October 31, 2019
NOV 16, 2019 - If I could, I'd drop this to 2.5 stars. Why? Because it lost all my collections today.
NOV. 6, 2019 - I've now spent about a week with the new HD 10. In this cut, I've done some rearranging to, I hope, make the review more useful.
Also, I want to say that I agree with other reviewers, like Cody Schiemann, who assert that it is unfair to compare a $200 tablet to, say, a $1k Apple iPad. That's absolutely true. I want to emphasize that I do not
expect Amazon to sell for $200 a device that matches both the hardware and software sophistication of an Apple iPad. But Amazon is no longer a neophyte player in this market. The problems with its software have now existed for several generations and can't be justified on the basis of cost savings. These flaws are not product "killers", but $200 is $200, and buyers should know what they can and cannot expect for that money.
NOV. 1, 2019 - I plan on a "Third Cut" in the next few days after I've had a chance to more carefully compare the 2017 and 2019 HD-10s (beyond the technical specs which are available from Amazon). Please check back if you're still trying to make a decision about this model.
Oct. 31, 2019 - NOTE: If you read my "First Cut" written about 3 hours after I received the 2019 model on Oct. 30, 2019, I apologize - a bit. I wanted 3 things from the 2019 model: performance, stability, and a better way to handle my collections of applications and games (around 300 in 30 or so collections). The still brain-dead "application collection" software design simply infuriated me.
I'm going to assume there are several different kinds of buyers for this Amazon tablet and will try to organize this review so that you can easily identify the sections that pertain to you:
1. Newbie - have an Android smartphone or tablet but have never owned an Amazon tablet (or have never had any kind of "smart" portable device).
2. Current owner of a non-Amazon tablet.
3. Current owner of one of Amazon's smaller tablets.
3. Currently own the HDX or 2017 HD-10 and are trying to decide if this is an upgrade.
4. Own only Apple devices. (If you fall into this category, I can pretty much guarantee that none of Amazon's current tablets will meet your standards.)
Also: I bought the 64GB model without special offers in Black.
I owned 5 Fire tablets: the original 7", the 2012 8.9", the 2013 7" HDX and the 2014 8.5" HDX and the Fire HD 10 (2017 model). As I discussed in my review of the 2017 Fire HD 10 (https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3GZTHJ4SWER0C/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B01MYXPMVK), I bought it mainly out of desperation because the battery in my beloved HDX was on its last legs.
HDX vs. HD
The 2019 HD-10 is still not an HDX, and I admit to being baffled by Amazon's decision-making. I understand its desire to concentrate on the low-end market, to see its devices as delivery mechanisms for its products. But the 8.5" HDX was produced in 2014, 5 years ago. I don't work in the technology sector so I don't have any facts about production costs, but I find it hard to believe that Amazon couldn't produce an HDX quality tablet without busting the buyer's budget. Why not go back to the more comfortable 8.5" form factor (saving materials) and increase the screen resolution back to the HDX's 2560 x 1600?
MY HD-10 (2017) EXPERIENCE
So why did I order the 2019 model? Well, just as I felt I had no choice in 2017, I felt I had no choice but to try the presumably improved 2019 model. During the past year, I've pretty much stopped using the 2017 Fire HD-10. It was too slow, too erratic, the software too clunky. Apps would constantly disappear from my collections, and even with the help of a spreadsheet I built, recreating them took 2-3 hours (depending on how badly Amazon had messed things up). Books would fail to download. When I finally got one downloaded and started reading, I'd often get kicked back to the Library screen. So, for most of the past year, I have been relying almost completely on a Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone. It's fast, I can switch quickly and reliably between apps, and it even has a split screen (although its usefulness on such a small device is questionable).
Still some things work better on a larger platform: reading books and PDFs, watching videos. So, I took the plunge and ordered the 2019 model, not without a lot of fear that I would be wasting my money.
First Impression: Major, huge disappointment. Yes, it seems to be faster than the 2017 model but the OS has barely changed at all and not noticeably for the better.
The tablet comes in a very simple box for which I am grateful. For too many years, Amazon has shipped its electronic products in extremely attractive, often difficult-to-open boxes. They looked too nice to toss in the trash but were so designed that they were pretty much impossible to "re-purpose".
It's a $150 - $200 device. Don't expect iPAD quality. Does it matter to me? No. It looks and feels fine and I always put my tablets (and smartphone) in cases, so "looks" don't matter to me.
I still prefer the 8.5" form factor: it's large enough for videos and reading and small enough to fit comfortably easily into briefcases, bookbags, or larger purses. But this is definitely a matter of personal preference.
These are identical to those in the 2017 model, and, as I argued in my review of the 2017 model, I don't much care about the fact that they are not "top-of-the-line". Smartphones these days are practically being sold on the basis of their cameras, and they are simply easier to use than a 10-inch tablet. (To control, look for 3 itsy bitsy dots on lower right of the camera screen.)
I'm not an audiophile. I listen mainly to the BBC and podcasts. When I do listen to music installed on the tablet, I use headphones or connect to a Bose Bluetooth speaker. From my perspective, this is more than adequate.
These tablets are designed to deliver video. You'd have to pay a lot to do better than this HD-10.
I've not installed a microSD card, so I can't evaluate its usefulness. I will say that owners of the 2017 HD-10 spent pretty much the first year (at which point I stopped checking) complaining about a wide range of problems with the SD card.
ANDROID vs. AMAZON INTERFACE
Android purists consider Samsung's "skin" to be "unacceptable" for reasons I don't understand. Having used Amazon tablets for years and the Samsung Galazy S8+ for about two years, I am agnostic about the interfaces.
Samsung gives me a lot of flexibility, which I like. But there's something to be said for the major categories (For You, Home, Books, Games & Apps, Shop, Music, Audible, Newsstand, etc.) that adorn Amazon tablets. They are logical groupings, albeit with limited customization within the groupings.
If you've never owned a smartphone or tablet, you should find the interface friendly and useful. If you own an Android smartphone or tablet, well, you may or may not like Amazon's interface. And if this will be your umpteenth Amazon tablet, the interface will be very familiar.
My DSL is 50Mbps so your experience may differ timewise. Also, I ordered it registered to my account and, as mentioned above, I'm a longtime owner so Amazon "knows" me.
Startup was fast.
It asked me to choose my language, "registered account", installed updates (a process that took only a second), greeted me, connected to my Wi-Fi.
Then it gave me the option to "restore" from my Fire (apps and games, Fire settings, Wi-Fi, email, search history). It listed one of my earliest HD tablets (the 7-inch HDX) but gave the option to show others. It came up with my 8.5-inch HDX and my 2017 HD10 - which is the one I accepted (although I was a bit worried that it showed a backup date of Oct. 8, 2019).
Note: I did check my 2017 model to make sure that everything looked OK, especially that all of my apps and games were in their assigned collections on the Home screen.
Setup went through several stages very quickly: restoring, signing into the account, updating to the latest software, Fire settings, etc. Then, and this is where catastrophe struck, it started to download my apps. The screen went blank. I thought perhaps it had done a hard shutdown and would restart shortly. But after about 5 minutes, the screen was still blank.
I pressed the Start button and got a message that I needed Wi-Fi which was rather odd since the Wi-Fi symbol was on and when I checked that setting it was, indeed, connected.
Set up continued but showed an erratic downloading time, ranging from around 40 minutes to 5 minutes to various numbers in-between. Finally, it said "restoring error" and told me to contact Amazon service at www.amazon.com/devicesupport or select "do not restore".
Well I definitely wanted a restore from the cloud and I figured device support would be essentially useless. (Amazon had great customer service for its tablets during the first 4 or 5 years but, well, not so much anymore.)
So, I decided to turn the tablet off, turn it back on and hope for the best.
MOVING FROM ONE FIRE TO ANOTHER
Amazon has never handled tablet synching well. I've spent way too much time with each new tablet bringing it "up-do-date". This was, however, my very worst experience. None of my application collections were downloaded. Neither my Silk history nor bookmarks came through. All that showed up on the Home screen were Amazon apps.
I treated the lack of application/game collections as an opportunity to discover if Amazon had finally updated its software. No such luck. The only way to create collections and add to them is by dragging and dropping, and it's an infuriating process due to a user interface whose creator should be sent to Purgatory. I had to download each app from the Games & Apps Library, then drag and drop to create the collections. You can't open a collection, expect a link to applications where you can click and add multiple collections. Not only has this functionality existed in the Books Library for years, but I'm pretty sure it exists on even the cheapest Android smartphone. Since I'm sure that every programmer who works for Amazon owns a smartphone of one kind or another, it's not as if I'm asking the company to invent a new technology.
It took me close to 3 hours to recreate my collections (using the spreadsheet I built more than a year ago to deal with the 2017 model's erratic destruction of my collections). Beyond infuriating, especially since collection management was one of my main reasons for wanting a new tablet.
(If you don't own hundreds of apps/games sorted into multiple collections, this probably won't be a problem for you. But for me it is a major disappointment.)
WORSE: As of Nov. 16, 2019 all my collections are lost. Back to square one. Unacceptable.
Games: a warning. If you play games like Candy Crush that allow you to create cloud accounts, your progress will, of course, transfer to the new tablet. However, King stores all the power-ups (bought or won) on the local device and those do not get transferred. This isn't an Amazon issue. Just King's way of trying to get more money from you. (I suspect this is true of other game developers as well.)
Getting to the settings is not intuitive. There's no icon at the top of the Home screen. You must pull down, kind of "hard", to reach the settings icon. I have no idea what possessed Amazon to make this change to the UI.
Amazon has made a number of esthetic changes to the settings, and seems to be offering more control over privacy and security.
I was rather upset to discover that there was no longer an "allow application installations from unknown sources" generic option. Instead, Amazon listed several apps, including Silk, with the option to accept (the default being not to) application installation from those sources. Using Silk, I downloaded a 3rd party market application (to download apps not in Amazon's store). That went fine. Then from that marketplace I downloaded another application. At this point, Amazon asked if I wanted to accept application downloads from that source. I said yes. In short, instead of a generic "OK, you can do this", Amazon is requiring that you specifically authorize any application that wants to download something. This is smart.
PERFORMANCE & STABILITY
The 2019 HD-10 is the fastest tablet available from Amazon. It is also way more stable (so far) than my 2017 HD-10. None of my collections have disappeared. I've been able to move from one application to another (reading a book, surfing the web, checking Twitter or email) quickly and easily. Instead of using Twitter's built-in browser (as I've done for years because it was faster than using Silk), I made Silk the Twitter browser and noticed absolutely no difference in performance.
The one quirk: the screen periodically "blinks out". I've changed the display timeout to 30 minutes, but that hasn't fixed the problem. When it occurs, I must press the Start button. I haven't yet been able to figure out when/why this is happening.
GAME/APP STORES: APPLE, AMAZON, GOOGLE
I honestly don't care about the relative number of games or apps available in each of these stores. 10,000? 20,000? Really, who would want to look through all of them? I own around 300 and, to be perfectly honest, got most of them with my first few generations of Fire tablets when Amazon was offering a free app every day.
It should be obvious, but I will say it: you cannot install apps/games from Apple.
As for the Amazon and Google stores: yes, Google has more apps/games. If you already own an Android smartphone or tablet, you're likely to find that some of the apps/games you use are not available from Amazon.
What to do?
Well, first of all, Amazon's own apps (Kindle, Audible, Alexa, etc.) are available in both stores (based on my smartphone experience). BUT, whether you are using an Android smartphone or an Amazon tablet, they may not play well together. Those of us who installed the Google Play Store on the 2017 HD-10 quickly ran into a problem with the Kindle app. The one from the Google Play Store didn't remember anything: it kept greeting us as if we were just starting out. The only "fix" was to turn off automatic updating in the Google Play Store and avoid updating Amazon apps from that store. On my Galaxy S8+, I've also run into intermittent problems with Amazon apps (especially the Kindle) downloaded from Google's store vs. from Amazon's.
In short, with respect to the Amazon apps, be very careful to only download/update them from the Amazon store. I suppose this is the price we must pay for competition, but it is annoying and rather ridiculous since, I assume, Amazon is responsible for the Amazon apps in Google's Play Store.
There are basically two ways to download apps that are not available in the Amazon app store. You can download the .apk files from several different sources (Google it) or you can install the Google Play Store.
I've not tried the latter yet in part because I suspect some of my problems with the 2017 HD-10 may have been related to installing the Google Play Store since it is not a single app but a complete sub-system.
OTOH, if an application or game you use depends on Google's play services, you pretty much have only two choices: install the Play Store or resign yourself to depending on your Android smartphone for those applications and games.
I wrote about the pros and cons on December 10, 2017 in Amazon's digital and device forum. Specifics may have changed, but I think it still describes the basic issues fairly well. Title: Sideloading Apps and the Google Play Store: Should You or Shouldn't You? (https://www.amazonforum.com/forums/devices/fire-tablets/466696-sideloading-apps-and-the-google-play-store-should)
Note: if you downloaded apps or games from non-Amazon sources to an existing Amazon table, you must download them again. They do not get backed up.
SILK - AMAZON'S BROWSER
Amazon's first tablet (2011) was panned by almost every techie and possibly nothing got dinged more than Silk. Yes, it was Amazon's first browser, but it wasn't as if web browsers were new in 2011. Silk has grown up and is an acceptable browser if you don't want to download Chrome or Firefox. BUT, you can't sync Silk across tablets. Think about that for a moment. It is Amazon's own browser, designed solely for use in its tablets. Amazon provides cloud services around the world. You can install Chrome or Firefox on your desktop, your laptop, your smartphone and even on an Amazon tablet and sync your bookmarks and history. But you cannot do this with Silk.
I won't go into the entire sordid history around Amazon's "docs", how it dumped non-Amazon ebooks into docs rather than the Books library, for example. What I will say is that you should plan on backing up to a source you control any documents you create or edit on your tablet because they won't show up on the next tablet you buy. And, believe me, finding them on your old tablet so you can transfer them to your new tablet is .... very annoying and time-consuming.
Amazon doesn't want you to get e-books from other sources. It doesn't even want you to get Kindle e-books from other sources. Several years ago, it created a proprietary format so that programs such as Calibre (an ebook management system) couldn't even index them.
So, what to do? If you use "send-to-kindle", well, don't open up the Files folder and look for them. They won't be there. You must use the Amazon "Doc" app (long since banished from the top row to a tiny little icon).
What about other kinds of e-books? I've gotten books from several different sources, all of which have informed me that their books are not compatible with Amazon tablets (even if they are, theoretically, "Kindles"). So I have installed the Bluefire Reader, BookFunnel and Moon+ Reader. But of course the books I downloaded to those apps didn't get backed up by Amazon. So now I must figure out where they are stored on my old Fire, and how and if I can get them on to my new Fire.
NON-AMAZON MUSIC, PHOTOS AND VIDEOS
Generic warning: if you transfer non-Amazon music, photos or videos to your Amazon tablet, don't expect them to be there if your tablet dies, or breaks or you get a new one. For a while, Amazon let us back up all our MP3 files to the Cloud. No more. Currently, Amazon Prime customers can upload for free all their photos. Don't count on this lasting forever.
BACKUP AND RESTORE
This has always been something of a bad joke since the Backup only backs up Amazon products. Amazon used to do it nightly. There was also a manual option you could run whenever you wanted to. Now it runs weekly. No manual option.
If you've never owned an Android tablet and Amazon is your "go-to", want something on the larger size for reading and watching videos, you will probably like this tablet.
If you already own one of the smaller Amazon tablets and like it but would like to move up to a larger form-factor, again, I think you will probably like this one (assuming that Amazon is actually able to recreate your environment on the new model successfully).
If either of the above is true, or if you're thinking of switching from some other company's tablet, please pay attention to some of the issues I've addressed above. They may be totally irrelevant for you, but you should think about them.
If you already own the 2017 HD-10, I'm not sure how to advise you. Yes, this tablet is, for me, faster and you may not have the setup problems I've had, but if you were hoping for some major upgrade, well, this isn't it.
HDX owners: we're still out in the cold.
Just remember: for Amazon, these are delivery devices for its products. Go outside that environment and, well, you may run into problems.