Amazon has been offering a range of Android-powered tablets for a while now, and their most recently launched devices are some of the most accessible offerings yet. Here we have had a chance to try out the Fire HD 10 tablet, Amazon's latest device with a bigger screen that just begs to be used for media entertainment and web browsing. I was never one for the larger tablets myself, regardless of brand, simply because they tend to be a little on the heavier side than something with an 8-inch screen or smaller, and this makes for an uncomfortable use if holding for longer periods of time when playing games or reading books.
To my surprise though the Fire HD 10 is actually quite light compared to other tablets in this size range, most likely due to the plastic build material for the body. It's also rather thin, which no doubt helps to make the tablet a light device. Overall, Amazon has the best chances of making more money the longer they can keep their devices in the hands of users, so making the Fire HD 10 comfortable to hold and enjoyable to use is in their best interest, and it certainly fits into both those categories. How does it stack up against other 10-inch tablets and does the cost and lack of the Play Store make this purchase worth it, or should you simply get a different device that comes with Google's Android? Let's take a look.
If you're looking at the hardware for the Fire HD 10, you'll immediately notice that it is far from being a powerful device. The specs feel entry level which sort of surprising given the cost, but remember this tablet is more about entertainment and media consumption, like reading books, watching video, and browsing the web, as opposed to playing high-end games and multitasking for work. The Fire HD 10 comes with a 10-inch IPS LCD display featuring a 800 x 1280 resolution, and is powered by a quad-core processor clocked at 1.5GHz with 1GB of RAM. It also comes with either 16GB or 32GB of storage and it supports external storage via microSD cards up to 128GB. It's fitted with a 5MP rear camera and 720p front camera for video chat, neither of which are anything to write home about but the cameras on this device are more for the opportunity of having them as opposed to not, and aren't meant to take amazing pictures. The battery stats according to Amazon state that the Fire HD 10 boasts up to 8 hours of battery life, although Amazon doesn't list how big the battery capacity is, just that it's non-removable. As stated above the Fire HD 10 is running Fire OS 5, which is based on Android Lollipop.
In The Box
Amazon has done a great job with the packaging in the latest Fire tablet. While the packaging may not seem like much, its brilliantly understated and getting to the stuff Amazon has bundled in with the tablet itself is just as easy as getting to the content once the device is powered on. All too often companies pack everything in the box in such a way that you almost have to tear at stuff to get to things like the chargers or any other accessories. That isn't the case with the Fire HD 10, although this could be because there is plenty enough room to fit everything. Having said that, there isn't a whole lot inside the box other than the tablet, save for the AC adapter and USB charging cable, as well as a small quick start guide. You won't find a lot of extras with the Fire HD 10, so you'll still need to find a pair of earbuds or headphones if you typically like to use them with your device. The good news is that this is an Amazon tablet, so you can bet Amazon also makes it super simple to purchase any accessories that you may want or need that aren't bundled with the device.
Hardware & Build
When it comes to the hardware and the build materials for the Fire HD 10, nothing about it screams premium, but it is built nicely and feels comfortable to hold which are two things that are nearly as important as a premium feel. Amazon also boasts that the Fire HD 10 is almost 2x more durable than the iPad Air 2. Whether or not that is true is something we weren't able to test as I don't have an iPad Air 2, but it's also not something I would not have been willing to test either as dropping tech makes me cringe. The Fire HD 10 is made of a light yet durable soft touch plastic and comes in either black or white. When holding the tablet in portrait mode the sides are completely free of any buttons. On the left side you'll find dual stereo speakers, (more on this in a bit), and on the right side you'll find the microSD card slot. Up on top you'll find the volume rocker and power button, as well as the 3.5mm audio port for plugging in earbuds or headphones and the micro USB charging port.
What makes this a nice design make up is that both speakers are either on the top or the bottom depending on how you hold it when viewing in landscape mode, which means the speakers aren't resting under your hands during any sort of media consumption. This helps the speakers perform at their absolute best and allow the user to hear the sound as best as possible since they aren't being muffled, which is a common issue with other tablets. This particular detail made games and video much more enjoyable as you generally hold the tablet in landscape mode during either of these two activities. When reading, the speakers likely aren't being used so there's no problem there. On the front of the device you'll find the 720p camera towards the top of the device, and over on the back you'll find the rear facing 5MP camera in the top left corner as well as the Amazon logo in the center.
Performance & Memory
Considering the hardware, I wasn't expecting the Fire HD 10 to be a top performer. In most cases the tablet did just fine with little to no lag or stutter when moving through menus or the different tabs (pages) of the homescreen. Anytime I downloaded anything though and tried to continue browsing through stuff on the tablet, even a smaller app, I encountered a jittery hiccup every few swipes while the download was in progress. This kind of lag in performance didn't give me much hope for gaming which tends to be my primary use for a tablet. Even installing apps felt like a slow process, as it took nearly a full minute to install Vainglory after the app files were downloaded from the Amazon app store. Mind you this was not the actual download process nor the download and installation of extra files after opening the game, rather the act of installing the downloaded apk file.
Once all the game files were downloaded and installed though it mostly played without a hitch. The only real issue I ran into was that of my WiFi router being tempremental which caused server connection issues for Vainglory as it is an online game. There was a bit of sutter once in a great while but otherwise gaming performance was fine. Vainglory is also a fairly intensive game when it comes to graphics, and although the visuals were definitely scaled down automatically, it ran fine, meaning most casual games should play perfectly, which are likely to be the types of games most people would play in something like the Fire HD 10 as hardcore gamers who enjoy mobile gaming would probably opt for something more powerful. With that said, just because Vainglory ran just fine on this device, does not mean every single game which comes with higher-end 3D visuals is going to perform the same. If you're looking for a top of the line mobile gaming experience on a tablet, look elsewhere. In addition to this, multitasking proved to be mediocre as more apps opened up means more RAM being used, and there isn't exactly a lot of that to go around on the Fire HD 10.
Normally when reviewing a device we like to get the benchmark tests done to paint a picture of what to expect for the performance during everyday use. Although benchmarks will mean less to the user experience than real-world use, they can give you an idea of how things will feel. The interesting thing about this with the Fire HD 10 is neither 3D Mark, nor Antutu seemed to work on the tablet even after many attempts, despite installing them from Amazon's app store, so we weren't able to test for graphics or for the general performance through AnTuTu. We were able to test Geekbench 3 though and just as expected the Fire HD 10 came out with fairly average scores. Not terrible, not great, simply average. If you're interested in checking out the scores you can view the screenshots which we've added in below.
Amazon boasts up to 8 hours of mixed-use battery life with the Fire HD 10 and this is right around what I was expecting during my own personal time with it. Up to 8 hours of battery use is nothing spectacular, especially in an age where somer tablets are capable of lasting for a full day before needing a recharge. This makes daily use a little disappointing if for whatever reason you'll be away from a power source to charge it for longer than that time period, and for a tablet that's built around media consumption that isn't a good thing. While I wasn't able to run any sort of battery test through Geekbench 3 as we do with other Android devices (this is due to the fact that Geekbench 3 downloaded from the Amazon app store lacks the battery test feature for some reason), I was able to get around 9 hours of battery life during real-world use while doing things like web browsing, streaming music in the background and running a movie a couple of times as well as a little bit of light reading. When it comes down to it 8 hours for the average user is going to be fine, but if you're a power user or you want to be able to use your tablet continuously throughout the day you'll likely end up a little disappointed in this area. The short of it is that if you want to be able to use the Fire HD 10 for longer than 8 or 9 hours, you'll either need to carry the charger with you and plug in at some point during the day, or carry an external battery pack to keep you topped up.
Amazon's Android-powered devices have always run a forked version of the software, with the latest version being Fire OS 5 based on Android 5.1 Lollipop. This is what you can expect on the Fire HD 10 out of the box. If you've ever used any of the previous Amazon tablets it won't be much different here even though the OS has been updated. Familiar elements are still present like the navigation to all your stuff through a series of tabs laid out as homescreen pages, with headers located towards the top denoting each tab's purpose. One thing users will immediately notice is that Amazon puts purchases front and center. Users will even be greeted by purchase from the lockscreen. As soon as you hit the power button to wake the device you're presented with a random offer or advertisement for an app or game, and these change upon putting the screen to sleep and waking it back up again. Alternatively, there is also a small button in the bottom left corner of the lockscreen which takes you to all of the currently available offers. Putting it simply, Amazon makes buying as easy as possible for the user so should they want to buy stuff they really don't have to try very hard.Beyond this, the software is pretty easy to use as everything else is front and center as well. Fire OS may not be as customizable as Android, but Amazon does make using the tablet simple for everyone by making everything accessible. Getting the app store is easy and once you have some apps downloaded, they appear on the main home screen for later use.
Beyond this, the software is pretty easy to use as everything else is front and center as well. Fire OS may not be as customizable as regular Android, but Amazon does make using the tablet simple for everyone by making everything accessible. Getting the app store is easy and once you have some apps downloaded, they appear on the main home screen for later use. Familiar Android traits are present too, like the Lollipop style navigation buttons, a recents screen where you can swipe away currently opened apps, pages, etc., and the notification shade resides in the same place as it might on something like the Nexus 9, so getting to settings, seeing your notifications, and access different user profiles should feel no different if you already use another Android device running Lollipop forward.
Although you can still only have one Amazon account registered to a device at a time, you can set up multiple user profiles for people to sign in and out of at their leisure as is customary for Lollipop tablets and smartphones. This makes it a great device for families as everyone can set up their own profile with their own apps, books, and other content. Amazon has also built in a native feature to minimize the blue light emitted by the display, called "blue shade," which is accessible right from the notification pull down panel in the quick settings menu. As blue light can mess with your ability to fall asleep, and plenty of people tend to read more on tablets at night, Amazon has integrated blue shade to help people enjoy things like books without lessening their chances at sleep. This is similar to the new night light mode in Play Books which auto adjusts to the time of day to cancel out blue light as time goes on, although you can turn on Blue Shade at any point no matter what you're doing and not just when you're reading. Amazon's Mayday support is also built-in allowing users to get personalized help for the device from an Amazon tech advisor, which is sure to come in handy for quite a few people.
Amazon designed the Fire HD 10 with the speaker placement in such a way that the audio isn't impeded by being covered up or muffled by your hands. This is brilliant for video and games. That's about where the brilliance stops though, as the audio quality is not that great and begins to get less and less clear even with the volume turned up only half way. To the tablet's credit the audio does get quite loud, making the audio easier to hear from a further distance which is great if you're cooking or doing some cleaning around the house and you're streaming music. If you're holding the device though the distortion becomes more apparent since the speakers are closer to you. This may not bother you if you don't care for top quality audio, and so long as you know what to expect out of the device in the sound department you may not be disappointed. If however, you either consider yourself an audiophile or you're just looking for more a clear sound for enjoying content, the Fire HD 10 probably isn't going to cut it for you. Sadly, this isn't what I was expecting out of a tablet which costs $229. Sure, compromises need to be made to keep the device cost down, but comparing this to the NVIDIA SHIELD K1 tablet which costs $29 less and has great audio, you wouldn't expect the audio quality to take such a dive when a less expensive device can deliver a better sounding experience.
With a 5MP camera on board you shouldn't be expecting any fantastic images to come out of the device. However, having a camera available at all is better than nothing in the event you don't have something else on you to capture the moment. That's assuming the smartphone that is always on your person has a dead battery and you just so happend to have this on you as well. When it comes down to it, camera quality on the Fire HD 10 is pretty terrible. Photos tend to come out grainy no matter the lighting situation, although much less so when there is enough natural light. There is also no optical image stabilization included so you'll need to make sure you hold the tablet extremely still in order to get the clearest picture possible with no blur. Normally this wouldn't be too much of an issue, but because of the size of the tablet holding it still can be difficult.
You can mostly forget about low light shots entirely as you will be hard pressed to get any decent photos worth showing off, as the subjects end up too dark with little detail. There are a few different camera options availabler to you if you plan on using it, including Amazon's "best shot" option which takes a essentially takes two photos and picks the best one for you. There is also an HDR mode you can enable, although it isn't really worth using since the camera doesn't really capture enough detail to pull off the true beauty one can get from HDR images. Lastly there's also a panorama mode if you want to capture larger landscapes that you can fit all in one frame. What's nice in all of this is that Amazon's camera app will recommend when you should enable HDR mode, so at least there's that. The capture quality isn't the worst part about the camera, as that title goes to the extended period of time it takes for the camera to take the picture. This more times than not is liable to make you miss whatever it is you're tyrying to take a picture of, which defeats the purpose of having the camera in the first place. Overall, there's nothing special about the camera on the Fire HD 10 and you'd be better off relying on your smartphone or a less expensive point and shoot for pictures.
Big screen is great for watching movies and tv
Comes with free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime
Games ran fine without much issue
Easy access to all of Amazon's content, products etc which is great if you frequently shop via Amazon
Battery life is sub par
Audio quality could be much better
screen quality isn't great which is all the more noticeable due to the size of the display
No Play Store which means less apps, although the Amazon app store is growing
Constant offers and advertisements being displayed anytime you wake the screen can quickly become annoying, making the experience feel a little bit obtrusive
Lower memory causes stuttering issues with performance
Camera quality is terrible with poor low light performance
Amazon's range of Fire tablets have been quite popular, and although the most recent models like the Fire HD 10 haven't been out for more than a few months, they're likely to follow the same trend. They offer up a decent experience for those who tend to get more average use out of tablet, and when that usage ends up being focused more on things like music, books, video, and web browsing. Although the Fire HD 10 is capable of playing some games, it won't substitute for a high-end gaming tablet and as such should not be your choice if you're looking to get the best of the best for mobile gaming performance.
Should you buy the Fire HD 10?
That depends on what it is you're looking for. If all you want is something to read your Kindle books and watch some video content here and there with the occasional game, and if you're already invested into the Amazon ecosystem, i.e. Prime instant video, shopping on Amazon, etc., then this is a great tablet to have, although keep in mind you can pick up the Fire HD 8, Fire HD 6, and all new Fire for much less than this model. You won't save as much with the Fire HD 10 as you will Amazon's other tablet offerings, but it does come with the largest display out of the four mentioned and if this is a factor then you can't go wrong with it. Also consider though that you can pick up other tablets in the same price range which offer better specs, better performance, and a better user experience, with the Google Play Store and a larger offering of apps. The SHIELD K1 is a great example coming in at $199. When it comes down to it, you'll want to weight out your options on whether or not this is the tablet best suited for your needs and wants. It's worth mentioning that this would be a great step up for anyone who is using a traditional Kindle e-reader.