Kindle Fire HD Review
It has been over 6 months since we were first introduced to the original Kindle Fire. Whilst the original did have its ‘short falls’, it wasn’t all that bad. You will most likely be pleased to know that the new Kindle Fire HD is much improved on the original version of the device In fact it’s much improved over a number of tablets on the market right now. Sure, it isn’t the best tablet out there on the market right now. However, you really won’t be forking out too much for one. You are looking at $199 for a 16GB version and $249 for the 32GB version. Mere pennies compared to similar spec machines out there.
The biggest problem that consumers face when they pick up this device is that it is pretty much a ‘closed shop’. Amazon has really followed the Apple model here. They want you to purchase from Amazon and Amazon only. That being said though, there are fewer restrictions than with Apple. Perhaps the biggest downside to this approach is that you have access to only a few Android Applications, ones Amazon approves. You also have very limited options when it comes to using your own files on the device. Don’t even get me started on the advertisements that are displayed here, although they can be eradicated for $15.00.
So who is this tablet aimed at? Well it’s certainly not experienced tablet users. The specifications are nowhere near good enough for that, and of course, the closed system won’t really appeal. Instead it is aimed at brand new tablet users who want to be entertained, whether it is through movies, TV, books or even music. They don’t care that they don’t have a full-featured tablet at their disposal.
Perhaps the biggest success for Amazon here is that the device is only a fraction smaller than the iPad (28% smaller in fact), and yet they have managed to eliminate 60% of the price. This is almost certainly going to appeal to a lot of people.
I am going to be honest here, as much as a fan of the original Kindle Fire as I was. It just didn’t look good at all. Which is a shame, as the tablet market nowadays seems to be based on looks as opposed to specifications. The Kindle Fire HD is a massive improvement on that though. We are now saying goodbye to the ‘box-like’ design and saying hello to beautiful curves and fantastically smooth finish. I really do feel the look of the new Kindle can compete with the ‘best of them’ out there.
The Kindle Fire HD is solidly constructed, although there are a couple of downsides. Firstly, there is a small gap in between the glass and the plastic around the edge. This is a place where a lot of dirt seems to become trapped throughout the day, and it really is hell to clean out!
Perhaps one of the biggest additions to the design here is the physical volume buttons. As you are probably aware, the original Kindle Fire lacked these, even though it seems like a pretty basic feature. They are hard to find though when you are just running your fingers along the edge. Even though I knew that the buttons were there, I did find myself turning the kindle around every so often to find the buttons to control the sound. The power button has also been given a bit of a redesign, although it is incredibly awkward to press it.
Looking at the front of the device you will probably notice a ‘wider than normal’ bezel. This adds just over ½ Inch to the size of the device, 14%wider than the Nexus 7. The actual dimensions are 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4. This makes it around the same thickness as comparable tablets on the market i.e. Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.
If you have ever held an original Kindle Fire then you will know just how heavy it is, especially for a 7-inch tablet. Sadly, the weight of the HD is almost the same. It is 16% heavier than the Nexus 7, and this is really noticeable. However, it is perfect for one-handed use despite this. It is incredibly well balanced. Some people would prefer the Nexus though.
At the bottom edge of the display you have both your mini-HDMI and Micro-USB ports. The idea of the USB is for transferring data and charging. Now, a lot of people have been ‘up in arms’ about this point. Charging through this port is incredibly slow, in fact, 13 hours is the average speed for a full charge through the computer. You are only supplied with a standard USB cable to charge, if you want to get a full charge within four hours then you will need to shell out an addition $20 for the power unit.
Of course, the biggest improvement to the look of the Kindle Fire HD is the display. As the name suggests, this is HD. The display is 1280 x 800 and uses a process called optical bonding. This helps eliminate glare by closing that air gap between the glass on the display. This results in much more clarity on the display.
Looking at the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire side by side, you can see that the display is pretty much comparable. The Nexus 7 does slightly pip it to the post in terms of colour reproduction however. The text though is much better on the Kindle Fire, this is no doubt down to the fact that Amazon have made a number of improvements within the operating system especially for this.
Are the display enhancements enough to justify a new Kindle if you own one? Yes, they are. In my opinion, with the low price difference between the two kindles right now, purchasing the Kindle Fire HD is a no brainer.
Owing to the fact that the Kindle Fire HD is pretty much a closed shop, benchmarking on the device is incredibly difficult, although I did manage to ‘side load’ the benchmark tests. Whilst they work, it is unclear whether they are incompatible with the Kindle Fire HD or not, which could be true as I achieved pretty mixed results. So I am going to ask you to take some of this with a pinch of salt. It was finally for me to put the dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP 4460 Processor against the Nvidia Tegra 3 found in the Nexus 7.
I tried a number of Benchmark Tests on the Kindle Fire HD, some where it scored poor compared to the Nexus 7 and Classic Kindle Fire. However, some of the tests it trumped the Kindle Fire, although in all tests, it did seem to be fractionally slower than the Nexus 7.
The Kindle Fire HD really came into its own during the Web Speed tests though. In fact, it is probably some of the fastest ‘web browsing’ that I have ever seen. I have no doubt about the fact that this is probably down to the updates to the Silk Web Browser which has improved the rendering of HTML 5 documents. Amazon are making the claim that the browser is now up to 40% faster. That is not a claim that I am going to argue with.
When I ran the GLBenchmark, the Fire HD was able to put out 33 frames per second on the Egypt Offscreen, and 53 frames per second on Pro Offscreen. This is a noticeable increase on the abilities of the original Kindle Fire. The FPS is also much better than what occurred on the Nvidia Tegra 2, although they don’t come close to what the Tegra 3 is able to put out. For a bit of comparison, the Nexus 7 was able to score 64 frames per second and 83 frames per second on these tests.
Moving away from the benchmark tests and into the real world, I had very few complaints. Although from time to time I did experience a small bit of lag, mainly when accessing stuff I stored on the Amazon cloud. I am putting this down to the network connection as opposed to the Kindle Fire HD though.
The menus are surprisingly responsive no matter what you do. Although, I did from time to time experience web sites being slow to load. One downside I had is that there is no option in the web browser to view the desktop version of a website, this was a major complaint as not all of us want to view a mobile version, especially when we have 7 inches to play with.
With regards to the battery, the lifespan falls slightly short of the estimates given by Amazon. I recorded that it lasted 8 hours and 40 minutes. This is slightly less than the Google Nexus 7, although an improvement on the original Kindle. This is whilst a HD movie is playing and with Wi-Fi disabled.
In my opinion, the ‘hands-on’ test results were mixed. Sometimes there was a bit of lag, sometimes it was fast. The Nexus 7 certainly is a better performer, although to be fair, the Kindle Fire HD is much better than most other tablets out there on the market at this price.
I am not one for dedicated sound sections in a tablet review. After all, sound is just sound on a tablet right? There is nothing special to it? Amazon for some reason had been bleating on about the sound in the Kindle Fire HD, and I for one was intrigued. So this gets a whole section to itself!
Firstly, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD has dual-driver stereo speakers, and this is the first tablet on the market to offer Dolby Digital Plus Audio. If you don’t know what that means, then….it just means that it is incredibly good. The sound I achieved out of my Kindle was nothing like I had ever heard before on a tablet, and some computers for that matter as well.
This sound technology is the same as what we have been accustomed to on Blu-Ray. Everything about the sound is sublime, you would really notice the difference between the sound on a Kindle Fire HD and any other tablet. It can really pick up the nuances in frequencies. You can turn this feature on and off.
The one problem I had with the sound on the Kindle Fire was that it needed to be turned all the way up high if you wanted to hear it, although this is something that happens regularly with tablets.
Sadly, there are no movies on the Amazon Store which support Dolby Digital Plus at the time of writing, although they are expected to come soon! Although obviously, you can turn the feature on and get the impression they support it, and it really does sound sublime!
HD Movie Playback is something which has been touted about by Amazon, after all, HD is in the name of the device! Although like everything else on the Kindle Fire, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst it is an improvement on the original Kindle, there is still some problems in streaming HD content, even when I tried on multiple networks. If you want the best video quality then you will have to download it as opposed to streaming.
What else is inside?
There is plenty more to get your teeth stuck into inside of the Kindle. For a start, you have 16GB storage, which is twice the amount that the Nexus 7 offers for the same price, and it only costs $50 more to go for a 32GB version. Twice the amount that you get from Google at that price, this is of course a considerable improvement over the options that you had with the Kindle a year ago. The space shouldn’t matter too much though, it is so easy to store stuff in the cloud, although remember what I said about the streaming!
The newest incarnation of the Kindle has a 720p camera on the front, as well as the addition of Bluetooth. Both of these features were lacking on the original Kindle and are of course a welcome addition. The Wi-Fi is meant to be much improved on the original Kindle, although to be fair, I didn’t notice anything too drastic.
Downsides? Well, there is no rear-camera, which many people have been complaining about. Although to be honest, taking photos with a tablet isn’t fun anyway! You also have no GPS built into the system, which means no directions. However, remember this is a ‘value’ tablet. I can’t quite forgive Amazon for these exclusions though, Amazon do claim that this is the ‘best tablet at any price’ and it certainly isn’t living up to that notion.
Let’s dive into the software now. The first thing that you are going to notice when the device is powered up is an advert. It isn’t very nice either and is incredibly intrusive. You will become annoyed by them very quickly, although you can turn these adverts off by paying $15 to Amazon. Although finding the option to do that is a game in itself.
Original Owners of the Kindle Fire will notice that there is a vast improvement on the interface of the device. The home screen is much simpler, and things seem a lot less cluttered. You will see advert again though. This time it will be recommendations of what other customers purchased, you cannot turn these adverts off apparently. I didn’t like the fact that these appeared on the home screen.
You have full control over what is shown in the Carousel on the main screen, although it does appear to be a bit buggy as stuff you remove reappears randomly. Amazon assure us they will fix that in a future update however.
There are also many improvements to the favourites function and the navigation bar, all of which makes everything flow a tiny bit nicer!
Everything in the interface is just so clean and streamlined perfectly. You will love it, and it is better than the Nexus 7. However, the ‘cleanness’ really comes into play when you read a book on the device. It is crystal clear, and everything is just so sharp. The reading experience on the Kindle Fire HD is an absolute joy.
This is really a complete redesign of Android, and for the most part, it is pretty good and you will like it. I do miss the inclusion of basic apps such as a notepad or to do list, but that is by the by. I love the integration of Facebook and Twitter.
Finding applications that make use of the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich Operating System is incredibly difficult, mainly since Amazon is controlling the content that you have fed to you. Sadly browsing through all of the stuff on offer takes a while and it hasn’t been properly categorised yet. Amazon assures this will happen in the future though.
When you buy a Kindle Fire HD, you do need to be aware that you are literally buying into Amazon. From now on, almost every penny you spend on content for your Kindle will go through Amazon. There are only 30,000 apps on the Amazon Store compared to 600,000 on Google Play. This is a huge difference.
Worth a Buy?
This is a very difficult question to answer. In my opinion, the appeal of this device is mainly for the mainstream market as opposed to ‘tablet fanatics’. The way it is integrated with the Amazon store is sublime and makes everything so easy, right the way from purchasing content to storing it in the cloud. This is always something that Amazon has done well.
The downside of this device is the ‘limits’ that are placed on it, both in terms of what you can download and of course the adverts. In my opinion, it is the perfect device for getting into tablets, but eventually you may want to upgrade to something a bit more substantial.