In the four years since Amazon introduced its first tablet, the Fire has received several major upgrades. Each one has tweaked both hardware and software, gradually bringing the range to a place where it can feasibly compete with vanilla Android devices. The latest comes in the shape of the Fire HD 10, the biggest yet thinnest Fire tablet yet. It’s also the first to run FireOS 5.0, the latest build of Amazon’s custom fork of Android.
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Before we get around to that though there’s been a couple of additional options for the Amazon Fire HD 10. Just announced has been an aluminium-bodied version, with an all-metal chassis and finish to match. We haven’t seen the tablet itself yet, though we have one coming to us in the next few weeks, and so can’t comment on how it matches up to Apple’s much-respected designs but we’re eager to see just what Amazon can do on the very limited budget constraints of the HD 10.
Also available is a new 64GB version of the tablet, to sit alongside the existing 16GB and 32GB versions. Priced at £170, £200 and £230 respectively, you get a whole extra 32GB of storage for your extra money by moving from 32GB to 64GB. It has to be said, though, that the tablet has a micro SD slot for expanding the storage by up to 128GB already, so it’s a lot to pay for the convenience of more built-in storage.
Previous versions of FireOS did everything possible to disguise the fact that Google’s operating system was running underneath all the oversized shortcuts, app shelves and links to various Amazon web stores, but version 5.0 takes a more simplified approach. While books, videos, games, music and the Amazon homepage are still just a few swipes away, the default home screen now contains all your installed apps in a familiar grid layout. Even the notification area, recent apps carousel and navigation buttons have been left as their defaults, clearly indicating that the Fire HD 10 is running Android 5.0 Lollipop underneath its Amazon skin.
You can even change the wallpaper now, and arrange apps into folders, but that’s as far as customisation goes. There’s still no way to add widgets, and of course without Google Play on board, there’s no way to add any of Google’s own apps. Thankfully Amazon has added its own Maps app, filling a clear void left by the exclusion of Google maps, but there’s no official YouTube app, no way to edit documents through Google Drive, and you’re forced to use Amazon’s Silk web browser over Chrome. Amazon’s app store is far more fleshed out than it has been in previous years, but there are still a fair few omissions, including Instagram, BT Sport and Sky Go.
That being said, Amazon’s Instant Video, Music and Kindle apps are all packed with content, assuming you’re a Prime subscriber, and are all integrated with the Bing-powered search bar on the home screen to make finding content a little easier.
It’s a shame, then, that the Fire HD 10 feels sluggish as soon as you try to do anything with it. Some Amazon apps take several seconds to load, and others downloaded from the app store simply crash or hang on launch. Closing an app and returning to the home screen, or bringing up the recent apps list after switching between multiple apps often forced the entire screen to re-draw too. The quad-core Mediatek processor runs at up to 1.5GHz, and with 1GB of RAM it should be more than capable of handling basic tasks – its performance here is rather disappointing, even considering the Fire HD 10’s budget price.
Bizarrely, this doesn’t come across when browsing media-heavy websites, as the Silk browser was surprisingly smooth until you zoom into a page. The Peacekeeper browser benchmark would crash consistently, but GeekBench and GFXBench 3 were more stable. In the former, a single core score of 773 is slightly behind Tesco’s Hudl 2, but 1512 in the multi-core test is almost 25% slower than Tesco’s tablet.
Gaming isn’t exactly the Fire HD 10’s strong suit either, as a score of 659, or 11fps in the GFX Bench 3 Manhattan test will confirm. This is around 200 points behind the Hudl 2, and significantly behind Google’s similarly-priced Nexus 9. It failed to run the offscreen test, citing a lack of memory, and it didn’t meet the minimum specification for Blizzard’s Hearthstone either. While it was still playable, it took several minutes to load and gameplay wasn’t quite as smooth as on the Nexus 9.
Amazon claims the Fire HD 10 should last for up to eight hours with day-to-day use, which largely matched the Expert Reviews video rundown test. With the display brightness set to 170cd/m2, it managed a little over nine hours of continuous use – a fairly run of the mill result that again falls behind the Nexus 9, which managed an excellent 12 hours 31 minutes.
The Fire HD 10 might be the largest Amazon tablet to date, but the 10.1in display isn’t exactly show stopping. With a lowly 1,280×800 resolution, equating to a miserly pixel density of 149 pixels-per-inch (PPI), it’s easy to spot individual pixels long before you get uncomfortably close to the screen. It makes small text look fuzzy and means there’s not a lot of detail when looking at images. The IPS panel and polarising filter work together to reduce screen glare and create impressive viewing angles, but the Fire HD 10 pales in comparison to the Nexus 9 when the two tablets are sat side-by-side.
At least colour accuracy was reasonable considering the price, with an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 81.8%. A contrast ratio of 861:1 was respectable as well, although black levels were disappointingly high at 0.43cd/m2. Darker images looked grey rather than black, unless you drop the brightness significantly. A peak brightness of 374.9cd/m2 is just about high enough to use outdoors, but still falls behind other similarly-priced Android tablets. The screen is also incredibly reflective, so direct sunlight makes it difficult to see anything.
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