- No expandable memory
The tablet race was already hotting up by the time Amazon decided to throw the Kindle Fire HD into the mix. With Google pushing the Nexus 7 and Apple the latest iPad, the company knew they needed a different angle to approach consumers that would help their device stand out from the crowd, including the already established competition.
The Kindle Fire HD is Amazon’s crown jewel, heading up the combined device line of eReaders and tablets with its superior hardware and additional features, not to mention the wealth of Amazon services it serves as a portal to.
The look of the Fire HD is certainly conservative. The soft touch back is only broken by the inclusion of a single gloss black strip which serves as an accent to the rear stereo speakers and ‘Kindle’ branding, whilst on the front sits a 7-inch display, a front facing camera and a black bezel that is a little too thick to be seen as elegant when compared to some of the other tablets in the Fire HD’s class.
The remaining notable inclusions are confined to a headphone jack, power/lock key and volume rocker along one side of the device, as well as microUSB and microHDMI ports on the base. The controls are unobtrusive and in fact the entire tablet feels exceptionally well put together, even if the overall aesthetic is somewhat generic and unimaginative.
The 7-inch WXGA (1280×800) display on the front of the Fire HD is wonderfully bright and vibrant with accurate colour reproduction and the only significant shortcoming being the lacklustre blacks, when compared to AMOLED displays at least. Aside from this minor criticism, it’s one of the nicest screens on a 7-inch tablet that we’ve seen and it proves its worth, not only by offering up high fidelity, crisp text when reading eBooks, but when watching HD movies too.
On the subject of eReading, the very nature of the colour display does detract from what made the Kindle what it was to begin with. eBooks are still enjoyable to read, but the reflective glass means that it’s much harder to view in direct sunlight, although the backlight is a welcome addition in low light and of course books and magazines can now be read in full colour.
Amazon have built upon an Android base for the Kindle Fire HD’s operating system but what they’ve created is something distinctly different. Elements of the UI retain Google’s fingerprint, most likely as they are the most logical UI decisions in the circumstance: elements like a pull down notifications bar complete with quick settings and a link to the full settings menu for example, but where the Fire HD feels wholly Amazon is practically everywhere else.
The fundamental basis of the UI is content consumption and with the gem of the tablet being that beautiful HD display, we’re not just talking books. The main menu, as well as displaying the most recent content you’ve accessed, features links to Amazon’s complete store, games, apps, music, movies, magazines, a web browser and user-added photos and documents.
Menus and font are easy to read and usability is remarkably similar again to a number of Android devices; most recognisably, the similarly sized Google Nexus 7, thanks to the inclusion of toggles and tick boxes throughout the interface. Any content the user owns can be viewed simply by tapping the appropriate heading in the menu at the top of the homescreen, with the option to filter by what’s stored in the ‘Cloud’ or what’s on the ‘Device’.
Pressing and holding on any owned content offers up the option to download to the device locally (if the content is presently only on the cloud), as well as adding content to the Favourites menu or adding to the carousel. The favourites menu is a mix of all content available on the Fire HD which the user has stored, whilst the carousel is the main element of the homescreen interface, updating every time a piece of content is accessed.
Until you use a Kindle Fire or Fire HD, you’re not aware of just how much content the company has to offer. Most video is available in SD and HD and as it’s provided under Amazon, it’s tied into a LoveFilm subscription, so you can technically view your content anywhere that a LoveFilm app is available. Music is offering up by track, album or artist from the Amazon MP3 store, books can be had from the company’s vast library, including eBooks exclusive to Kindles, many popular apps like IMDB and Skype can be had for the Fire HD along with games all of it can sync between supported devices via WiFi.
With regards to usability, the tablet’s excellent WiFi reception is noticeable; signal strength rarely dropped when moving around a room, something more apparent when directly compared to rival tablets with less powerful antennas. Meanwhile, the 1.2GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM mean that the interface is lightening fast, more often then not you’ll be waiting longer for the data from Amazon’s servers to load then you will navigating the local apps and services.
The video watching experience is certainly a highlight of the Fire HD as the screen is accompanied by some impressively loud stereo speakers. Audio quality naturally takes a dive when the decibels are ramped up, but for its size, the Kindle Fire HD packs and A/V punch worth taking note of.
The first thing users will see when they take it out the box is a very plain, very ordinary looking tablet. It’s unimaginative design is deceptive to the point of doing the device a disservice, as once you switch it on you’re treated to a rich and diverse user experience unlike anything the competition say they may offer.
With both the Kindle Fire and Fire HD, Amazon has changed what the sub-brand means and it’s as a result of the hardware on offer. For those who associate the Kindle name with eReading prowess, that’s one key element that the Fire HD will never execute as well as its E Ink predecessors. Having said that, the additional content and the Fire HD’s ability to facilitate that content are what make it really special.
As was said before, Amazon have prioritised content consumption above all else and placed elements that rival devices regard so highly, such as the tablet’s app capabilities on the back burner. As risky as that tactic was, it has produced a tablet that serves as a virtual shop front far more effective than the methods in which additional content is served up on iOS and Android tablets.
As is always the case, the Kindle Fire HD only truly works if you’re happy to fully invest in its ecosystem and Amazon’s content library and that’s the point. With Amazon you don’t by the tablet for the hardware, you buy it for the contents and services Amazon think you may want, if you treat it more traditionally like a tablet it doesn’t have quite the same verstaility and overall appeal, but in it’s own right, it’s a fantastic device.