Amazon’s slick looking step-up from the seven inch Kindle Fire HD, does movies well but remains as locked down as its smaller sibling.
Heavy but hearty
The Kindle Fire HD is more an 8.9-inch e-reader with tablet capabilities than a full blown dedicated tablet like its Google and Apple rivals. It measures 239mm by 163mm and is just 8.8mm thick; that’s as slim as Samsung’s Galaxy S3. The Kindle is nothing spectacular in the looks department but neither is it hideous; it falls into the black rectangle category of devices, saved somewhat by rounded edges for more comfortable cradling. There’s a speaker band running across the lower back with speaker outlets just about where you’d hold the device, but this didn’t affect sound quality.
It weighs in at 567g, which feels slightly too heavy. Sitting in bed to read, for example, you’ll need to prop up the weight with your elbows, or give your guns a work out. It’s 172g heavier than its smaller sibling, the seven inch Kindle Fire HD, which seems a lot given the battery life is almost the same.
For your viewing pleasure
The Kindle Fire HD packs a 1920×1200 display with 254 ppi, which shows videos in up to 1080p HD. They look good on this device; the reader became my main way to catch up on my shows, not something that I commonly do with devices. The video quality is good and streaming times are quick with little load time or lag. The Kindle Fire HD uses Gorilla Glass on its touch screen, which resisted wear and tear well, as did the overall device.
The Kindle’s video section is geared around Amazon’s film and video streaming service, LoveFilm, which is pretty well set up and actually my preference in catalogue size and quality over main rival Netflix (although considering Netflix has just announced its own series with the Wachowski siblings, I’m wavering). For those who want to break free of Amazon’s vice-like grip, you can also download the Netflix app for the Kindle Fire.
Books look good on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch as you’d expect, and all the Kindle capabilities are there ‘ you can change fonts and size, brightness, look up words by tapping (love this), make notes on a page and bookmark, all pretty much standard fare. If you’re a big Amazon e-book user, this’ll suit you just fine as the Kindle Fire is focused primarily on Amazon’s own products. Given Amazon’s e-book range is pretty huge, and it has all those loverly free classics to enjoy, this is a smart move.
The not-so-great move was Amazon’s own version of Google’s Android operating system. Amazon has taken the OS and re-tooled it, but the same tailoring that points you towards LoveFilm, Amazon’s e-book collection and other Amazon offerings (which make it money), is also restricting for the user.
The main home page features a carousel of your most recently used apps, which is frankly a pain. If you’re a sporadic user, your apps become jumbled and it can be a nuisance flicking through to find them. There is a display running across the top with ‘go to’ options (again, Amazon-tailored) but when you just want to quickly access Skype or email, but haven’t done it for a while, flicking through it is an annoyance.
Speaking of email, Amazon’s removed an in-built Gmail syncing option. You’ve got your email option, through which you can certainly add your gmail account, but there’s no dedicated app, even when searching the store. Various apps are missing, like Google Maps, Viber, What’s App and Google Drive ‘ Amazon wants you to use its cloud services. This all seems a bit pointless; Amazon seems to have cherry picked here without any consistency.
This tailoring can be useful in some instances; documents can be pulled from Amazon Cloud and the Kindle arrives pre-registered, so users can download their content without set up.
The interesting thing about the Kindle Fire HD is, while its video streaming service loads quickly and easily, its browser is slow. The processor is a dual core TI OMAP 4470 processor running at 1.5 GHz – which is some grunt – and general operations run fine; games run smoothly, books load up quickly etc.
However, loading on the browser and app store is slow. The app store takes a while to boot, while still recognising typing input. Amazon uses its supposedly ‘cloud-accelerated’ Silk browser for internet access, and while this is supposed to deliver faster page loads but I didn’t notice it. Unfortunately, there’s no option to download a different browser from the app store .
The Fire HD features a 1.3 MP with 720p video front facing camera for your Skype needs and it’s a decent offering, one of the better I’ve seen. While awkward, if you really want to you can also use this camera to take photos and these turn out pretty well. The Fire comes with an HDMI out option so you can connect the device to your TV to view videos or photos, which is handy.
The Kindle Fire HD also comes in two storage options, the 16GB at £229 or the more expensive 32GB, both in addition to Amazon’s Cloud storage.
The battery life is claimed for 10 hours, which is one hour shorter than the 7 inch Kindle Fire HD. This was pretty accurate; on a test run, with light to moderate usage (games, some video streaming, Skype, music and reading), the device lasted around 11 hours. This is comparable to other tablets and e-readers, like the Nexus 7, but feels like it’s too short; if you’re taking an e-reader on a long haul flight, you’d have to charge it half way.
I like the tablet capabilities added to what really is an e-reader – if you’re going to shell out money for something, it may as well do two tasks as one. But when you have these capabilities, at a comparable price point to tablets, why not do give consumers the real deal? Nook, Archos and ASUS have managed to do it.
In Amazon’s bid to gear everything towards its own offerings, it has limited its app offerings, slowed its browser and produced an annoying operating system. While you can side-step this, it’s not ideal for the average consumer.
What the Kindle Fire HD does well is produce a good looking device which displays books and videos well. Streaming videos in particular was good and if you are a big Amazon user, than the various limitations won’t bother you.