While Apple and others are struggling a bit to interest new customers in tablets (and existing ones in upgrading the hearty devices), Amazon has been happily selling a line of extremely low-cost Android devices featuring its own Fire OS.
The strategy has vaulted Amazon into the Number 3 spot in tablet shipments and now the company is targeting the iPad mini with the Amazon Fire HD 8, a new $89.99 8-inch model that also includes the Amazon Alexa voice assistant.
To put that price tag in perspective, Apple currently sells its base, 16 GB iPad mini 4 for $399 (the mini 2 starts at $269).
The $89.99 gets you a decent, but not remarkable 1280-by-800 screen, below-average front (2MP) and rear-facing (VGA) cameras, a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 1.5 GB of RAM (couldn’t go for a full 2, huh?) and Dolby Audio-powered stereo speakers. The last generation iPad Mini 2 beats the Fire HD 8 on most metrics. It has a 5 MP rear-facing camera, HD video recording, 2048-by-1536 resolution display and a 64-bit processor.
The most notable addition, though, may be Amazon’s Alexa, which can currently be found in Amazon’s Echo hardware devices. This is the first time Amazon is bringing the voice addition to a touch-screen interface. There’s already an Amazon Alexa iOS app, but it’s really just a utility and can’t be used to initiate Alexa queries. On the tablet, the interface will, according to Amazon, look much as it does on Fire TV. There will be an audible response to the Alexa query as well as, in some cases, a visual response (the weather forecast should appear on the Fire HD 8’s screen).
Alexa on Fire TV: it’s similar to that experience in that you hear a verbal response to your inquiry/command and in some cases, also see a visual on the screen
On the Fire HD 8, users will be able to press and hold the home button to initiate Alexa’s listening mode (yes, shades of Apple’s Siri on the iPad). Alexa will be able to answer all the questions she can handle on Echo devices, including news alerts, weather, playing music and, naturally, shopping through Amazon.
The new tablet includes a micro SD slot that will accept up to 200 GB micro SD cards. There’s also a $119.99 32 GB model, which is still a very good deal.
Amazon is offering the new tablet in four colors: Black, magenta, blue, and tangerine.
The new Amazon Fire HD 8
The $89.99 Fire HD 8 joins Amazon’s lineup of low-cost tablets, which includes the $49.99 Fire tablet that was once actually available in six-pack, and the larger Fire HD 10. At $229.99, it’s still cheaper than the smaller iPad mini.
Amazon owned the tablet holiday shopping market with the $49.99 Fire HD. Will this smartly-timed Fire HD 8 release also own the 2016 holiday shopping season, not to mention back-to-school time? That probably depends a lot on what Apple does with its iPad line this fall. A $99 iPad mini, which is highly unlikely, could upset Amazon’s apple cart.