You can see my review of the original Kindle Fire, but below is the comparison to the new Fire HD. To reiterate, the 7-inch screen size is a more portable form-factor for me, comparing to our 10-inch Toshiba Excite tablet. Add to it seamless integration with Amazon’s video/music/bookstore/cloud, including free movies and book borrowing programs with Amazon Prime, their Amazon Silk browser that promised fast web browsing using smart server-side caching, 1280x800 IPS screen (comparing to 1024x600 on the original Fire), multi-touch capability and support for thousands of apps and I was sold.
Now that I have played with my Kindle Fire extensively, I can tell that some of the enthusiasm was justified and some not.
Some Specs and Improvements Over Original Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire HD is a tablet with a 7-inch 1280x800 IPS screen (the Fire had 1024x600). It weighs 13.9 oz (vs Fire's 14.6 oz ) and is sized 7.6" x 5.4" x 0.4" vs original's 7.5" x 4.7" x 0.45" (190 mm x 120 mm x 11.4 mm). So it is slightly thinner, but wider and taller. The bezel around the screen is wider.
The Kindle Fire HD has 16GB of internal memory (the old one had 8 GB with approximately 6GB available for user content). There is also free cloud storage for Amazon content.
The battery life is rated at up to 11 hours with WiFi on (original Kindle Fire was rated for 7.5-8 hours with WiFi off). The full charging time is 4 hours using the optional PowerFast charger (or the charger included with the original Fire). USB charging from the computer is also supported, but takes ages, or 13.5 hours to be exact.
WiFi is supported and the HD has a dual-band antenna that is supposed to be better and connectivity and throughput than the other tablets' antennas. Amazon Kindle Fire HD supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or enterprise networks with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
It has a USB 2.0 (micro-B connector), micro-HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack and side-mounted stereo speakers as well as hardware volume up/down buttons and Bluetooth. Included in the package are the Kindle Fire itself and a USB cable, but no charger. In comparison, the original Fire had side-mounted speakers, no HDMI, no bluetooth and no hardware volume control.
There is also a front-facing camera so you can use Skype.
The Kindle Fire arrived almost completely charged. With it a small card was included that described how to charge it and how to unlock it. The rest of operation was straightforward and the manual is included right on the device.
After I turned it on, it showed me a list of available wireless networks, let me select mine and enter its password, downloaded a latest software update and rebooted, after which I was ready to use it.
The device came connected to my Amazon account and it comes with 1 free month of Amazon Prime membership (later it is $79 per year), which includes free 2-day shipping on most items Amazon sells, free movies/videos (some), free book rentals (1 per month) and other perks.
The device is convenient to hold with one hand or two. It is compact, but surprisingly large enough to watch movies due to high resolution of its screen. The back surface is rubberized.
I found it easy to hold vertically with one hand and flip the pages of a book you are reading using fingers of the hand you are holding it with. For typing on its virtual keyboard, horizontal orientation (placed on a solid surface or even my knees) works best. That way I can type pretty fast and accurately using both hands.
It takes about 30-35 seconds to turn the Kindle Fire on from a completely powered-off state, but only a couple of seconds to either turn it on from standby mode or to turn it off.
Unlike the original Kindle Fire that was a little sluggish, this Fire HD is fast and fluid. The interface is more polished and less buggy. And some of my earlier complaints are now fixed. Examples are many and I will give you a few:
- In the original Kindle Fire, one you started to watch the movie from Amazon, the orientation was locked and if you flipped the device 180 degrees, the movie would keep playing upside down. The new Fire HD flips the movie.
- When playing an audio file, you can easily add it to a playlist now, whereas in the original Fire, you had to first create the playlist, then find the file and add it. There was no easy way to add the currently-playing file to the playlist. Now adding a bunch of audio stories to the playlist to have my son listen to them nonstop is no-brainer.
- The speakers used to sound tiny. Worse, they both were on the same side of the device, so if you watched a movie, the sound would only come out from one side of the device. Now they are on both sides and sound extremely good. The bass is so good and they fill the room with sound so well that I was shocked that such a small device could sound so "large". And the volume can be much greater than what the original Fire produced. The sound seems to come from elsewhere in the room. Dual-driver Dolby speakers on the Fire HD are awesome!
- There is now hardware volume control, but the buttons are flush with the edge of the device making it difficult to find them by touch.
- There is now a micro-HDMI out when there was none before.
- The screen has 720p HD resolution now, whereas before it didn't. Better, the glare that was very bad on the original Fire is much reduced (albeit not eliminated) and the contrast as well as color are much improved. Combined with better sound, it is now truly an HD experience.
- There is now a camera, whereas the original Kindle Fire had none.
You can, for example, listen to music or a podcast while browsing the web. And if you don't touch controls for a while while listening, the screen goes blank and the device goes to standby mode but the music/podcast still plays.
The IPS screen is vibrant and the colors are very true to life. My home LCD monitor uses PVA technology, which is better than your average LCD monitor, but this IPS is much better still. IPS technology is used in iPads, expensive computer monitors (some of them from Apple). Panasonic advertises that they use IPS technology in their LCD TVs.
The resolution is simply awesome. At 1280x800, it exceeds DVD resolution and even slightly better than 720p. As such, you can watch movies in high-def and be amazed at the clarity of picture, viewing angle, vibrant colors and smooth motion.
The viewing angles and colors are significantly better than those of my Panasonic Viera L32C3 32-inch LCD TV.
The screen is less reflective than the original Kindle Fire's.
The Kindle Fire HD has two dual-driver speakers, providing excellent stereo sound and can play at high volumes. Through the headphones (I tested with excellent Creative Aurvana Live! headphones) the sound is quite good and rivals iPods and iPads, but not as good as my Sony MP3 player.
The navigation is simple and involves touching the screen, swiping the screen or pinching/un-pinching (multi-touch). It is straightforward to use and is better than the original Fire's.
For typing, I find that horizontal tablet orientation and two-handed typing work the best. The device is heavy enough and the rubberized back has enough friction not to slide around when placed on either solid surfaces or my knees.
If you plan on reading a lot of books, another Kindle model will be better. Although the interface of this Kindle Fire is good and there is color unlike in cheaper Kindles, the use of an LCD screen in this model will result in more eye fatigue. Plus, it is difficult to read in bright light.
I am using the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. It allows you to rent 1 book per month for free.Also convenient are book previews. I am interested in a book, but unsure if I really want to buy it. I selected a "preview" on Amazon.com and the beginning of the book downloaded to my Kindle Fire so that I can check it out.
The video quality is superb when you get videos/movies from Amazon or YouTube in high-def. Make sure you access Amazon movies from the “Video” tab. I can go to Amazon’s web site in the web browser and start watching the movie there, but even if you open it in a window that fits the screen, the quality is worse.
In addition to native Amazon movie service, you can watch movies from Netflix using a free Netflix app from the “Apps” tab. Some movies were stretched when I watched them though. YouTube videos play well and Facebook works fine.
I was able to watch a part of the movie from Amazon service on this tablet, then continue where I left off on the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Blu-Ray Player. Amazon remembers where you stopped watching the movie, even if you use different devices for watching one part and then another. Not very amazing, but useful nonetheless.
The video playback has a "10s" virtual button that instantly goes back 10s. This is frequently useful in case you missed something in the last 10 seconds, e.g. you are watching a British movie (i.e. "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells") where it is virtually impossible to understand what the bloke is saying on the frist try.
The re-buffring is noticeably faster than that of the original Fire.
I was able to listen to my music already stored in the Amazon cloud very quickly. The interface is intuitive and the album art was displayed in good resolution. The sound quality (using good headphones) is iPod-like; which means good but not great. There is a lack of bass and dynamic range.
You can listen to music or podcasts while browsing the web, which is convenient.
There are a lot of apps available, some of them free. I got a bunch of free ones from Amazon’s app store: AccuWeather predicts weather, some cookbook with 40,000 recipes, MapQuest (mostly to see traffic information), Hulu+ (to watch videos), Netflix (ditto) and some more.
The apps are pretty handy. I needed to back ground beef for my son, but didn’t remember the proper temperature or time. Looking through the heavy cookbook I couldn’t find it and after a couple of minutes just went to the Kindle Fire, selected the aforementioned app, searched for “baked ground beef” and immediately saw a list of recipes. Problem solved: 350F for 45 mins.
There is a free app that even gives you free access to 25 newspapers including Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, etc.
I was easily able to access Hotmail, view and compose emails there, go to Facebook, check traffic at Sigalert.com, go to Amazon’s web site, etc. The web browsing was tolerable in speed, but not as fast as I expected based on the hype of Amazon Silk browser with server-side caching of some sort. My computers “work the web” much faster. But for a quick check of news, etc. this tablet is perfect. And it supports Adobe Flash content.
You get assigned an email address in the format email@example.com. You can email documents you want accessible on your Kindle to that email address. They don't appear immediately, but you have to shut down the Kindle, then turn it on again. The photos I emailed all appeared sideways and when I rotated the Kindle Fire, the photos rotated too and stayed displayed sideways. Odd.
PDF documents display well.
The three connectors are a micro-HDM, micro-USB and a 3.5-mm headphone jack.
I bought a micro-HDMO to HDMI cable and movies work well on my TV, but for some reason YouTube videos only have sound (the screen is blank). The Amazon streaming movies and shows work well, with excellent detail. The dual-antenna setup of the Fire lets me watch the movies with no interruption, unlike the other tablet we have (Toshiba Excite), that has poor reception in the same location and renders video unwatchable over WiFi.
Software Update 08/2013
The recent software update resulted in inability to download and store MP3 files from web sites. I used to go to a Russian web site and download MP3s of fairy tales (in Russian) for my son to listen to later. Now, the only option I seem to have is to listen to those MP3s directly in the Silk browser, which is not convenient as you cannot do it when not connected to WiFi.
Pros: Price, excellent high-def screen, sleek interface, amazing sound and video, apps, web, movies, music, books, magazines, camera for Skype
Cons: Slightly wide bezel.
A combination of apps and web browsing on this tablet let me accomplish my main goals: find out what the weather and traffic conditions are and who invented vodka, fast. I can instantly read almost any book, many magazines and newspapers, watch almost any movie or TV show, listen to any music.
I can watch violent movies without my son also watching them. I can use apps, play games and even connect it to my TV with HDMI. Next up, using bluetooth. And now with better antiglare screen and amazing sound, this is a true entertainment powerhouse. I highly recommend this Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB
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