In our buying guide, “How much tablet is really possible?” the Amazon Fire HD 10 (review) rightfully ranks high on the list of very affordable yet usable tablets. This is because Amazon offers surprisingly powerful hardware for the price. The reason is simple: Amazon aims to generate continuous revenue through the use of their own services such as Amazon Shopping, Amazon Appstore, and Audible. In order to keep the attention of Fire HD users focused on their own services, Amazon does not include the typical Google apps like Gmail, Google Maps, or the Play Store on their tablets.
Additionally, the tablets come with a user interface that provides direct and easy access to Amazon services. Moreover, depending on the version, Amazon even displays advertisements on the lock screen of the devices. Amazon combines all of this under the term “Fire OS”. Although it is based on Android, users who expected a cheap Android tablet will be disappointed by the limited options. However, there is a solution. Can the Fire tablet become a cheap alternative to more expensive tablets?
Amazon Fire Toolbox
The solution comes in the form of the Amazon Fire Toolbox, which is offered in the XDA-Developers forum. Before diving in, it is important to note that the installation and use of the Toolbox, which was available in version 6.55 at the time of testing, requires the installation of third-party software on the PC and certain settings on the tablet that bypass basic Android security measures. While no significant issues or major problems were encountered during testing, it is important to understand that we do not assume any liability in the event of hardware or software problems. Additionally, it is possible that complications could arise with the device warranty if a modified Fire HD tablet is returned to Amazon due to a defect.
As mentioned, there were no problems encountered during the Toolbox testing, and developers from XDA-Developers have earned a reputation for being reliable and knowledgeable experts in their field over the years. However, it is important to acknowledge the possibility that individual developers could potentially misuse this reputation for their own advantage (i.e., data theft). However, the following procedure described below was performed on the Fire HD 10 2019 (review), although the Toolbox even supports models as old as the Fire HD6 from 2014.
- If you’re tired of the exclusive Amazon offering on your Fire HD tablet, you’ll first need to download the latest version of the Toolbox that matches your tablet model from the XDA-Developers website. The installation file may be flagged as a potential threat by Windows 10 on your test computer, but this can be easily bypassed.
- Now the developer options on the Fire tablet need to be unlocked. To do this, users need to tap on the serial number in Settings -> Device Options -> About the Fire Tablet several times until the tablet confirms the unlocking of developer options.
- Under the menu item where the developer options were just unlocked (About the Fire HD Tablet), there is now a new option called “Developer options” in the main menu. The virtual switch in the upper right corner must first be turned on to allow further adjustments. Confirm the security notice with OK.
- Activate USB debugging. Below the yellow sub-heading “Debugging,” there is a menu item called “USB Debugging”. This must also be enabled using the virtual switch on the right. Confirm the security notice with OK, otherwise the Toolbox will not detect the tablet on the PC in the next step.
- Connect the tablet to the PC. Driver installation may be required, which should be automatically set up after confirmation. To simplify the USB debugging access for the connected computer, confirm the permission notice on the tablet screen.
Customizing Amazon Fire HD 10 with Google Services
Now a small window with the Amazon Fire Toolbox should open on the PC screen. It contains 10 (version 6.55) menu items that can be easily controlled with the mouse. Although it may appear very rudimentary, it works well.
The first menu item is ADB Shell, which is completely uninteresting for regular users. In short, the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) is the interface between the computer and the smartphone, allowing commands to be transferred from the PC to the Android device connected via USB. Use cases for this include rooting or flashing new firmware. On the other hand, ADB Shell allows direct command input on the smartphone from the PC. If you’re not sure what you’re doing here, it’s best to stay away from it.
With the second menu item on the left side, users can install one of three alternative user interfaces, known as launchers: Evie Launcher, Nova Launcher, and Microsoft Launcher. The download and installation will be automatically handled after selection.
Users can adjust the pixel count and thus the pixels per inch (PPI) with this menu item. Since increasing it beyond the native value seems less useful and the Fire tablets do not offer an excessively high resolution anyway, we recommend leaving this point unused, just like the ADB Shell.
This menu item allows users to disable Alexa, the pre-installed voice assistant of the Fire tablets. It can be replaced with Google Assistant if desired. However, this step is a bit too complicated for mere experimentation, as returning to Alexa requires a factory reset of the Fire HD tablet.
With this menu item, owners of Amazon tablets finally gain access to Google services. Among other things, the Play Store is installed, replacing the Amazon Appstore. Google services such as Maps become accessible through the Play Store, and the Google Play Framework is installed. Some apps will not work without it.
Users who want to use Netflix and Disney+ on their Fire HD without Google services will find this option useful.
This menu item allows users to customize the lock screen background. To use a set wallpaper permanently, it is mandatory to confirm whether the image can be cropped. Otherwise, the image will disappear after the display timeout.
Managing everything Amazon
Here, all Amazon services can be removed from the tablet or installed again later. This can be done automatically with all services or through manual selection, which allows for selectively choosing individual services. As the Amazon keyboard is removed in automatic mode, the Toolbox suggests Swiftkey as the new keyboard and Nova Launcher as a replacement for the Amazon launcher after confirmation. The installation will then proceed automatically.
Modify System Settings
Here, users can enable or disable the navigation bar and automatic updates. However, the updates refer to apps from the Amazon Appstore.
The Power Options allow users to power off or restart the connected tablet. Additionally, there is the option to access recovery or boot loader options.
For testing purposes, we completely transformed our Fire HD 10 2019. We chose the Nova Launcher as the launcher, and we wanted to use a vacation picture as the background. Unfortunately, the latter did not work, even with the WallChanger from the Toolbox. The reason was that the image downloaded from Google Photos couldn’t be cropped. Traditionally set backgrounds were no longer visible after the display timeout – a shame. Another problem: Although all Google services work, the Play Store did not offer Google Chrome for download. However, alternative options were readily available, and the Play Store itself worked flawlessly. We opted for Firefox. No other issues were encountered, and thankfully, we did not experience any system crashes or worse.
The Show Mode, which turns the Fire HD 10 2019 into a smart display when connected to a power source (without a power cable, the tablet functions more like a smart speaker), continued to work. The operation was just as smooth, if not more responsive, than before.
To answer the initial question: No, even with Google services, the Fire HD 10 2019 is not a high-end tablet at a bargain price. The build quality is too cheap, the display bezels are too thick, and the camera is not good enough. The amount of storage is also insufficient. Nonetheless, the Amazon tablet remains significantly cheaper to purchase than its built-in hardware would suggest. And with Google services, users regain all the freedom they would expect from other Android tablets.
Of course, there is a certain remaining risk of either getting malware on the tablet or PC through the Toolbox. Additionally, users should consider that the Toolbox is developed by hobby programmers. Therefore, if errors occur in the software, it may take longer for a new patch to be released. However, we did not encounter any real problems during testing, so we recommend the software.