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Kindle Fire HD Round Up of Reviews – Not Bad for a $224 Tablet

September 12th, 2012 by · 5 Comments · hardware reviews

So Amazon lent out a bunch of  7″ Kindle Fire HD tablets last Thursday and last night the embargo was lifted on the reviews.  This morning I thought it would be useful to round up the reviews so they’re easier to find.

The results are mixed, but I’m going to take the review by Harry McCracken to heart and ignore them all. Harry thinks the software feels  incomplete, and based on Walt Mossberg’s review for All Things D I would tend to think he’s right.  And in that case all of these reviews are based on bad data, and that includes the positive reviews.

But I will also note that Mashable revealed that the new Kindle Fire HD actually costs $25 more than the original Kindle Fire. The KFHD doesn’t include a charger; it’s $10 extra. Add in the $15 to remove ads and the jumps to $224.

That’s a fascinating sleight of hand Amazon pulled, isn’t it?

When it comes to its closest $199 competitor — the Nexus 7 — the Fire has greater content, more storage space for the price (32GB vs. 16GB), and unique features, like better speakers, X-Ray for movies and Amazon’s audible integration. But the Nexus 7 has better app selection, better performance, hardware buttons that don’t frustrate, no ads littering the homescreen, and Google’s full range of Android 4.0 features, like Google Now.

And then there is, of course, the iPad, which offers a better app quality and selection, top-notch performance, two cameras, and other features. (Apple is rumored to be releasing a smaller iPad in October.)

So, is this the best tablet at any price? No, but Amazon wouldn’t be wrong if it said it was one of the best tablets at any price.

However, after testing the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, I can’t agree with the sweeping claim that it is “the best tablet at any price.”

The Fire HD isn’t as polished, fluid or versatile as the iPad. It offers only a fraction of the third-party apps available on either the iPad or the Nexus 7 (and other standard Android tablets). I found that after prolonged use, the Fire HD showed signs of latency—apps and content displayed delays in launching. This latency disappeared after a reboot.

Even if you step up and pay the extra $15 to disable Offers on your Kindle Fire HD, you can never and will never shake the feeling that this is less a tablet and more of a tool for shopping — a Trojan Horse that’s let into your home thanks to its low price and then unleashes a legion of must-buy items to completely compromise any walls you’ve built around your budget.

If you can get past that decidedly subsidized feeling, you do have a compelling package in your hands. The HD is fast, has a nice design, a beautiful screen, proper stereo speakers and, of course, oodles and oodles of premium content. For casual users looking for an inexpensive yet powerful tablet, the Kindle Fire HD should absolutely be at the top of your shopping list. But, for those looking to do more, and do more rapidly, the Nexus 7 is still the king of this diminutive hill.

For as wonderful as the Fire HD can seem, it’s a very targeted kind of wonderful. You won’t use this as the device to power you through a day full of events and email and documents. And of course, it’s most likely either a day, or a few weeks, away from being punched in the face by the iPad Mini, or whatever the hell it ends up being called.

That said, though, it’s a very well-made tablet, with an outstanding ecosystem behind it and enough perks to make it very appealing for the price. If you’re already hooked on the Amazon ecosystem, by all means upgrade. But if you’re still shopping around, you should probably definitely wait at least a few weeks to see what the competition’s got cooking.

Is the Fire HD better than the Nexus 7? Not quite, in our book, but it also depends on what you’re looking for. Android fans will undoubtedly gravitate toward Google’s device as it offers a greater selection of apps, a more familiar interface and innovative features, such as Google Now and offline voice typing. The Nexus 7 also exhibits less lag in everyday use and has a smaller physical footprint. However, the Fire HD has a brighter screen, better sound and double the amount of standard storage, strengths that complement Amazon’s superiority when it comes to discovering and purchasing content. That’s where the Fire HD excels.

These minor speed bumps aside, there is no doubt that the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch is, at $199, a fantastic value. Yes, I realize that the updated standard-def Kindle Fire (which is somewhat faster than the old one) is now just $159, but that device truly pales in comparison to Amazon’s new hardware. The choice, for now, is really between the Kindle Fire HD and Google’s $199 Nexus 7. Both are great, easy-to-use tablets that I could easily recommend but you will get twice the storage on the Kindle Fire HD. It’ll cost you another $50 for the 16GB Nexus 7.

However, for the moment, I recommend you wait a bit. Apple will surely deliver a 7-inch iPad this fall and Barnes & Noble will likely soon roll out a major revision of the Nook Tablet. With those pieces in place you’ll be ready to make your choice. Which do I recommend? Well, it really depends, I think, on whose ecosystem you favor.

I’m not exactly sure what’s been seeping into the water supply at Amazon’s Seattle offices, but it’s making the executives a little loopy. Amazon’s executives are hailing the new touch-screen tablet, the Kindle Fire HD, as “the best tablet at any price.”

Well, let’s see now. The Fire HD has no camera on the back, no GPS navigation, no speech recognition, no to-do list or notes app. It trails the iPad in thickness, screen size, screen sharpness, Web speed, software polish and app availability. It can only dream of the iPad’s universe of accessories, cases and docks.

Now, read my lips: The Kindle Fire HD is not a disappointment. It’s not! Or it won’t be, once Amazon finishes polishing the software.

The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s digital strategy incarnate. When it launched a year ago, the Fire seemed almost rushed. It looked like RIM’s failed Playbook tablet and it worked, at best, like the low cost tablet it was. But, in the end, it was the best device ever made to access Amazon’s own content. It delivered a seamless read experience, a compelling video collection, and enough apps to keep casual users happy.

Fast forward almost exactly a year and here is the Kindle Fire HD. It is as different from the original Fire as the first, clunky Kindle was from original, clunky, doorstop Kindle. It offers improved speed, improved screen resolution, and a superior industrial design. In short, the Fire HD is the Fire reborn. And at $199, it gives most similar tablet devices a serious run for their money.

There are two devices in this review. The first is something like an appliance — a window through which you casually view content, a way to listen to music, an ereader for the train ride home. On that device, things like a big app selection or elaborate user experience take a back seat to content selection, price point, and simplicity. On that device, it’s not about going toe-to-toe with the competition in every way (as Amazon seems to want to do), it’s about offering a lot of fun stuff to consumers, and getting them to consume more. As that device, the Fire HD is a complete success. A marvel of bottom-line engineering and incredibly clever subsidies. It’s a really, really good tablet for doing some very specific things.

But there’s a second tablet in the review as well. One that gets compared to the iPad and Nexus 7. One that I expect to do more than just show me movies or help me shop. One that should be a companion for all kinds of things I want to do, that doesn’t feel limited, that doesn’t respond to my touches slowly, that doesn’t make me wait.

Amazon loaned me a Fire HD 7? unit for review, loaded with a not-quite-final version of its software. I’ve been playing with it for the past six days, and need to pause for a disclaimer: I found the software to be balky in multiple spots, and sometimes downright buggy.

Switching between screens sometimes took so long that I thought my tap hadn’t registered, and would jab hopelessly at the screen. Elements such as search fields occasionally failed to respond. At one point, I got trapped inside Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure with no way to escape except turning the tablet off and then on again.

WIRED New physical design and updated user interface make for a more refined overall experience. Audio Whispersync and X-Ray for Books and Video make watching, listening and reading that much more enjoyable. Beautiful screen. Good speakers. HDMI out for mirroring on a TV. Battery lasts about 10 hours.

TIRED Silk browser still needs work. No quick app switching. No default camera app. E-mail, calendar and contacts feel like afterthoughts — the emphasis here is clearly on consuming content, playing games and reading books, not advanced productivity.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • pholy

    Can somebody tell me what the Techcrunch guy is trying to say here: “It is as different from the original Fire as the first, clunky Kindle was from original, clunky, doorstop Kindle.”

    Is he really saying the new Kindle Fire HD is just like the old Kindle Fire? I’m just curious, because I can’t get either one up here in Canada.

    • BruceMcF

      He clearly got tangled up in writing the comparison of whichever later Kindle eInk reader he was comparing to the very first generation Kindle eInk reader. He seems to be TRYING to say that this is Kindle LCD tablet where they have learned from and fixed the rough edges of the first Kindle LCD tablet.

  • cookie

    I am waiting for the updated Galaxy S wifi 5.0 tablet.

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