Review: Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

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Opening up the Amazon Fire HD 10 will tell you everything you need to know about it. It doesn’t come in an immaculate white box, like an iPad or fancy Galaxy tablet, and there is no lid that makes that pleasant suction sound as you gently lift it, revealing a glass and metal slab so pristine it could part the heavens. Nope—my Fire HD 10 came in a cardboard pouch.

Like a FedEx box, you simply tear a tab off and yank out your brand-new Fire. But hey, that’s OK. This full-size tablet costs $150, and for that price, I wouldn’t mind if it came in a Ziploc bag. If Amazon drops the price any further, the next one might.

There is no room for highfalutin’ design on a tablet this cheap, and if you’ve ever used an Amazon Fire before, you probably know that. Aside from hands-free Alexa, a small bump in speed (30 percent, Amazon says), and an HD 1,920 x 1,200 pixel screen, the “All New” Fire HD 10 looks and feels identical to the 2015 version, with a lower price. The prices of these Android slates keep plummeting. The high-end versions of Amazon’s Fire tablets were nearly $400 a few years ago, but dropped to $230, and now we’re at $150.

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017)

7/10

Wired

$150 is a remarkable price. It’s the easiest way to consume all things Amazon. Hands-free Alexa rocks. Battery life is comparable to any tablet. The MicroSD slot is helpful if you run out of space. The stereo speakers sound great.

Tired

App selection is limited, and there’s no easy access to the Google Play store. Runs an outdated version of Android. The screen noticeably washes out at some angles. The processing power, cameras, and design leave a lot to be desired.

How We Rate

  • 1/10A complete failure in every way
  • 2/10Sad, really
  • 3/10Serious flaws; proceed with caution
  • 4/10Downsides outweigh upsides
  • 5/10Recommended with reservations
  • 6/10Solid with some issues
  • 7/10Very good, but not quite great
  • 8/10Excellent, with room to kvetch
  • 9/10Nearly flawless
  • 10/10Metaphysical perfection

The Fire HD 10 is not a powerful tablet, and features like a front and rear camera are present, but only out of obligation. The plasticky, simple design doesn’t stand out, but it doesn’t detract. It’s built to serve you all things Amazon Prime, and that’s exactly what it does.

Watch. Read. Listen. Play. Shop.

Chances are, if you’re interested in an Amazon tablet, you’re already an Amazon Prime member. Prime may have started as $100-per-year service that gave you free two-day shipping on purchases, but these days it gives you access to thousands of movies, original TV shows, music, books, and games. The list of Amazon Prime perks might surprise you, and most of them at least sound cool, even if you don’t take advantage of them. I sure don’t. Free restaurant delivery? OK, awesome. Free Audible content? I’m actually trying that out now. These days, you can even buy cheaper avocados at Whole Foods with Prime.

This tablet doesn’t come with discounted avocados, but the HD 10 will let you devour Amazon’s digital services like they’re guacamole at brunch. Though they run on Google’s Android operating system (I have to wonder why Amazon is still peddling Android Lollipop, a 3-year-old version of Android), Fire tablets are purpose-built to serve up videos and media from Amazon’s library. On top of the smartphone-like homescreen with app icons that you’re used to, you can swipe through pages for every type of content Amazon sells, all custom-targeted to your liking.

If Amazon’s algorithms don’t cater to your needs enough, and you want to shun its services to download Netflix, Spotify, a game, or another app, you’ll have to do so through its Amazon Appstore. Prepare yourself for some disappointment. I couldn’t find many games or apps of substance outside of the basics. Google apps like Docs and Keep, for instance, are nonexistent. But there are enough tools and games to keep you occupied in between episodes of those funny, heart-wrenching Amazon Originals like Transparent and One Mississippi.

Automatic Downloads and Alexa

Supposedly, the Fire HD 10 auto-downloads offline copies of new episodes and movies for you with a background service called On Deck, though it left me high and dry on a recent weekend Amtrak trip. Alexa, I’m disappointed. Let’s hope you know me better next time I lose Wi-Fi access.

But I can’t stay mad at Alexa. As ubiquitous as Amazon’s new voice assistant is becoming, I can’t get enough of Fire HD 10’s hands-free Alexa feature. Just like an Amazon Echo, this Fire tablet will let you speak all the basic commands out of the box, and add specialized skills. For kicks, I installed an Alexa Skill that lets it quiz me on my Star Trek knowledge. Sadly, even though I’m a die-hard Trek fan, it turns out I’m dumber than a Pakled—I got a 1/3 on today’s quiz.

It will cost you another $40, but you should also pick up Amazon’s standing case, especially if you’re like me and habitually stave off sleep by binge-watching anything you can find. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of valuable binging moments searching for something to prop up your slippery plastic Fire. Be warned, though. The magnetic standing feature on the case is tricky. After 10 minutes of complete frustration, I was overjoyed when I finally got it to stand up properly. The ape-caveman probably felt the same way when he found a bone for the first time in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s worth noting that the 10-inch display in the Fire HD 10 is good, but when you use the case’s cover to stand it up, its limited viewing angles become obvious. Also, since the tablet lacks a high-quality coated glass cover, this thing gets covered in finger oil fast.

The iPad in the Room

If you want a stellar tablet at an affordable price, the new iPad only costs $330 and it’s a more capable tablet when it comes to apps, processing power, and build quality. But, if you’re living deep in Amazon’s jungle, the Fire HD 10 is a much cheaper alternative that still has some extra niceties. The big 10-inch screen is excellent for watching videos. The stereo speakers with Dolby Audio put the Fire’s sound quality up there with iPad, and the MicroSD slot for memory expansion is something Apple’s pricier tablets sorely lack.

High-end tablets run circles around Amazon’s Fire HD 10, and it’s no work of art, but it gets the job done. At $150, that’s good enough for me.

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