So what's new with the HD version? The 1280 x 800 resolution on the 7-inch IPS screen, a 1.2 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 processor, 1 GB of RAM and a choice of 16 GB or 32 GB. It has three ports: MicroUSB for charging and transferring data, micro-HDMI for displaying the image on a TV screen and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. Amazon has also included a set of quality speakers in the device. It has a 2 Megapixel webcam but no rear-facing camera.
The software is run by Android 4.0, but it's an "Amazon" version with its own Kindle interface and, let's not forget, the Amazon Appstore.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD costs £159 for the 16 GB version and £199 for the 32 GB model.
Design & Handling
Amazon used surprisingly nice materials for a tablet this price. The strong plastics are combined with fine, soft-touch rubber on the back. It's nice to the touch and the whole feels dense and solid enough to avoid any hints of being considered "cheap".
The speaker holes are located on either end of the plastic strip on the back.
One of the problems with the Kindle Fire HD (because there are a few) is that it isn't very easy to hold in portrait mode with one hand; in fact, it's got to be the most difficult 7-inch Android tablet to do so with. That's bad news for e-reading, which after all is the primary vocation of the Kindle family. Amazon's previous, more compact e-readers are easier to hold book-style.
Another, almost negligible, problem is how unclearly marked the physical buttons on the side are. They're sober and fit in nicely with the rest of the body in a visual sense, but they're so discreet that they can be difficult to locate intuitively.
From an IPS panel like this you can expect extremely wide viewing angles, good colours and decent contrast. In reality, the average contrast just cuts it at 788:1, which is halfway between the first two iPads but less than the Asus-built Google Nexus 7. The LED backlighting goes up to 430 cd/m², which is the highest brightness we've seen on a tablet, beating even the Motorola Xoom 2.
The colour rendering is similar to the Asus Transformer Pad Infinity TF700T, which also has an IPS display. The Kindle Fire HD has an average Delta E (which measure how accurate the colours are) of 4.8, which is great, but not perfect, with near-flawless cyans and greys.
The viewing angles are indeed very wide both horizontally and vertically, and the contrast never falters as you turn your angle. The ghosting time is in the lower average for IPS screens at 23 ms and Amazon hasn't included any motion interpolation algorithms.
This is a very good screen Amazon has dished up for us, with a balanced display that compliments Android nicely, all the while not being one of the top in its field.
Interface & Navigation
Amazon decided to model Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich according to its fancy. What we mean by that is that the firm took what is a very content-driven operating system and drove it toward... its own content. Before you even buy the tablet, if you've already owned a Kindle or the first Kindle Fire, you're asked for your login info before making the purchase. Why? Because that way the image of the content you already have on it can be pre-loaded onto your new Kindle Fire HD. So if you own a regular Kindle e-reader, the first time you turn on the Kindle Fire HD you'll find all your e-books already accessible via cloud, at which point you can choose to load them onto your new tablet or not.
There's no traditional homescreen on the Kindle Fire HD like the ones you find in other mobile operating systems; here you get a carousel with the icons of all the latest content you've opened or downloaded. This takes a little while to get used to, but it's practical for users who often juggle between the same movies, music, games, etc. Or you can access all available content by selecting the tabs at the top of the carousel, organised by type: Games, Apps, Books, Music, Videos, Newsstand, Audiobooks, Web, Photos...
Each tab brings you to the content available in the Amazon cloud, where you can buy compatible content from the website and find it instantly downloading onto your tablet. The content is saved in the tablet's memory and in the associated store.
The Kindle Fire HD's interface was designed with one objective in mind: to regurgitate content both free and paying, but mostly the latter. From this point of view this is, along with Apple iOS, the most effective interface there is for digital multimedia consumption.
The Kindle Fire HD has no settings tab. Instead you tap once on the screen and then do a downward gesture with your finger to bring up the settings window. You can do this at any time, no matter what type of content you're enjoying.
Now it's time we mention the controversial part of this OS. Any Google account users (Gmail, Gtalk, Google+, Drive, Docs...) might as well move along, because it's a lost cause here. Amazon doesn't integrate any of Google's tools into the interface and you definitely won't find them in the Appstore. And the Appstore's the only place you'll find anything because, not surprisingly, there's no way to access the Google Play Store, either.
Then again you can always find comfort in the fact that the Appstore and Play Store both carry a lot of the same content, and Amazon jumps at every occasion to offer lower prices than its competitor on recent, popular products. It's a stable OS and a highly responsive device, although certain tasks, such as launching shops, loading the Appstore and exiting games slow it down here and there. Basically, Amazon-lovers will dive right in and Google-lovers will quickly flee this vast, closed-in ecosystem that ultimately shares a lot in common with Apple's iOS.
Web browsing is fast on the Kindle Fire HD. It may not be the most efficient web vehicle on the market, but it's one of the best when it comes to loading pages, zooming and scrolling. The 1280 x 800 resolution and 7-inch display make everything easily legible in both portrait and landscape mode.
As for the multimedia experience, it's a double-edged sword. As long as you stick with the audio and video content available from Amazon, up to and including 720p HD, then it's all good; stay on the beaten path and you're golden. But like with the iPad, the second you try to put a foot outside the path everything gets complicated and your enthusiasm can quickly fade.
You load content onto the Kindle Fire HD the same way you would with any Android tablet. It doesn't read videos in AVI format or 1080p resolution (the TI OMAP 4460 suffers from chronic Full HD-fail-icitis). Which is too bad, but then again 720p is perfectly fine for this size of screen, unless you were hoping to use the tablet to play Full HD movies on a TV screen via HDMI...
When it comes to e-books (which are, let's not forget, the primary purpose of Kindle devices) the Kindle Fire HD has everything you've come to love about full-fledged Amazon e-readers. Navigating between pages and books runs smoothly, there's a wide selection to choose from and you also get bookmarks, a dictionary, Wikipedia links, changeable font sizes, background colours and so on. You can also stop reading on one Kindle device and pick the e-book back up on the same page on a different Kindle device. All you have to do is be connected to the Internet and enter your login and password for the products to save and sync.
The quality of the headphone output is decent, offering good dynamics and acceptable volume without any added distortion. The speakers at both ends of the tablet deliver a high-quality listening experience, although they do saturate here and there. The audio greatly surpasses most other tablets, with clearly identifiable stereo sound.
Amazon says the Kindle Fire HD has 11 hours of battery life. And that's not that far from the truth, because while it can last just under 10 hours during continuous video playback or with more varied usage (e-mails, reading, Internet, games...), most of the time a full charge will give you just over 9 1/2 hours. It takes from 3 hours and 40 minutes to 4 hours to charge—which is long—via a MicroUSB cable adapter. You can also charge it via the USB port on your computer, but just know that it could take all day...
- Very decent, balanced display
- Nice design, quality finishing
- Overall responsiveness
- Good interface for consuming content
- Battery life
- Closed system (oddly enough for Android)
- No Google Play Store
- Lags / No native 1080p video or AVI support
- Still some problems in the Kindle system
- No Google features (Gmail, Drive, etc.)
Just like Apple's iPad + iTunes universe, you can either like or dislike this closed system of Amazon's in which Android is reduced to little but a brand name. People who favour wide-open systems (Android's typical consumer base) won't find what they're looking for here, but people who just want regular paying content and can find everything they need in Amazon's catalogue should get just what their heart desires out of this fast, well-finished and relatively inexpensive tablet that fits snugly into the Kindle family.