As promised, deliveries of Amazon’s astoundingly affordable $150 10.1″ Fire HD 10 tablet started arriving on Wednesday – in my case, in a ridiculously large-sized box 50 times larger (yes, I was so curious, I measured) than the tablet buried at the bottom and smothered in plastic filler material.
As an aside, the package was shipped via UPS. UPS charges shippers by volume as well as weight, and this ridiculously outsized box not only will have cost more in the first place (due to all the extra cardboard and then all the filler that had to be placed inside it) but then must have surely cost appreciably/unnecessarily extra to ship. It is stunning that Amazon – a company which is so dependent on efficient shipping – should send out items in such unnecessarily enormous boxes and at such avoidable extra cost. Plus I’ve now got an unwanted big cardboard box to throw away.
After persevering through a disappointing initial experience getting the unit operational, the HD 10 quickly showed its value when placed alongside an iPad Air (costing 3 – 4 times as much) and a Fire HD 8 (costing half as much).
The HD 10 is fast and responsive. It has a clear 1080×1920 screen, and allows you to plug Micro-SD cards into the unit to massively expand its capacity. With convenient integration into the Amazon ecosystem, it also supports the Alexa voice assistant feature, either in an always-on mode like an Echo unit, or activated only when you press and hold the home key on the unit.
If you’re considering a(nother) tablet, then the Fire HD 10 has to be on your short list of possibilities.
First Impressions – Not Good Impressions
Companies these days generally obsess about the ‘opening the box’ experience that customers get when first opening their purchased item. Customers obsess about this too, with bazillions of YouTube videos showing in elaborate detail someone opening up whatever they have bought.
To be sure, there is a new wave of minimalism used to excuse a rejection of some of the most extreme of the one-time excesses in packaging where quite literally the cost of the packaging – something you quickly open up and then usually discard, never to be used again – can match or exceed the cost of the item within. The trend to selling more products online has also reduced the need for store-based ‘eye appeal’ packaging.
But there are some universal considerations, ranging from the trivial but often ignored (the packaging should be easy to open without requiring knives or scissors), to essential (the item should include all items necessary for it to work such as batteries and cables), and common sense (it should be protectively packed, and it should have enough instructions to make it easy and obvious and quick to get the item working).
In the case of Amazon’s Fire HD 10, it seems they’ve hired someone from IKEA to design the out-of-the-box experience. There is a multi-folded ‘instruction sheet’ but without a single word on it, same as you get with IKEA flat-pack furniture. Just little cartoon style illustrations. Really, Amazon – are you selling to people who you don’t think can read? (To be fully fair, the other side of this sheet was full of legal fine print and warnings, of which it could be said Amazon hopes you won’t read.)
The lack of clear instructions was to become an immediate problem. I couldn’t turn the device on. There was absolutely nothing anywhere in the wordless instructions to answer the question ‘why won’t the unit turn on’ and a similar silence when it comes to ‘what is the number for contacting customer support’. Amazon has some type of direct on-device support service which I’ve never clearly understood, but the enormous Catch-22 with whatever that does is a requirement for the device to be on and operating and connected to the internet.
I wondered if perhaps the battery had failed. I connected the tablet to a charging outlet on my Qicent hub, but that didn’t solve the problem, and actually hinted at a new (?) problem – a message appeared on my computer advising that a new USB device had been connected (correct) but had malfunctioned (oops!).
So I found myself forced to play the ‘find the phone number’ game on Amazon’s site. Eventually I found it and soon enough was speaking to a foreign gentleman, presumably in a far away land, and he told me not to worry, I just needed to charge the battery for half an hour or so.
I pointed out to him that every other device I’d received from Amazon or other suppliers always came with the battery somewhere between fully and partially charged, and there was no way that a brand new freshly released product could have had its battery discharge completely in the week or so between manufacture and my receipt of it. I also asked about the error message on the computer, but he said to just wait half an hour and see what happens.
I tried to get him to tell me if this was normal or not. Was this now Amazon policy to ship devices with dead batteries? If so, why, and if so, why not include a note – in English – advising people to charge the unit for 30 minutes before turning it on? Alas, neither these questions nor any responses to them were on his script, so I got nowhere.
As it turned out, he was correct. Half an hour of charging later, and the unit burst into life, revealing that it now had a 1% level of charge.
If this is the new Amazon policy – perhaps a response to valid concerns over shipping large numbers of tablets by air, all with fully charged Li-ion batteries in them, then wouldn’t it be nice to include a little note, with words rather than pictures, advising people of that?
So, my ‘fresh out of the box’ experience scored close to max for unnecessary negativity. A unit that wouldn’t turn on and which gave error messages when connected to a charging cable from my computer, no instructions or advice about this, no information about how to contact support, and then the support experience itself.
A 1/2 cent piece of printed paper included in the kit would have resolved all those problems. If they’d packed it in a smaller box, they could have reallocated some of the unnecessary extra shipping cost and spent it on improving the user experience.
Activating the Amazon Fire HD 10
Once the device came to life, it was relatively easy to activate. Cleverly, Amazon had already configured the device in anticipation of me being its owner/primary user (it is possible to have multiple user accounts on the device, just like on a computer). It offered to auto-restore itself from the most recent backup from my Fire HD 8, which I allowed it to do, but it was not clear exactly what it restored. Most of the third-party programs did not download, indeed, it didn’t even load the books I’d purchased into the Kindle reader program, either.
The typical updates to operating system and other programs then followed, and after refusing its wish to connect to my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and reading through a series of guided tour elements, the device was pretty much good to go.
There was one major decision point to consider. Did I want its Alexa function to be ‘always on’ and waiting/listening for its activation word, or did I want to only activate it selectively by a long press on the home key. This choice was accompanied by a staggeringly long list of permissions Alexa would require in order to work (see image). There are pro’s and con’s to both Alexa settings – I was concerned that having it in an always-on setting might drain the battery more quickly, and there’s the privacy concern as well, but on the other hand, the but a few days of experimentation has shown surprisingly little battery drain from having the Alexa capability on standby and always listening. It does get interesting when I have two or more Alexa devices near me, in terms of which one – or which ones – respond.
A nice aspect of using Alexa on a Kindle, instead of on an Echo, is that sometimes it displays some of the information you ask for. This is true if you’re asking for a weather forecast, but if you’re asking for a recipe, something that clearly benefits from displaying information, there’s no way to do so. Another example of how the Alexa service is being rushed to market with great missing gaps in its feature set.
A couple of things to be aware of. The default name of the device is not necessarily very helpful. It defaulted to the name “David’s Fifth Fire Device”, which did little to identify it from, obviously, four other devices. But it was quick and easy in Settings – Device Options to rename it to “David’s Fire HD 10”.
It didn’t default to having a screen/password lock when you turn the device on. Unless you’re careful not to store any personal information or account details, you probably should add a password/lock to the unit. It was surprising because one would have thought that as part of copying the backup settings from the Fire HD 8 backup it accessed, it would have also taken its password/lock settings.
A quick visit to the Settings – Security page soon fixed that.
I chose the option to get the HD 10 for slightly less money in return for allowing it to show advertisements on the lock screen. This is totally non-intrusive and sometimes interesting. For example, I now see on one such featured promotion, to my astonishment, that there is a these days a Starbucks sponsored television series – Upstanders. The link between coffee and tv programs seems a bit weak, to put it mildly.
The tablet was very snappy and responsive. It was fast to power up, and fast to change programs and screens.
Comparing the HD 10 to Other Tablets
From a visual and tactile perspective, I prefer my iPad Air. The metal on the iPad, rather than high gloss polished plastic on the HD 10, feels and looks nicer, and there’s a greater abstract feeling of ‘quality’ in some elusive form surrounding the iPad.
But an iPad costs two to five times what a Fire HD 10 costs. Do I really want to spend $500 extra for a device that I primarily use to read books and watch video on? So, yes, the iPad is – at least in my opinion – nicer to look at and hold, but the cost issue eclipses the minor degree of extra ‘niceness’.
In terms of performance and actual features and functions, the Fire with its 10.1″ diagonal has a slightly larger screen than a regular iPad with its 9.7″ diagonal, even after adjusting for the different aspect ratios (1.6:1 compared to 1.33:1). The 10.5″ diagonal on the iPad Pro gives it a larger total screen area, but when viewing regular HD video at normal 16:9 aspect ratio, the Fire HD 10 actually displays a larger video image than both the 9.7″ and the 10.5″ iPads.
This is an important plus. You can see the picture here which shows the Fire HD 10 compared to both a 9.7″ iPad and a Fire HD 8.
We also noted that when playing Amazon video, the Fire HD 10 reported it was playing video at full HD 1080 quality, but the iPad only reported HD, which we guess means 720×1280 rather than 1080×1920 resolution. Both images looked good, but the 1080 resolution has more than twice as many pixels of data and image quality on the screen as the lower 720 resolution.
Compared to the Fire HD 8, which was also showing video both in much smaller size and also in the 720 format, the difference was quite clear, as can be seen in the picture. The HD 10 has 60% more screen area.
We noticed the two Amazon tablets had similar Wi-Fi receivers inside them. The HD 10 was slightly better – maybe 3dB – 5dB more sensitive on weaker signals, and (equally useful) it reduced the strength of strong signals (so as not to swamp weaker signals). (Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow apps to directly measure Wi-Fi signal strengths, so we couldn’t compare the HD 10 to an iPad.)
The two Fire tablets both take Micro-SD cards to give them massively expandable capacity to store and play back video and music, whereas the iPads do not. But the iPads do have some things the Fire tablets don’t have – they offer Bluetooth connectivity, fingerprint readers, and much better front and rear cameras.
We understand and admire Amazon’s hard-headed approach to features. Their promise seems to be to provide a tablet at an unbeatable price with a great set of core features, but without the ‘feature creep’ elements added that would inevitably compromise the amazing value they can offer their tablets at.
Do you really need Bluetooth? No, almost certainly not. Is a fingerprint reader worth paying $500 more for? Again, almost certainly not. Do you want to use your tablet rather than phone or camera to take pictures and video with? Again, no.
But if any of these are ‘must have’ features, then you’ll probably choose your tablet based on that feature.
Note also, in our special exclusive Supporters Special report, we also identify another tablet that offers Micro-SD card capability, high quality cameras, plus Bluetooth and a fingerprint reader too. It also includes a GPS unit – not available on the Fire tablets and a $130 option on the iPads. With a price of about $290, this is perhaps the ideal sweet spot between features and price.
If your prime uses are email, social media, web browsing, games, watching video and reading books, get a Fire HD tablet. That’s the absolutely and clearly best value best solution.
Should you get an 8″ or 10″ Fire tablet? For that matter, what about, also, the Fire 7″ tablet?
With the small price difference between the 7″ and 8″ tablets, it is easy to ignore the 7″ tablet. Sure, it is the lowest price, but for only $30 more, you get a massively better and bigger screen on the 8″ tablet.
As between the 8″ and 10″ tablets, both work acceptably well. There is only about 5 ounces extra weight in the larger 10″ tablet, which is almost 2″ longer and 1.3″ wider. As long as you can readily fit the 10.3″ x 6.3″ x 0.4″ dimensions of the larger tablet in your carry-on bag, probably it is the better choice. But if size and weight are both ultra-critical, and price also an issue, you’ll be happy with the 8″ tablet too.
Case/Cover for the HD 10
I’ve not bothered with buying protective covers for my 7″ and 8″ tablets, because the cost of the cover can almost match the cost of the tablet (in the cost of the $50 7″ tablet, particularly when it is discounted down to $40 or lower). But for my expensive iPads, I do have protective covers and on several occasions have dropped them and been grateful of the cover’s protection.
So I think I’ll get a cover for the HD 10, too. At present, there are not many covers to choose from. There are ridiculously expensive $40 covers that Amazon offers, or less expensive covers by Ztotop and Moko. Just be sure that you’re getting a case for a ‘7th Generation/2017 release’ HD 10, not any of the earlier 10″ Fire tablets sold by Amazon.
Amazon now has two great choices if you’re looking for a tablet. The Fire HD 8, priced from $80 and with an 8″ screen, or the Fire HD 10, priced from $150 and with a 10.1″ screen.
The only appreciable difference between them is the larger screen and better resolution on the HD 10 (and necessarily larger overall size), and the difference in price. We’ve always thought the bigger the screen the better, but if you’re seeking a compact unit or trying to keep your spend to the absolute minimum, the HD 8 is a perfectly good choice as well.