Amazon Kindle Fire HD is a fine performer and attractive value.
In its Kindle Fire HD, Amazon aspires to creating "the best tablet at any price". Our tests to date can’t yet confirm its incomparable standing. But it’s clear that Amazon’s top-of-the-line tablet is a very fine performer and a big step up from the first-generation Kindle Fire.
We’ve been testing a press sample of the $199 7-inch Fire HD in advance of its shipping date of this Friday. (An 8.9-inch version of the device ships on November 20, and a revamped version of the first-generation Kindle Fire ships on October 1.)
Here’s our take on what is now Amazon’s top-of-the-line tablet, including comparisons to the iPad and Google Nexus 7, both very strong performers in our tablet Ratings.
What We Like
The display is fine indeed. The biggest claim for this second-generation Kindle Fire is an improved screen. That claim holds up in our tests.
In particular, glare is reduced over the HD’s predecessor, creating a screen that’s among the easiest to read in bright light among tablets we’ve tested. Color fidelity is also a step up on the old Fire, though it’s still a little behind the third-generation iPad screen, which has the highest color accuracy we’ve observed on a tablet. Viewing angle is very wide, on a par with the best 7-inch tablets.
Battery life is among the best for a 7-inch tablet. In our tests, of repeated loading and display of Web pages, the Fire HD ran for well over 8 hours on a charge. Amazon claims an 11-hour battery life in its tests, which we can’t yet verify. But it’s clear that this new Fire is among the longest-running 7-inch tablets.
Cloud access is wider.Those familiar with the user interface of the original Kindle Fire will find relatively little has changed here. The customized android interface offers ready access to key functions and content—especially Amazon content like the free movies that come with the $80-a-year Amazon Prime membership.
One welcome change is the expansion in the types of content that can be accessed from the free Amazon Cloud service. Like the previous Kindle Fire, this one allows you to toggle between music and documents stored on the device and in your Cloud account, and to readily transfer Cloud content to the device. Now the same functionality is offered for photos—a handy upgrade, especially when that 5 GB of free Cloud storage can hold some 2000 photos.
You can also import—and easily--photos from the Fire HD’s Facebook app to the device’s photo gallery.
Handy hardware and software additions.Some oft-lamented omissions from the first-generation Fire have been remedied. The Fire HD has a physical volume button, replacing the virtual screen control on its predecessor. The device now has a camera, too, a front-facing one that can be used with the Fire HD’s new, pre-installed Skype app.
There’s also a calendar app, too. There are also parental controls, known as FreeTime, that offer greater control over kids’ tablet use than do the comparable tools for Microsoft Windows; for example, you can control not only the times of days your kids are using the computer but also the total number of hours of use per day, and by content type, which the Windows controls do not allow.
The video at left highlights the so-called X-Ray for movies feature that allows you, with a tap of the screen, to call up bios from the Internet Movie Data Base (which Amazon now owns) for the actors in the scene you’re watching. As with the X-Ray feature for Kindle Books, which allows you to look up characters and word definitions, X-Ray for Movies will launch with a select group of titles and expand, Amazon says.
Another Amazon acquisition, Audible.com and its audiobooks, has also facilitated an expansion of the Whispersync feature. It now not only allows you to pick up reading Kindle books where you stopped reading on another device, but will permit owners of both the audiobook and Kindle book to switch modes while keeping their place in the book. And there’s now Whispersync for game play, too.
(See also: iPhone 5: What to expect)
Sound is superb for a smaller tablet. The Fire HD is one of the first tablets out with Dolby Digital Plus, an audio enhancement standard aimed at mobile devices. With the Digital Plus setting on, the sound from the Fire HD’s stereo speakers was the best we’ve heard from a 7-inch tablet, including surprisingly distinct stereo separation for speakers that are only a few inches apart.
Other features, untested at least as yet, include dual Wi-Fi antennas and the ability to ability to use the 5 GHz Wi-Fi band.
We've found no major flaws with the Kindle Fire HD, at least as yet. But these are some minor negative aspects to the device:
There’s still no full apps store. The apps selection for the Kindle Fires, including the HD, remains curated; apps are selected for optimal performance on the devices, according to Amazon.
App selection is wide--and will include, at launch, thousands of apps optimized to the HD’s superior screen, Amazon says. But you won’t enjoy as many app choices with this device as you will with other Android tablets, which have access to the Google Play store or with the iPad, with its still-incomparable Apps Store.
Storage is bigger but still limited. Where the first-generation Kindle Fire was available only with 8 GB of storage, the Kindle Fire HD has been upgraded to 16 or 32 GB. Yet, as many some other tablets, including the iPad, there’s still isn’t a memory card slot to allow further expansion.
Consumer Reports' Take
While our tests continue, the Kindle Fire HD shows every sign of being a fine performer. It’s also attractively priced, despite our quibbles; for example, it costs a little less than the 16-GB Google Nexus 7, itself aggressively priced, even if you add the cost of a charger and the no-Special-Offers upgrade.
The Fire HD’s suitability over other tablets may hinge on your commitment to fully using the Amazon “ecosystem” of services. This Kindle Fire will appeal the most to Amazon Prime subscribers who want to maximize easy access to the service’s free streaming movies and free loans of Kindle Books, enjoy often-alluring Amazon special offers, and want easy access to personal content they’ve uploaded to their Amazon Cloud account.
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