The new Amazon Fire HD 8 is a budget tablet designed as a lightweight and portable entertainment machine – it's a little curious then, that it has one small but useful feature you won't find on any iPad or Samsung tablet you can buy, not even the top-end iPad Pros.
This feature is the placement of the front-facing camera – something so minor it's hard to even call it a 'feature' – but the implications of this move are pretty big when it comes to video calling, something many people do daily on their smartphone, tablet or laptop.
Simply put, the Amazon Fire HD 8's front-facing camera is above the display when holding the tablet landscape, the orientation you typically use for video chats, but when holding any other tablet this way (including the iPad Pro, which is my go-to slate), it's to the side.
Does this sound like an incredibly tiny feature that barely makes a difference in the way you use your tablet? Maybe, but hear me out.
The problems with video chat
Video chatting is impersonal, and not only because you're not talking face-to-face – when you're on an online call, you're looking at your screen to see who's talking, and this means you're not looking at the camera. To other people, then, you appear to be looking too far to the left, right, or above, instead of straight ahead.
If you're looking to the side, or away from the screen, you can seem disinterested in the conversation, and that's no good whether you're chatting with friends or family, or are on an important work call.
Even when you're aware people are on a video chat and are just looking at their screen, not the camera, we're so used to face-to-face interaction and body language, it can be hard to always bear that fact in mind.
Amazon Fire HD 8 to the rescue
The iPad Pro is one of the worst offenders for distant front-facing cameras in tablets, especially if you use a 12.9-inch model – when staring at the centre of the screen, you're looking far away from the camera, so it seems you're staring into the distance instead of engaging in a conversation.
The new Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020) has something that we've barely seen on tablets before, though – not even on the 2018 model. That is, as we've already stated, a front-facing camera that's above the screen when holding it horizontally.
Given the Amazon Fire HD 8's screen isn't huge (8 inches diagonally, hence the name), when you're looking at the screen, it seems that you're staring straight ahead. We've put comparison pictures below to show the effect of this.
Suffice to say, when using the Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020) compared to any other tablet, it makes the conversation experience that bit more personal and direct.
People actually think we're listening to them talk. We'd love to see this appear in more business and productivity-centric tablets, like the iPad Pro, just to make that video calling experience that bit better.
In fact, the iPad Pro would benefit from this changed camera location more than any tablet thanks to its Face ID – currently the feature doesn't always work if you're staring at the screen, and you have to make an effort to look at the camera when you're turning on the tablet for it to work. If a future iPad Pro had a relocated front-facing camera, Face ID functionality would be greatly improved.
iPad Pros clearly aren't designed for use when holding the device portrait either – not only are they too big to hold like this, but the various stands Apple makes for them only work in landscape.
There's likely a reason most tablets have the front-facing camera array in the position they do, but by tweaking this and moving the snapper slightly, video calling would be greatly improved and the range of other front-facing camera features, like AR and facial unlocking, would benefit too.