Over the past few days, I’ve been testing Amazon’s new Fire HD 10 Plus tablet. It started shipping to customers earlier this week and costs from $179.99, just over half the price of the entry-level iPad.
The Fire HD 10 Plus is Amazon’s highest-end tablet and has a few extra features, such as extra RAM and wireless charging, that make it a better buy than the regular $149.99 Fire HD 10.
Unlike Apple, Amazon’s tablet business doesn’t generate much of the company’s revenue. Instead, they are portals for accessing Amazon’s content and services. They’re attractive because they’re cheap, but they allow you to watch movies, music and read books. They’re good if that’s all you need from a tablet. However, I think most people who can save a little more time will find a lot more in the iPad.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Fire HD 10 Plus.
If you’re like many people who just want a tablet to play some basic games, read Kindle books, watch streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime videos or listen to music from Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and other services, the Fire HD 10 Plus (or even the entry-level Fire HD 10) is a good choice.
It’s lightweight and offers a large 10.1-inch display that’s crisp, bright and colorful. The tablet is made of plastic, but the soft-touch finish helps it feel a little less cheap. However, you won’t find metal or any other higher-end design elements like the iPad.
I like the stereo speakers that play sound from both sides of the tablet, not just one, so that the sound sounds balanced when watching movies in landscape mode. They’re great for music playback – for example, I liked listening to the classics while reading at night – and they sound quite loud.
Amazon increased the RAM to 4GB this year, which means the device is a little faster when running apps at the same time. I didn’t feel any sluggishness, even when I was running Netflix on one side of the screen and watching the news on the other.
Another bonus the iPad doesn’t have: there’s a microSD card slot to expand storage so you can download more movies, photos and music to listen to when you don’t have a Wi-Fi connection. For this reason, I recommend buying the cheapest 32GB model rather than the 64GB, as microSD cards are inexpensive and easy to insert on the side.
Amazon includes wireless charging in case you want to buy another optional accessory, a wireless charging dock, which brings the total cost to $219.99. It works well. You just put the tablet on the docking station and it starts charging. Again, you won’t find this on the iPad.
There’s a unique “Show Mode” that turns the Fire HD 10 Plus into an Amazon Echo Show with a screen. This is very handy if you’re using a wireless charging cradle. It will show you recipes, the weather, and act as an Echo when you say “Hey Alexa” nearby. This is handy if you already own an Echo and want to turn the tablet into a hands-free assistant in places like the kitchen. However, I mostly just watched movies while it was charging on my desk.
I also like that the Amazon home screen displays everything you might need for quick access: the book you’re already reading, the last TV show you were watching, the books you’d like to read, the apps you recently opened, and the weather. It’s very convenient. You can also easily control smart home devices such as lights and cameras if they are already connected to the Amazon Echo. As expected, this feature pairs very well with Amazon products and services.
Amazon also released a $49.99 Bluetooth Keyboard Case accessory for its tablets this year. It’s included in a new productivity kit with the regular — not plus — tablet model for $219. This kit also offers a year of Microsoft Office for $69.99. Amazon sent me a keyboard that also works with the plus model. It’s pretty decent for a $50 keyboard and is good for tasks like typing in Microsoft Word. But the keys are a bit cramped and it lacks backlighting, so I often just used the computer when I needed to do real work.
Finally, the battery life in my tests was excellent. Amazon promises up to 12 hours of operation. At 10 a.m. I started playing a movie on loop, setting the brightness to about 50%, and by 10 p.m. it still had 28% battery life. Thus, it exceeds Amazon’s promises in this regard. Speaking of battery, I like that Amazon continues to use the more modern USB-C charging port, which is the same charger you already use for your computer or Android phone.
If you like having access to a lot of apps, you’ll get a lot more value from the regular $329 iPad. The Amazon AppStore is still pretty sparse compared to the Apple App Store. Sure, you get all the big streaming apps like HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu and other popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and others.
But other apps are missing. You won’t find Slack, for example. There are none of Google’s apps, such as YouTube, YouTube TV, Gmail, Chrome, Maps and others. Instead, you’ll have to rely on Amazon’s Silk browser (unless you want to hack it a bit to get Google services on it) for your Internet browsing. Think about it if you think it might be a good option for your kids to do their homework: are the apps the school requires even supported?
As for the browser, it’s still not very good. You can use Chrome, Safari or Edge on your computer or phone. But all of your saved websites and passwords in those browsers won’t transfer here. So you’ll have to remember all your logins for everything. That’s fine if you just want to, say, go to CNBC and read the latest news. But it’s not so good if you want to sync with a browser you use on other devices, like your phone or computer. The iPad supports all these browsers and syncs better.
There are other things missing that seem odd. Amazon’s new game streaming service Luna, which runs on Android, iPhone, PC and Amazon Fire TV and is actually quite fun, is not supported by the tablet. I hope it will be added soon, as you would expect Amazon’s service to work on a tablet designed for Amazon’s media offerings.
The cameras aren’t too good either. The 2-megapixel front-facing camera is fine if you want a quick video chat, but it’s not very clear and the video/photo is too dark. The same goes for the camera on the back.
Is it worth buying it?
If you’re like a lot of people and really just want a tablet to watch Netflix on the couch, browse any Amazon service, and aren’t worried about having access to specific apps like Slack for work or Google, the Fire HD 10 Plus is certainly a great tablet. And I think that’s who Amazon is targeting: people who need something simple and accessible for watching movies and reading books. In fact, I recommend saving some money and buying the $149.99 model, which has slightly less RAM and lacks wireless charging, but still works well and comes in three additional colors.
But if you want a tablet with a much better browser, more apps and a more premium design, just save up for the $329 iPad. I know it costs a lot more, but you’ll be able to do more with it.