Amazon versus Walmart! Two of the world’s biggest retailers compete in endless ways, but they’re currently going head-to-head in an unexpected market: dirt-cheap Android tablets. And after spending some time recently with the $109.99 Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus and the $99.99 Walmart Onn Tablet 8 Pro, these two cheap tablets look like a microcosm of the companies’ retail efforts at large. Walmart is the old-school brick-and-mortar outfit doing its best to keep up with the modern times, while Amazon is the trailblazing technology company and has been doing this tech-focused tablet thing for a long time.
Cheap, but useful
The designs of the two tablets could not be more different. Amazon is on its 10th generation of Android tablets and has the hardware design down to a science. This is only Walmart’s second-generation Onn tablet, and it’s mostly a cookie-cutter device that has room for improvement. While Amazon wins on hardware, its tablets also come with Fire OS, a fork of Android (Android 9) that doesn’t have the Play Store, Google apps, or a huge app selection. Getting the apps I’ve wanted has been a nonstop sideloading fest, and Fire OS, since it was designed by a retail company, often acts like its primary goal is to get you to spend money with Amazon. Walmart, on the other hand, ships regular-old Google Play Android, which is much less of a hassle to use, has a much bigger app selection, and is actually a newer version: Android 10.
|SPECS AT A GLANCE|
|Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus||Walmart Onn 8 Tablet Pro|
|SCREEN||8-inch 1280×800 (189 ppi) LCD||8-inch 1280×800 (189 ppi) LCD|
|OS||Android 9 with Fire OS||Android 10|
(Four Cortex A53s, 2GHz)
(Eight Cortex A53s, 2GHz)
|GPU||Mali-G52 MC1||PowerVR Rogue GE8320|
|STORAGE||32GB or 64GB||32GB|
|NETWORKING||802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS|
|PORTS||USB Type-C, headphone jack|
|OTHER PERKS||Micro SD slot|
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Amazon’s Fire tablet is designed primarily for horizontal mode—so it’s a media tablet—while Walmart’s tablet is designed for vertical mode, which means big phone apps. With auto-rotate, of course, you can use both tablets in either direction, but what you can’t change is the location of the hardware components, and you’ll see the camera, speakers, power button, and volume buttons arranged differently on each tablet since they favor different orientations. The Walmart Onn 8 Pro is a vertical tablet with two speakers on the bottom edge, so in landscape mode, they aren’t really “stereo” speakers since they’ll both point out the same side of the device. The Fire tablet, when held in landscape mode, has two speakers on left and right sides of the top edge, so they’re roughly in line with your ears. You’ve got to pick a primary orientation for the speakers, and it’s hard to argue against landscape, which is the primary orientation for media and maybe half the games. So that’s a point for Amazon.
In just about every aspect, Walmart’s tablet is as generic as possible, and the body sticks with this trend: it’s pretty much just a rectangle with straight sides and lightly rounded corners. There’s nothing wrong with it, but nothing special about it either. On the other hand, the Fire HD 8 Plus represents Amazon’s 10th generation of tablets, and the company definitely knows what it’s doing. The Fire 8 Plus has big, bulbous sides that puff out past the display cover and fit into your palms without any pressure points. The pillowy sides mean the tablet won’t dig into your hands the way a more rectangular design would, and since this is a tablet meant for media consumption that you’ll be holding for an extended period of time, this is a big deal.
I’ve yet to find a teardown of the Fire 8 HD Plus, but Amazon also seems to be doing its best to simplify the internal design. Most major components are in a single cluster, with the headphone jack, USB-C port, microphone, power button, and volume button all on the same edge. Flip the tablet over and you’ll find the rear camera in the same spot, along with one of the speakers. Everything is squished to the right side of the tablet, with the front camera and left speaker being the only remote components.
At around $100, these are both cheap tablets, and one of the things that immediately jumped out at me about both of them were the plastic screens. Compared to the usual glass covers on phones and tablets, the plastic display cover has noticeably more friction, so sliding my finger around isn’t as easy as I’d like. The plastic cover is also a fingerprint magnet, lacking the oleophobic coating that typically comes on a more expensive device. There’s also a lot more give to a plastic display than a glass one, and if you press hard on them, you can actually affect the LCD pixels. It’s all a major difference compared to an unbending, literally rock-hard glass display.
Both displays are also not the clearest, brightest things on Earth because the displays are not bonded to the display cover. There is an air gap between the cover and the LCD, which scatters some of the light from the LCD. Compared to the usual glass phone with a bonded display, these tablets are dimmer, cloudier, and have a smaller viewing angle. All the phones I’m thinking of are several times the price of these tablets, though, so it’s an excusable difference, though it’s a major one.
The justifiable cheapness continues in the tablet bodies, where you’ll find both are plastic with a good amount of squish to them. Walmart prefers a smooth finish with a silver flake paint that looks like it came from a Radio Shack, while Amazon has a matte black plastic with a slight texture to it. Again, Amazon is better at this.