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Kindle Fire HD Review

Kindle Fire HD Review :

  The Kindle Fire HD 7" tablet is Amazon's follow-up to the successful $199 Kindle Fire (now reduced to $159 and rechristened the Kindle Fire SD). The HD Fire improves just the things we wished for as first gen Fire users, but it's not the power monster that the also $199 Nexus 7 is. That's fine with us because the tablets aim for two very different kinds of users. The Kindle Fire HD is for those who want a tablet primarily for easy content consumption; and that means Amazon's ever-popular content plus services like Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu Plus. In fact, you can even side-load the Android Nook app if you like! The Kindle Fire HD runs Android OS 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, though you'd barely guess from looking at Amazon's highly customized user interface with the big carousel of content and tidy bookshelves. That UI is largely unchanged from the first Fire. No geeks, there's no way to make this look like standard Android without hacking the tablet or side-loading alternate Android launcher apps. It has a very sharp IPS 1280 x 800 display that's very noticeably better than the 1024 x 600 Kindle Fire SD display. Movies look so much better! Text in books is extremely sharp and clear. Graphically rich magazines in page view mode actually have readable tiny text. The Fire HD has a new dual core TI OMAP 4460 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz, and the tablet feels more responsive, though that may in part be due to better software tuning. On Quadrant, it scored 2174, which was par for the course among last year's Android tablets, but falls way behind the mid to upper 4000's we see in Tegra 3 tablets and Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 used in 2012 Android smartphones. Still, that's a bit faster than the original Fire and it's more than adequate to power the apps and services on the Fire HD. High quality movies render fine without stalling (the dual band WiFi with MIMO certainly helps too), web pages render much more quickly and games run smoothly. The UI lags less than on the first generation Fire.

Design , Video and Audio

In terms of looks, Amazon isn't going to turn out a design contest winner for $199. That said, this is a very nice looking tablet, though it still manages to look chunkier than it is (at 0.4", it's the same thickness as the Nexus 7 but appears thicker). The tapered sides look modern and attractive and we like the racing grille that traverses the soft touch back and showcases the excellent stereo speakers with Dolby audio. The bezel is wide and that makes the 13.9 ounce Kindle Fire HD look less modern and aggressive, but ergonomically it gets the job done by giving you a place to grip the unit when reading. The Fire HD has a micro HDMI port, Bluetooth 4.0 and a front video chat camera: all important additions as well as features the first Fire lacked. The micro HDMI output good quality audio and video in our tests with a Sony AV receiver, and we were able to watch Amazon Prime videos on the big screen using the tablet. The Fire HD has a micro USB port so you can charge the tablet and transfer content to the tablet (books, music, videos and personal files). You can also use Amazon's unlimited cloud storage service to transfer content to the tablet and stream anything you've bought from Amazon, obviating the need for more internal storage or an SD card (the HD Fire models lack SD card slots). Amazon includes a USB cable in the box but no charger. You can charge over USB, use your smartphone's charger or buy Amazon's pricy $20 Kindle Fire HD charger. While we understand that manufacturers omitted E-Ink reader chargers to bring the price down (E-Ink readers require charging only once a month on average and require fairly low amps to charge quickly), it's a little disappointing that Amazon left it out for this much more power hungry LCD based device. The front camera delivers surprisingly sharp and bright video when using the included Skype for video chat. It's one of the better mobile video chat cameras on the market, and the only thing that reduces quality is if you walk around while chatting (the camera has a hard time keeping up with quick background changes and sends out blocky video). The mic picked up our voice and sent clear audio to our chat partner. Incoming audio was likewise clear and reasonably loud. You can also use a wired or Bluetooth headset for chats.

Audio

We rarely devote a section to a tablet's speakers, but the Kindle Fire HD has remarkably good stereo speakers with Dolby audio. Not only are they a vast improvement over the meek original Fire speakers, they're full and rich sounding. While the first Fire wasn't loud enough to overcome the whirring of my exercise bike in an otherwise quiet room, the Fire HD manages just fine. That's important for a device that's designed to present both music and video. In fact, music is actually enjoyable through the speakers rather than sounding like the muted, hissy mess that we hear from most 7" tablets including the Nexus 7. For even better sound, plug in a decent set of stereo headphones or speakers. You can even use Bluetooth stereo speakers with the Fire HD.

Performance

The dual core TI OMAP 4460 CPU runs at 1.2GHz. That's the same CPU used in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and it was the launch platform for Ice Cream Sandwich at the end of 2011. The Fire HD has PowerVR SGX 540 graphics for decent though not cutting edge 3D performance. It handily outperforms the Nvidia Tegra 2's GPU, but can't touch the 12 core Ge Force GPU in the Tegra 3. The Fire HD has a much more workable 1 gig of DDR2 RAM vs. the 512 megs on the first Fire. The tablet is available with either 16 or 32 gigs of flash storage (a high quality Samsung eMMC according to the iFixit teardown). Despite Jeff Bezos' hype, the Kindle Fire HD isn't going to set new speed records for Android tablets. Far from it. But it is more than fast enough to get the job done, from HD video playback to gaming. Web browsing speeds are as good as on devices with much faster CPUs, and games on the Amazon App Store played perfectly. This isn't a tablet for cutting edge geeks who crave the fastest silicon in production. It's here to get a job done, and it does that job just fine.

Battery

The Kindle Fire HD has a 4400 mah Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. As mentioned, it doesn't come with a charger so you'll either use your smartphone charger or buy Amazon's $20 charger. The company claims 11 hours of use with mixed tasks that include web browsing, reading books, watching video and listening to music. In our tests, that's proved accurate and the Fire HD outlasts the admittedly robust Nexus 7 (to be fair, the Nexus 7 has a much faster CPU with twice the cores so it needs more power).

Conclusion

It's hard to not like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. It excels at its purpose as an affordable one-stop device for reading Amazon books and magazines, streaming video, playing music and providing you with a safe (albeit somewhat limited) app store. It's brain-dead easy to use, Amazon provides excellent support and their various stores have more than enough content to keep you entertained for the next 20 years. The IPS display is very sharp and has excellent viewing angles, the speakers are awesome for a 7" tablet and battery life is very good. It's everything that a purpose-built entertainment tablet should be. Just remember, it's not designed to be a general purpose Android tablet.
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