Reviewed! Here's Amazon's New Kindle Fire HD

amazon kindle fire hd 7 inch app screenThe 7-inch Kindle Fire HD.

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

When it comes to competing with the iPad, rivals seem to think price is the best way to grab a consumer’s attention at first. And they’re probably right. We saw it work last year with Amazon’s original $199 Kindle Fire, but a true hero device didn’t emerge until Google released its Nexus 7 tablet this summer.Now Amazon has a new generation of Kindle tablets on the way. The first is the $199 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, which starts shipping Sept. 14. A larger, more expensive version with an 8.9-inch screen and optional 4G LTE data connection will be ready in November.

Last year’s Kindle Fire was a decent first attempt by Amazon, but the device still suffered from laggy software and an underperforming web browser.

So how does the Kindle Fire HD stack up?  

Click here to see photos of the Kindle Fire HD >
The New Fire
Why did Amazon call this thing the Kindle Fire “HD”? That’s a loaded question. Tech companies are notorious for throwing in “HD” to product names, and it can really mean whatever they want it to mean.

In this case, “HD” refers to the Kind Fire’s sharper screen, which is a huge improvement over last year’s model. (Although the resolution still isn’t as good as the new iPad’s.)

It also refers to a bunch of new HD video content that’s now available for download. (Which includes a cool feature called X-Ray that lets you tap on an actor’s face and see his or her IMDB profile.)

And it also refers to the larger starting storage capacity (16 GB) to store all that content you’ll be downloading.

And it also refers to the Kindle Fire HD’s special Wi-Fi antennas that connect to a faster wireless standard for a more reliable Internet connection. (Although you’ll need a compatible router.)

And it also refers to the faster processor that makes graphics, browsing, and running apps smoother than the last model.

Got all that?

Overall, it feels like Amazon got the hardware right for its second-generation tablet. The Fire HD is solid, with a comfortable rubbery back that makes it a delight to hold. It’s a bit wider when held in portrait mode than last year’s model, but still easy to grip in one hand. And by popular demand, Amazon added physical volume buttons.

It’s not a beautiful device, but it is definitely functional.

amazon kindle fire hd 7 inch side viewAmazon got the hardware right this time.

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Aesthetics aside, the Kindle Fire has the muscle you’ll need for gaming, browsing, and streaming video. (The operating system seems to choke a bit in places, but more on that later.) I was especially impressed by the stereo speakers, which are augmented with some special tech from Dolby. Tablets aren’t known for great sound quality, but the Kindle Fire HD’s audio comes out loud and clear.

There’s an HDMI port at the bottom of device so you can connect the Kindle Fire HD to your big screen if you buy a separate cable. It works well, letting you mirror the tablet’s menus and video or audio content on your TV in a snap, but I wish Amazon included a way for you to beam content wirelessly to your TV like you can using the iPad and Apple’s AirPlay.

Click here to see photos of the Kindle Fire HD >
Using It
Amazon made a ton of changes to the Kindle Fire’s operating system this year. Again, the company used Google’s Android as a foundation, but heavily modified the software to make it look almost nothing like the version you’re probably used to. Instead of rows of static app icons, you get a “carousel” view of the most recent content you’ve used, including apps, books, movies, and music. Tap the item, and you can pick up where you left off. It’s a refreshing and intuitive take on tablet interfaces, and it looks really good. I like it.

amazon kindle fire hd 7 inch home screen

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

All your content is divided by category: Games, Apps, Books, Videos, etc., so you can easily drill through the Fire HD’s system to find what you want to do. And if that gets too confusing, you have a handy search bar at the top of your screen that will help you.

But not everything in the new OS is smooth. Whenever I navigated to a different section, tried to launch an app, started a video where I left off, or basically did anything to move to a new screen, the system would choke for a beat. At times, the lag would last up to a few seconds, making the overall experience insanely clunky and frustrating.

And the clunkiness gets worse with Silk, Amazon’s mobile web browser for the Fire HD. Amazon boasts that Silk can load pages faster because it stores popular sites on the company’s servers. While that’s true, scrolling around and zooming is extremely slow and jerky, making it nearly impossible to comfortably surf desktop web pages. Even worse: Silk is your only browser option on the Kindle Fire HD. Amazon’s Android Appstore doesn’t offer alternative ones like Chrome, Firefox, or Dolphin.

And that brings us to apps. Amazon has done a great job at beefing up its app selection over the last year, even without the help of Google’s official Play Store. You’ll be able to find all your favourites like Netflix, Twitter, Hulu Plus, and Angry Birds. There are also special Facebook and Skype apps developed specifically for the Kindle Fire.

But there’s a downside to shutting out Google: Developers tend to submit their apps to the official Google Play Store first, only releasing Kindle Fire versions if they see some success. So you could be waiting a long time to try some of the latest and greatest Android apps.

Click here to see photos of the Kindle Fire HD >
Amazon’s Ecosystem
The Kindle Fire may be an Android tablet, but Amazon did its best to remove all traces of Google. Microsoft’s Bing is the default search engine. There’s no Chrome browser, Gmail, Google Maps, or Google Calendar and no way to download them. And most importantly of all, content – apps, movies, music, and books – come from Amazon, not Google.

The result is a tablet that’s designed to get you to watch and read and buy more stuff from Amazon, just like the original Kindle Fire. In fact, there’s an even bigger emphasis on the theme this time around. The Fire HD shows you full-screen colour ads for Amazon products and services (and some third-party ads for stuff like movie trailers) every time you switch the device on. (Amazon says you can opt-out of the ads by paying an extra $15 through your Kindle settings page on And every time you hover over an app, movie, song, or other piece of content on your home screen, the Fire HD suggests other apps, movies, songs, etc. for you to buy at the bottom of your screen. It’s just like when suggests items to you while you’re shopping online.

amazon kindle fire hd 7 inch lock screen adAn ad from the Kindle Fire HD’s lock screen.

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

Is that going to annoy some people? Yes. Definitely. It’s antithetical to your typical tablet experience. Tablets are slowly becoming replacements to traditional laptops or desktops. They’re not meant to be another way for a company to sell you stuff. But that’s not what Kindle Fire HD is about. It’s essentially a portal into Amazon’s ecosystem of stuff it wants you to buy. And it’s all right in your face. Amazon did work in a new email and calendar app that syncs with popular services like Gmail and Yahoo, but the experience isn’t as solid as on the iPad or some top-of-the-line Android tablets. 

For me, the suggested items at the bottom weren’t a big deal. In fact, I like the idea of discovering new stuff based on what others bought or downloaded. But the ads on the lock screen are very annoying. When I flip on a tablet, I don’t want to see an ad. I want to see my own customised background or apps. As it stands, the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t feel like my tablet, it feels like Amazon’s.

So are all the ads and suggested items a dealbreaker? No way! That attractive $199 price on the Kindle Fire HD is made up for in different ways. And if you’re going to be part of Amazon’s ecosystem, you should know what that entails. I imagine a bunch of people will have no problem putting up with ads and offers if it means getting a great tablet at an awesome price.

Click here to see photos of the Kindle Fire HD >
A Quick Note On The Competition

amazon kindle fire hd 7 inch with nexus 7Kindle Fire HD (left) next to the Nexus 7.

Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider

It’s impossible to write about the Kindle Fire HD without mentioning the other major $199 7-inch tablet on the market, Google’s Nexus 7.I think both are great devices, but for different reasons. Amazon wins when it comes to music, video, and ebook selection, while Google still doesn’t have music from all four major music labels and is missing a ton of movies and TV shows in its Google Play store for Android devices. Amazon simply has Google beat.

But when it comes to getting stuff done: emailing, calendars, maps, and using the best apps as soon as they’re out, the Nexus 7 wins. Amazon designed the Kindle Fire HD to get more content in your hand, not help you do stuff. The Nexus 7 is a much better productivity tool.

And let’s not forget the elephant in the room. Apple has all but confirmed it will launch a 7.85-inch version of the iPad next month, and many think it’ll be within the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7’s price range. Apple still makes the best tablet on the market, and you can bet the so-called iPad Mini is going to be good.

Should You Buy It?
Sure. If you’re willing to buy into Amazon’s ecosystem – and put up with a few ads – you’ll do fine with the Kindle Fire HD. Even though it’s the same price as Google’s Nexus 7, you’re still getting more storage and access to a lot more content than Google can offer you right now.

But if you’re looking for a cheap tablet and are still on the fence, you need to hold old. Apple’s iPad Mini is on the way. And Amazon will have a larger version of the Kindle Fire HD with an 8.9-inch screen that ships in November starting at $299.

Here's the Kindle Fire HD. Let's take a closer look...

The back has a nice, rubbery feel to it.

Amazon included stereo speakers. They're the best-sounding speakers I've ever used on a tablet.

There's a Micro USB port for charging the Fire HD and syncing it to your computer. Amazon also included an HDMI port so you can mirror the tablet on your TV.

Due to popular demand, Amazon added physical volume buttons on the side. The power button is next to them.

The home screen displays the latest apps, music, videos, etc. you've used. You can cycle through them in this carousel view.

Amazon's Appstore will have most of the popular apps you're looking for. Keep in mind though that many are Android apps originally designed for smartphone-sized devices. They may look awkward on a 7-inch screen.

The Fire HD links to your Amazon Kindle account, so all your books show up automatically.

And of course you can buy new books.

There's also a music store.

Some movies purchased through Amazon have the X-Ray feature built in. It links you to the IMDB profiles of actors in each scene.

Here's what the IMDB profiles look like. They hover over the video. It's a very handy feature if you can't remember who an actor is. (Note: Only a few movies have this feature.)

Amazon's Silk web browser is a bit better than last year's version, but it's still noticeably slow and clunky.

However, Amazon did add a cool reading feature that makes it easier to view web articles. Just tap the glasses to check it out.

Looks good! (The iPad has a similar feature)

Amazon will show you ads on the lock screen unless you pay an extra $15 to opt out of them. They promote Amazon's services and products. There are also a few ads for third-party stuff like trailers for upcoming movies.

The ads are kind of annoying, but may be worth it for some people since the Fire HD only costs $199.

Amazon also promotes its products and services at the bottom of your home screen. Whenever you hover over an app, movie, song, etc. you're prompted to check out other items you might be interested in purchasing. It's very similar to using

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the Kindle Fire HD (left) and Nexus 7 (right). The Nexus 7 is slimmer in portrait mode and easier to hold with one hand.

But the Kindle Fire has a lot more content available for download than the Nexus 7.

Now check out the Kindle Fire HD's main rival...

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