The 10in Fire is the last of Amazon’s tablets to get its 2017 update, but last doesn’t mean least. The changes are much more significant than the £49.99 7in model.
Now you get a full HD screen, a noticeably faster processor, more RAM, better speakers and hands-free Alexa.
If your only experience of Alexa was on a device where you have to press a button before you can speak then the difference in convenience is huge. Even if the tablet is locked you can still say “Alexa, add washing-up liquid to my shopping list”.
Amazon Fire HD 10: Price
The Fire HD 10 starts at £149.99 and that gets you 32GB of storage with the potential to add up to 256GB more via a microSD card. You’ll still have to pay an extra tenner when ordering if you don’t want adverts for books, apps and films on the locks screen, but that goes for all Amazon tablets.
There’s a 64GB version which costs £179.99 and both are available in black, red and blue. For some reason, there’s no yellow option as with the other sizes.
As this one isn’t really aimed at kids there’s no dedicated Kid’s Edition.
Amazon Fire HD 10: Features and design
Design-wise the 2017 tablet looks much like its predecessor. It’s a couple of millimetres thicker and 68g heavier, which isn’t ideal, but most people will be happy with the extra two hours of battery life.
When held portrait the power button is top right and the volume top left, with the speakers on the left-hand side.
But those are there so they give you decent stereo sound for watching videos and playing games in landscape mode. Amazon says they’re Dolby tuned, but although vocals come through loud and clear there’s still a distinct lack of bass so you’ll prefer to connect headphones or a better quality speaker (perhaps via Bluetooth) for listening to music. There’s a standard headphone jack, too.
The unashamedly plastic build might turn some off, but the HD 10 doesn’t feel flimsy at all. If you really don’t like it, stick it in a case and the plastic goes away.
Although screens on Fire tablets have been decent for a while now, this one is clearly the best. The Full HD resolution means it’s sharper and more detailed than any other Fire Tablet, and it has great colours and wide viewing angles. If there’s any weakness it’s that it isn’t hugely bright, but in most conditions it’s perfectly fine.
You can’t expect iPad-like performance for £149 but the HD 10 holds up well for general use. The quad-core processor is 30 percent quicker than last year’s model, but a better comparison is to the Fire HD 7, if only to illustrate that it’s not merely the same innards and a bigger screen.
The Fire HD 7 is underpowered, but the HD 10 isn’t not bad at all. In Geekbench 3 (the latest version available on the Amazon Appstore) it scores 2509. That’s more than twice as fast as the HD 7 which got only 1170.
Those scores are when using all four cores. Not all apps are written to do that and it’s when an app uses only one core that the HD 10 feels a lot quicker than the 7. In Geekbench 3’s single-core test, the scores 1503 (higher than the HD 7’s multicore score) and the 7 manages a paltry 360.
Graphics prowess isn’t so great. Running GFXBench revealed that the HD 10 can’t even manage 30 frames per second in the old T-Rex test (it scores 21fps) and fell below 5fps on average in the Manhattan 3.1 test.
It means that you’re not going to see stunning graphics in the most demanding games. However, there’s more than enough power for casual games such as Jetpack Joyride and Monument Valley.
Overall, performance is fair for the price – just don’t expect the snappy, lag-free experience you’ll get with the latest flagship tablets.
Battery life is in line with Amazon’s claims of 10 hours’ mixed use, and it takes about 3.5 hours to recharge from empty using the included 9W charger.
Bizarrely, Amazon has downgraded the cameras. So while last year’s tablet had a 5Mp camera, it’s now a 2Mp camera. And at the front you get a 0.3Mp VGA selfie camera.
Aside from the woeful quality, they’re close to useless in low light and have a very narrow field of view. This is as much of St Pancras as fits into the frame – most cameras have a lens that allows the whole building to fit.
It’s similar with the selfie camera – you’ll have to be further back that you think for a Skype call. Here’s what you can expect in terms of selfie quality:
Alexa’s capabilities are constantly improving and on the Fire HD 10, she can do useful things such as opening apps, searching for videos, changing the volume and playing music.
However, unlike Google’s Assistant, she’s not great at answering more general questions such as “Did England qualify for the world cup this year?”. Also, it’s a shame she can’t adjust the screen brightness on the tablet as well as volume.
There is a lot she can do but it helps to know what she can and can’t do and how best to phrase questions. It’s easy to control video playback, including skipping forward or backwards by a certain number of seconds or minutes, or jumping to a certain point by saying “Alexa, skip to 23 minutes”.
And like the Echo devices, you can set volume by saying “Alexa, volume six”. However, we noticed a slightly longer delay in responding to requests than with the Echo.
This could have been down to a patchy internet connection, but it merely highlights that some on-screen or spoken response is needed to tell you that she’s dealing with your request instead of continuing to show the ‘I’m listening’ blue bar at the bottom of the screen.
It’s useful having the option to enable or disable Alexa when the tablet is locked, and we also like the toggle control that’s shown when you drag down from the top of the screen – handy if you want to mute Alexa quickly to stop her listening for the wake word.
With the big screen, it’s also nice that Alexa will respond to some requests with full-screen ‘cards’. When you ask about the weather, for example, you’ll see the forecast on screen for the next week. For some reason, these showed temperature in Fahrenheit on our tablet, even though Alexa’s spoken response is in Celcius.
We’d like to see the range of sports scores expanded as the only UK-specific things you can ask about are football and cricket.
If you like, you can even use Alexa to buy things from Amazon just as you can with an Echo. And – usefully – you can require a spoken password to prevent others from ordering stuff.
Fire OS, which is based on Android 5.1.1, continues to improve. The HD 10 obviously runs the latest version of Fire OS and it can now do things such as restoring your apps and home screen layout from a previous Fire tablet.
It will also automatically set up user accounts to match your Amazon account, which means you’ll see all your purchased content as soon as you log in.
Replacing the ‘Recent’ screen is ‘For you’. This is essentially an improved Recent screen where you’ll see recently used apps, app suggestions and also the ability to resume a video you’re halfway through.
The whole system is designed to make it very easy to consume content – after all Amazon wants you to buy or rent videos from its Prime Video service, read books from its Kindle store and download apps and games from the Amazon Appstore.
Whenever Alexa doesn’t understand a question, she’ll either open the web browser on a Bing search page for your query or – just as often – fire up the Amazon shop and show items you might want to buy.
There are third-party versions of YouTube, but because this isn’t really an Android device you won’t find any of the official Google apps, nor can your download and install them. Instead, you’ll have to use (and sometimes buy) apps to access Gmail and other Google services, or use Amazon’s equivalents.
A lot of the big names are on the Appstore, including Netflix, iPlayer, Sky Go, Facebook, Messenger, Viber and more, but some aren’t, such as Whatsapp, Nest and Photoshop.
Should I buy a Fire HD 10?
There are two ways to look at the HD 10. One is that it’s £70 more expensive than the HD 8, which itself costs only £79.99.
Sure, that tablet doesn’t have hands-free Alexa or a full-HD screen but you could almost buy two for the price of one HD 10.
The other is that it’s good value for a 10in tablet with a full HD screen and hands-free Alexa. It’s hard to think of another 10in tablet at this price that offers a decent 1920 x 1080 screen.
And if you’re worried that Amazon might add hands-free Alexa to its cheaper tablets, that’s unlikely to happen. They don’t have the same processing power as the HD 10, which was beefed up specifically to allow owners to call upon the assistant.