If you want the best tablet, you should buy an iPad. But if you want something solid and super cheap that you wouldn’t mind breaking, the only good option is Amazon’s Fire tablets.
Amazon refreshed its Fire HD 10 tablets on Tuesday and it’s an even sweeter deal than before. Not only is it now $100 less than the previous model with a starting price of $150, but it also has hands-free Alexa voice controls, which essentially turns it into a portable and supercharged Echo Show.
The new Fire HD 10 is available in three colors (black, Marine Blue, and Punch Red) and launches on Oct. 11.
Like it’s super cheap $50 Fire 7 tablet, the HD 10 is plasticky and designed to be tossed around without any worry. In other words, it’s classic Amazon hardware: durable and inexpensive.
For the price, you get a pretty decent tablet. The 10.1-inch screen has a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution. It’s not a bright display, but what are you really expecting for half the cost of an a 9.7-inch iPad and a fraction of the cost for a 10.5-inch iPad Pro?
The specs are mostly what you’d expect, too: 1.8GHz quad-core processor that’s 30 percent faster than the previous model, 2GB of RAM, and either 32GB or 64GB of storage. The latter will cost you an extra $40, so maybe just buy a cheap memory card instead. Battery life has also improved from 8 to 10 hours.
Anyone buying a Fire HD 10 expecting iPad performance is going to be sorely disappointed. Amazon tells me it tweaked the hardware for media consumption. So, reading e-books and magazines, watching videos, and playing games should typically be a breeze.
That’s why you’ll see a new “For You” screen when you swipe over from the main home screen. This new page displays all of your content neatly with completion bars on the bottom of books, magazines and video covers to show you how much you have left in an e-book or a movie.
There’s also a new “Try This Next” section that offers more tailored content recommendations based on what you’ve consumed, and it learns your interests over time.
The most exciting addition to the Fire HD 10 is the “Alexa Hands-free” mode. Amazon added Alexa to its tablets last year, but it’s now the real Alexa voice controls you know and love from the Echo.
Once you’ve turned the setting on, you can start talking to Alexa on your tablet as if it were an Echo.
Telling Alexa to play music, control your smart home, and check the weather all worked in my brief demo with the tablet. But because the Fire HD has a screen, Alexa can actually use it to display visual information like the Echo Show.
When the Echo Show launched, I wrote that I wished it had some apps. Well, Alexa Hands-free mode fulfills that wish. You can use voice controls to play movies from Amazon Prime Video and even launch apps.
Currently, Alexa can only launch most of Amazon’s apps and the most popular apps within its own app store. In my brief hands-on, it had trouble launching the popular game Two Dots at first. A second attempt, however, worked. Amazon says it’ll be up to third-party developers to bake in Alexa Hands-free support.
Alexa’s implementation in the Fire HD 10 also works on the lock screen when the display is off. This instantly makes it more akin to an Echo Show. Of course, if you’re concerned about the always-listening microphone, you can choose to disable Alexa when the screen is locked.
I’ll be the first to admit that Amazon’s tablets haven’t been for me. I already own an iPad, but this new one is really affordable, and now that it’s endowed with Alexa’s voice controls, it only makes the tablet a greater vealue. It looks like a great spare tablet for guests.
It breaks my heart to see so little competition with the the tablet space — Android tablets are all but dead unless you count Samsung’s — but that’s largely been a result of growing phone screen sizes.
The Fire HD 10’s not going to compete with an iPad Pro, but it’s good enough for most people’s media consumption needs. If you’re looking for a tablet on a budget, you should definitely check this one out.