than the outgoing tablet, according to Amazon - but intense games can still cause it to chug. The bump in resolution means it has to work harder to keep frame rates smooth, and it doesn’t always manage it.
2D apps are fine, though, opening quickly enough with minimal delay, and multi-tasking isn’t an issue either. 2GB of RAM keep things ticking over, even when you’re switching between several apps at a time.
Amazon’s custom Fire UI feels snappy and responsive, which is the most important thing - you spend a lot more time using it to jump between Prime Video, Kindle books, Audible audiobooks and Prime Music, with third-party apps playing second fiddle to Amazon’s own content.
Whatever you’re doing with it, you’ll usually squeeze between nine and ten hours of battery life between charges. I averaged nine when streaming videos, but got slightly more when using the HD 10 exclusively as an e-reader. Not too shabby at all, and easily enough for a transatlantic flight.
SOFTWARE & OS: ALEXA IS LISTENING
All of Amazon’s content is easier to find, thanks to a redesigned Recents screen that keeps track of all your purchases and subscriptions. Amazon has renamed the page “For You”, adding shortcuts to your apps and games, as well as links to your videos, ebooks, and audiobooks with bookmarks that pick up directly where you left off.
It’ll make recommendations too, quickly picking up that I prefer gritty crime drama Bosch to pseudo-reality plastic surgery show Botched.
This handy screen aside, FireOS hasn’t changed all that much, so if you’ve used a Fire tablet before you’ll feel right at home. Multiple home screen pages are dedicated to each of Amazon’s services, with third-party apps and games relegated to their own screen.
There is one more new addition, which you’ll spot when you swipe down from the top of the screen. The notification tray has a new Alexa icon, which turns on a new trick for Amazon’s AI assistant: hands-free listening.
On older Fire tablets, you had to long-press the home button to wake Amazon’s virtual assistant, but now, you can let her listen in all the time for that familiar trigger word. Toggle hands-free listening from the notification bar and the microphone switches to always-on mode. Want some privacy? Toggle it off and the mics are muted again.
Alexa works exactly the same here as she does on an Echo or Echo Dot, only here you’ll get visual aids that expand on your searches and questions, showing up on-screen as handy cards. These only used to fill up a portion of the screen on Amazon’s smaller slates, but here they appear full screen.
This makes checking sports scores, weather reports and calendar appointments much easier, with extra space for a five-day forecast or upcoming fixtures beneath the main info. Eventually, Amazon will add smart home security cameras here too, letting you get a live view onscreen with a quick shout to Alexa. Ring, Nest and Arlo will be among the first, with other manufacturers set to follow later.
It all works brilliantly, and is a major step forward for Alexa on devices other than Amazon’s own Echo speakers. Expect to see a lot more of this in future Fire tablets.
AMAZON FIRE HD 10 (2017) VERDICT
For $US149, the HD 10 is an absolute steal for anyone after a multimedia machine. Videos, music, ebooks, a bit of web browsing? You got it. The Full HD screen is a real step up from last year.
Amazon’s custom UI is purpose-built for quickly downloading content from the company’s many different stores, and the tablet’s newfound hands-free Alexa abilities are a much better way of invoking the AI assistant than tapping buttons.
OK, you still don’t get the Google Play store, which means you won’t be able to download official Google apps like YouTube, and iOS has the edge if you want to get some proper work done, but the Fire HD still does 90% of what a vanilla Android tablet can manage - at a bargain price.
I’m not convinced it’s worth spending any extra to get that last 10% - for pure entertainment duties, $US149 really does buy all the tablet you’ll need.