On December 28, Amazon Digital Day, my significant balance in Amazon Christmas gift cards finally happened to coincide with a sale price I’d been waiting for. Today, my purchase arrived, and I’m enjoying playing with (and, indeed, typing this very blog post on) my new 32 GB Amazon Fire HD 10.
I had it in mind to do a thorough review, but in fact there isn’t a whole lot that’s new to review. But for the larger screen size, better resolution, and bigger on-board storage, this is effectively the same tablet as the Fire HD 8 I got last year. And you already know how I felt about that one.
The HD 10 is, in every way that counts, simply a bigger Fire. It’s got the same quality of cameras and speakers, the same launcher and app store, the same SD card capability. And it’s got the same capacity to be upgraded with the Google Play services and a new launcher.
Those were, in fact, the first things I did on getting the tablet: I went back to my old instructional posts on installing Google Play, registering the tablet with Google, and installing the new launcher—and they worked like a charm. I did notice that I needed to run Google Play before I was able to obtain the Google Services ID number, and updated that post accordingly; I also had to reboot a couple of times during the Launcherhijack process but found that the current version, 4.0.2, does work just fine with this current Fire.
After that, it was just a matter of re-downloading all the apps I’m currently using from the Google Play Store (or, in a couple of cases, Amazon—for some reason, the current Google Play version of Netflix isn’t compatible with the Fire, but Amazon’s version is), and reorganizing them in the Google Now launcher. Before too long, my HD 10 was set up in the same way as my HD 8.
I noticed that the Inbox app still doesn’t work properly, so I’ll still be using the built-in Mail app, but I guess that’s not too bad. One other thing that’s a bit annoying is that the swipe-left “Google Now” panel of the Google Now Launcher doesn’t seem to work. This may have something to do with how Google is reportedly in the process of killing off the Google Now Launcher; I’m not sure. The functionality is duplicated within the Google app, of course, but I did like having it at my fingertips for a finger swipe. Perhaps I’ll look into one of the alternate launchers that can apparently be customized to have a Google Now panel. The launcher I have works well enough for me for now, though.
One other observation is that the lock screen doesn’t seem to be showing ads yet. I’m not sure that’s going to last, though—it may be that they load the ads once a day so I wouldn’t get them until tomorrow. If they do appear, I’ll try contacting Amazon support and seeing if they can disable them for free just as they did for my other two Fires. [Update: The ads did indeed show up the next day, but all I had to do was open a support chat to Amazon and request they be disabled, and a helpful Amazon representative made a “one-time exception” to the $15 fee for me.]
How is the HD 10 for e-reading? Terrific! It’s got a large, clear, high-resolution display, so ebooks on its built-in Kindle and “Docs” apps look just fine—and so do ebooks on Nook, Google Play Books, or any other sideloaded e-reading app. And the large size of the screen means that PDFs are generally legible, too, if you read them a page at a time. They’re only about 80% the size of the original printed page (if the original printed page was 8.5″ x 11″), but unless the book is in fine print it’s usually easy enough to read.
The tablet also does well at playing movies on its 1080p high-definition screen. The sound from the miniscule built-in stereo speakers is necessarily a little tinny, but still audible in a quiet room—and there are always the earphone jack or Bluetooth if you need to hear a little better. The screen’s 16:9 form factor makes it ideally suited for video applications. Of course, a fatter screen like the iPad’s or Teclast‘s might make for a better form factor for e-reading, but 16:9 is good enough without wasting more screen real estate than necessary for people who do want to watch movies. And Amazon probably realizes watching video media is going to be the Fire’s main use for more people than reading is.
The HD 10 doesn’t have all the super-fancy gimmicks that the latest versions of Android do, such as a split-screen function. But it’s got all the tablet basics adequately covered. For browsing the web, its own native Silk browser and add-ons like Chrome, Brave, or Flynx all work just fine. It can run most of the standard social networking and chat apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, and Skype. For watching movies, Amazon offers access to its own Prime videos, Netflix, and Hulu without even having to sideload Google, plus when you sideload Google you get access to whatever’s there too. As I already mentioned, ebooks and e-reading work just fine, or news reading via its own Washington Post app, Flipboard, or an RSS reader. And as for all those more advanced features it might lack, its low $150 price (or $100 if you wait for one of Amazon’s frequent sales or buy a refurb) is ample compensation for doing without.
I honestly think the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 are two of the best Android tablet values available today, from a price versus feature standpoint. They’d be perfect for grade schoolers’ first tablets, or as useful Internet and media terminals for thrifty college students. Small wonder that e-ink readers’ usage is declining, with inexpensive tablets like these available. As I’ve noted before, affordable tablets like this can go a long way toward substituting for desktop computers, for people who lack access to them.
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