For the last few days, I’ve been checking out the new 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire HD. The $199 tablet turned a lot of heads when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced it earlier this month. So I took a long, hard look.
It is far from perfect, though. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD is impressive compared to the first-generation Amazon Kindle Fire — now called the Kindle Fire SD. The tablet includes a number of features the first version lacked, including a microphone, a front-facing camera and volume controls.
Amazon also upgraded several things: the storage from 8GB to 16GB, its OS to its flavor of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and the CPU to a faster dual-core 1.2GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4460.
The new tapered corner design adds style.
And there’s no question that the screen’s 1280 x 800 display with its new optical bonding is noticeably better than the 1024 x 600 Kindle Fire SD display. Text is clearer. Colors are richer. And there is noticeably less glare.
Because Amazon added a Micro HDMI port to the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix subscribers now are able to watch movies on HDTV, too. That eliminates the need for an Internet TV or Roku box, for some people.
And the audio is great. That’s one of the most impressive improvements on this device. The speakers are better and Amazon has added Dolby Digital Plus to the device. Tablets typically sound tinny but the Kindle Fire HD audio is rich. Music sounds great on it, and that’s amazing for a seven-inch tablet.
The Kindle Fire HD is a Wi-Fi only device. The $499 Kindle Fire 8.9-inch 4G LTE + Wi-Fi isn’t due out until November 20. Amazon, incredibly, added dual antennas, support for MIMO and reception in both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
But while this improves connectivity, the bottom line is performance. And here, compared to such quadcore Tegra 3 powered tablets as the $199 Google Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire HD falls down.
There are intermittent lags and minor delays. Dedicated Amazon Kindle users might overlook that, but when you compare the two, that’s a problem.
And then there’s the user interface. It’s a customized overlay of Android. It has menu choices like Shop, Games, Apps, Books, Music and other services along a carousel of services you recently accessed. You get quick access to Favorites and that’s customizable, but little else is.
The tablet’s Silk browser is bare-bones but useable. The calendar and email programs work well. The system handles multiple email accounts well and I was even able to access shared Google calendars, which I couldn’t do on the original Fire.
At $199, Amazon Kindle Fire HD is a loss leader driven by the Amazon product purchases and rentals Amazon needs customers to make. Shop is the first item on the menu for a reason — and so are those ads. For an extra $15, it’s possible to turn off the startup screen ads.
The ads don’t annoy me much. Some actually were pretty enticing. I was able to get a $5 credit for an MP3 purchase just by swiping the start screen, which I used to seamlessly purchase a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album. The entire process took less than five minutes. Amazon really does know how to make shopping easy!
Amazon makes reading easy, too. Although I still find the back-lit screen a bit difficult for reading for long periods, Amazon has the reading experience down, giving you the ability to change text size, take notes and much more.
The color screen adds pizazz to the reading experience. The Kindle Fire HD has also added a neat feature called Amazon’s Immersion Reading service. When you purchase a Kindle book that is also offered in Audible format you can purchase the voice narration for a few extra dollars.
This allows you to read to a certain point and pick right up and listen to the audio book at the same spot in the book.
The Kindle Fire HD uses the Amazon App Store with about 30,000 apps rather than the Google Play Store, with 600,000 apps. So the selection is much more limited. Users who are new to the mobile world will probably still find everything they need.
I was able to quickly install FlipBook, Wall Street Journal, Pulse, an Alarm Clock, Evernote, Pandora, Sound Hound, Shazam, Skype, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty of games like Angry Birds and Words with Friends. Advanced mobile users, however, may be upset to find a few notable apps like Google Voice and Dropbox are not available.
The Fire comes with a Micro-USB port and USB cable for charging from a computer, but no wall outlet adapter. Don’t even think of using the USB–to-computer cable unless you have plenty of time. Charging through the cable took more than 12 hours. However, charging using a Micro-USB to wall cable took only about four hours. If you have a charger from another device, you can use it, otherwise you will want to purchase Amazon’s Quick charger.
Design-wise, the biggest drawback to the Fire HD is that its power button is difficult to find by feel and a bit awkward to press. It is just below the volume controls on the right side of the unit, but because it isn’t raised, at least for a while, you will find yourself turning the device around trying to find it.
The Kindle Fire HD isn’t the best tablet out there. It has no GPS, no back-facing camera, and most unfortunately for me personally, no speech recognition. For $199, however, it is a capable device with a great screen, excellent sound, and abundant content. It’s perfect for a newbie to the tablet world who wants a color e-reader as well as all the functionality of a tablet. My prediction: there will be a lot of these under Christmas trees this year.
Product: Kindle Fire HD
Pros: Great screen, excellent audio, abundant content, HDMI port, good price point
Cons: Some hesitation, bare bones Web browser, App selection not as good as with other tablets