Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fire HD 10 review: A tablet defined by its screen

Overall, the Fire HD 10 is the best tablet Amazon released since taking the budget route. Take away the cameras, many vendors match Amazon's specifications, at a similar price, but few, if any, offer similar screen quality and 32GB storage in its base configuration.

Display & Storage

Based on the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update (late 2016), I was expecting a lacklustre screen with the Fire HD 10 2017, to keep the cost low, and still offer a full HD resolution (the 6th generation Fire HD 8 came with a downgraded screen and cameras). Instead, I was surprised with the Fire HD 10's display - the colours are vibrant and contrast is very good. However, similar to the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update, there is a downgrade in build quality, drastic downgrade in camera quality and added weight to the device. The downgrades are worthwhile, as you get a better screen, better battery life, more RAM, faster processor and twice the entry level storage. To compare, the 16 GB 5th generation Fire HD 10 (released late 2015) cost £170 and this generation's 32 GB costs £150. 

The extra storage options is part of Amazon's Fire tablet strategy: a family-centric medium to access Amazon's services and Prime content. As these tablets are targeted as family devices then the extra storage is meant for offline content for multiple users. For example, the 7th generation Fire HD 8 is near identical to the previous generation but offers extra expandable SD Card storage (the tablet supports up to 256GB expandable storage).

Build Quality, Performance & Battery Life

The device's design and build quality, keeping with the general ethos of Fire tablets, is utilitarian. The plastic back-casing feels solid in the hand and the tablet does not feel flimsy. Unfortunately, similar to the Fire HD 8, the Fire HD 10 is no light tablet. The weight is close to 500 Grams and the heft is clearly felt. Further, added to the weight, this is no compact device with large bezels at the top and bottom. 

Performance is good: the Fire HD 10 opens applications instantly, there is hardly any lag and multi-tasking is handled comfortably. Battery life is advertised as 'up to 10 hours' and from consistent use that seems to be the best-case scenario (low brightness and non-intensive tasks e.g. e-reading); in reality, with mixed use, expect closer to eight hours. The Fire HD 10 is the fastest performing Fire tablet but the Fire HD 8's battery life lasts longer. 

Fire OS

I like Fire OS 5.6: it is a heavily modified version of Android 5 Lollipop that doesn't come with Android's large footprint. Thus, more storage space is available 'out-of-the-box' with less bloat and space taken with built-in system applications that push Google services. The down-side is that the Fire OS doesn't come with Google Play. Amazon's app store does offer a good range of applications but is inferior to Google Play's catalogue. Further, many key applications are missing, including Google's suite of applications. However, it is possible, even for the novice user, to install Google Play on the tablet (the process doesn't take more than ten minutes).

At the moment, the Fire HD 10 is the only Amazon tablet that supports Alexa hands free. This means Alexa can be activated by voice alone. Pair the tablet to a Bluetooh speaker and the device offers the functionality of an Echo device. 

The Negatives

As is the case with Amazon's tablets there are corners cut to keep the cost low. The Fire HD 10 is no different and the biggest downgrade in this iteration, other than build materials and weight, is the Fire HD 10's cameras. There is a back 2MP camera and front-facing VGA camera; the VGA camera is just about serviceable for Skype calls and the back camera is better not used at all. I tried to photo scan a printed document, in good conditions, and the result is barely legible.

Despite the negatives, I think Amazon, once again, cut the right corners and produced a very good value tablet. Sacrificing camera quality in a tablet makes sense and this meant Amazon were able to release a tablet with a screen that is above its price category.

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