The big news this week was supposed to be the Apple iPhone 7 launch (see our commentary and analysis here). Not so widely publicized was Amazon bracketing that event with some much more exciting new product releases of its own.
Earlier in the week Amazon announced amazing low prices to its Prime members for Android based Motorola smart phones, and free trial Prime membership and rebates for non-Prime members so they can effectively get the same prices ($99 for a Moto(rola) G Play phone and $149 for a high end large screened Moto G phone).
These two new phones, at less than one fifth the cost of the new iPhones, pose the unanswerable but essential question – why pay $649 – $1000 for an iPhone when there are almost identical phones for one fifth the price? Most of the main stream media have been so desperately straining to find something nice about the disappointing new iPhones that they’ve overlooked this truly exciting phone news this week.
The New Fire HD 8 Tablet
The day after the Apple iPhone launch, Amazon hammered another nail into the iPad’s coffin. Last year it released a stunningly high value tablet – $49 for a 7″ tablet, and has occasionally even sold it at special prices lower than that.
At the time of releasing the 7″ tablet, there was an uncomfortably large step up in price to go from the 7″ tablet to the existing model slightly larger 8″ tablet, which was priced at $150 – still a good price compared to the $269 – $399 and up that Apple sells its iPad minis for, but not quite such an extraordinary bargain as the 7″ tablet.
Now Amazon has launched a new 8″ tablet, with twice the onboard storage of the earlier 8″ tablet, and for a mere $89. Instead of being required to pay three times the price of a 7″ tablet to buy an 8″ tablet, you only need to pay another $40. Wow!
I struggled with the earlier $100 pricing differential – the $150 price was not too high, rather, if such a thing can be said, the $50 price for the 7″ tablet was ‘too low’. For review purposes, I bought one of each unit, and the improvement in screen size and pixel resolution/image quality was impossible to overlook on the 8″ tablet. But was it three times better? Not really. You can see my earlier detailed review here.
Although I subsequently used the 8″ tablet for everything and seldom touched the 7″ unit, the almost literally ‘throwaway price’ on the 7″ tablet gave it a unique position in the market and made it the best choice for many purposes. Although the 8″ tablet was definitely better, the bottom line was that the 7″ tablet was often plenty good enough and there was no sense in paying three times as much money.
With the new collapsed pricing differential, this has now totally changed. Plus – yes, there’s more. There have been improvements in the new HD 8’s specifications compared to the earlier model, too. Not only has the price decreased, but the features have increased. Let’s consider the most important advantages of the 8″ tablet over the 7″ tablet.
The Key Advantages of the HD 8 Compared to the Earlier Fire 7″ Tablet
Battery life : The7″ tablet is rated at ‘up to seven hours’ of battery life for typical use. While the earlier 8″ tablet was only slightly better, with ‘up to 8 hours’ claimed, the new HD 8 tablet claims ‘up to 12 hours’ and that’s a huge and very valuable difference. Up to 12 hours is enough life to watch video while flying all the way across the country or across the Atlantic, up to seven hours is probably insufficient. This is a very useful increase in battery life and worth paying more for.
Screen size : You might think that an 8″ diagonal screen is only 1/7th (ie 14%) larger than a 7″ diagonal screen, but that’s not the way it works. Because both the length and width of the screen has increased, there is a square relationship rather than a linear relationship, which means the 8″ screen is actually 36% larger than the 7″ screen. That is a much more significant difference than hinted at by the screen diagonal measurement, and worth paying more for.
Screen resolution : The new HD 8 has a higher pixel density than the 7″ model – 189 pixels per inch rather than 171 pixels per inch. This too has a square factor associated with it, meaning that in any given area of screen space, there are 22% more pixels. That is enough to make type visibly sharper (for example if reading an eBook) and pictures appreciably clearer (if browsing the internet or watching video). Or, to put it another way, there are in total 67% more pixels on the 8″ screen than the 7″ screen. This too is worth paying money for.
Supports HD Video : The lowest resolution HD video requires a 720 pixel vertical screen size. The 7″ tablet only has a 600 pixel vertical screen size, whereas the new HD 8 has an 800 pixel size, allowing it to accommodate 720P HD video without a need to downscale and lose picture quality. Worth paying a small amount of extra money for.
Storage : The 7″ Fire tablet comes with 8GB or 16GB of internal storage – the 16GB model costs $20 more, ie $69. The HD 8 tablet has 16GB standard, and can expand to 32GB for $30 more. Both also support MicroSD cards, giving them essentially unlimited offline storage, but the convenience of having all the programs and essential data on your internal storage makes 16GB much preferable to 8GB, and so, when comparing both tablets with the same storage, the price difference between them narrows to only $20.
There are some other tiny differences too – for example, the HD 8 supports dual band Wi-Fi connections and the 7″ unit only supports the ubiquitous 2.4 GHz frequency. The HD 8 has slightly better audio. And of course, the larger screened unit is necessarily slightly bigger – an inch longer and half an inch wider, but the same thickness, and one ounce heavier (12 instead of 11 ounces).
To be fair, Amazon have also taken out some features so as to be able to sell the HD 8 for such a low price. The two cameras are now lower resolution than they were before – but if you want to take good pictures, use your cell phone or a regular camera. The HD 8 no longer supports 802.11ac wireless, but the extra speeds that are theoretically available using 802.11ac Wi-Fi are of little value or benefit to such a device anyway. And it is now slightly thicker than the earlier unit (0.4″ instead of 0.3″) and an ounce heavier.
So – Which Should You Buy?
We equivocated last year when trying to answer the same question, and confronted with a $49 vs $149 price differential. This year, the $49 vs $89 differential is much smaller, plus to fairly compare apples to apples, it is more accurately a $69 vs $89 matchup. The 8″ tablet also offers much longer battery life, as well as all the other advantages.
We therefore feel it to be generally by far the better choice to get a new Fire HD 8 tablet rather than the 7″ Fire tablet. Sure, for throwaway use, such as a spare one for guests, one for use in the kitchen when viewing recipes, one in the bathroom instead of a magazine to read, and other such purposes, it still makes sense to buy the $49 units in multiple quantities. But for a tablet you’d actually use yourself, either for extended eBook reading, web browsing, or movie viewing, and particularly if traveling and needing the extra battery life, there’s no question – get the HD 8.
The second part of this issue is whether you should buy the 16GB version for $89 or the 32GB version for $119. That is less clear. If it helps, the 16GB unit ends up with about 12.9GB free after essential items such as the operating system are installed, and we have used about 4.2GB of the 12.9GB, leaving 8.7GB free. For our purposes, the 16GB unit is more than sufficient – but note we have all our videos and music loaded onto a 128GB MicroSD card, which can also quickly be filled. We plan to get a new 200GB MicroSD card soon.
Note that this storage use also points out the inadequacy of the 8GB option with the 7″ Fire tablets. If we had the same software and data loaded onto an 8GB Fire 7, we’d have less than 1GB remaining, and would have problems when trying to update our operating system, etc.
In summary, we advocate getting the 16GB HD 8 unit plus a 128GB (costing about $35 – $40 on Amazon) or 200GB ($78 on Amazon) MicroSD card. Don’t be tempted to get a lower capacity 64GB card; you’ll fill it up well before you’ve finished downloading free offline movies from Amazon.
The new Fire HD 8 tablets will be available on Wednesday 21 September. Pre-order now and you’ll get yours that day; but hurry as we expect the units will soon sell out and you’d have to wait longer to get one.