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The 12th-gen Amazon Fire 7 tablet is now available, and it’s the first of Amazon’s tablets to ship with Fire OS 8, the latest version of the company’s Android-based operating system for tablets and smart TVs.

As we reported when Amazon announced the new tablet in May, Fire OS 8 is based on Android 11 and brings a few improvements over the Android 9-based Fire OS 7 which still runs on the company’s other tablets. Now that my Fire 7 tablet has arrived, I dug in to see what’s new.

For the most part, Fire OS 8 looks… a lot like Fire OS 7. It’s still a heavily customized version of Android with a custom home screen and app launcher that puts Amazon’s apps and services front and service. That launcher hasn’t really changed much.

But the Settings user interface has. That starts with the Quick Settings panel that you can pull down from the top of the screen. There are several new options in the updated Quick Settings including:

  • Dark Mode toggle (system-wide dark mode is new in Fire OS 8).
  • Screen Record (start recording a video showing what’s happening on your screen, with optional support for recording audio and showing screen presses with a circle)
  • Support for customizing what is and is not in the Quick Settings panel by pressing the pencil icon to enter edit mode.

Open the full Settings app and you’ll also notice that while there are few entirely new settings available, the user interface has been tweaked a bit. The menu icons are now more colorful. The Apps & Notifications menu now shows recently opened apps in a grid atop the screen instead of in a list. And the Device Storage menu now uses a percentage meter rather than a bar graph to show how much space is used and how much is left.

New features that you might not notice at first include:

  • Support for HEIF (High Efficiency Image File) format images
  • TLS 1.3 security is enabled by default
  • Apps can access device location while running in the background
  • There are more restrictions on apps starting activities while running in the background, which should reduce interruptions and power consumption
  • You can grant apps one-time permissions if, for example, you want to grant access to the camera, storage, contacts, or location for now, but don’t want an app to always have access.

Some Android 11 features haven’t found their way to Fire OS yet though. File Based Encryption, for example, is not yet support.

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