Top positive review
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Decent, inexpensive, entry-level tablet
on October 2, 2013
This is the next-generation Kindle Fire HD but with an updated operating system and new features, a redesigned shell (with the power and volume control buttons more readily accessible) and the power adapter included rather than as a separate $19.99 accessory. And all of this at a great price. When you consider the formerly separate cost of the adapter, you'd have spent $80 more just a couple of months ago for almost the same tablet.
NOTE: This is the base model of the three models that Amazon is shipping this year: the Kindle Fire HD, the Kindle Fire HDX, and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9". Despite what I wrote above, this model is not really the successor for the Kindle Fire HD; it's the successor for the Kindle Fire. The successor for last year's Kindle Fire HD is this year's Kindle Fire HDX. I think a lot of reviewers are missing that point because of Amazon's unfortunate naming conventions.
The Amazon tablets are primarily content consumption devices, best suited for connecting to the Amazon ecosystem, including videos, music, books, apps, and so on. With the free Prime trial subscription, you can check out the Prime Instant Video options and watch movies and shows at no charge until the Free Trial expires automatically. For videos, music, and books, the Amazon selection is at or near the top of the list; for apps, much less so. Roughly 90% of the top 100 apps are available on Amazon.com, as well as 100,000 others, but that's only a small fraction of what is available with Google or Apple.
It's not quite as bad as it sounds because, while the competition has ten times as many apps, most of those apps are, um ... how shall I put this ... less than stellar (look up Sturgeon's Law). If there are specific apps you need or want, you definitely should double-check before purchasing to make sure that they are available. The apps that will likely never become available on the Kindle Fire ecosystem are those apps that require Google services (i.e., anything that uses Google location services). One ameloriating factor is that it is possible to side-load most of the apps from the Google Play store onto an Amazon tablet and a web search on side-loading apps onto Kindle Fire will show dozens of websites with detailed instructions. If the app you are sideloading requires a Google service to work, though, it will not run on the Fire, even if you manage to successfully install it.
It has an updated OS and updated feature software (but does not include the free unlimited Mayday customer support feature; you'll have to move up to the HDX to get that). The software updates include the ability to download some Prime Instant Videos to your device and watch them offline, enhanced accessibility, enhanced enterprise controls and features (so now it's better suited for office work), enhanced email client, enhanced parental controls, improved X-Ray features (now including lyrics for music, as well as additional information for both books and movies), integration with GoodReads (coming soon), and the like.
Where I noticed the biggest difference was the home screen. The default view is still the carousel but if you swipe upward, you'll see a more traditional icon view. The "Recommended for you" display on the home screen is now smaller and much less obtrusive (and it can be turned off in the settings). Amazon has also added multi-tasking of a sort, where swiping up from the bottom of the screen while you're in an app shows you the 20 most-recently-used items from your home screen, so you can quickly switch from one app to another without returning to the home screen.
There is also a left panel available on most screens (but not the home screen) and in some of the apps, with navigation links and settings to make it easier to navigate and control your tablet or to navigate within the app. If you tap the center of your display and then swipe left while you're reading a book, for example, you'll see a panel that shows you the table of contents, the About the Author link, the Sync to Furthest Page Read link, and so on.
The Kindle FreeTime option and the parental controls are still among the best in the business. If you want a tablet for a child and want to control what they can access, how long they can use the tablet at any given time, and the like, Amazon has you covered.
You can now also schedule "Quiet Time" on the tablet, where notification sounds and pop-up notifications are disabled, either on a temporary basis by simply pushing a button or on a scheduled basis. Frankly, I doubt I'll ever use this feature but if you're the type who likes to read or watch video until you fall asleep, it's kind of nice to be able to disable all sounds so that you don't get rudely awakened when, e.g., someone plays a new word in your Words with Friends game.
As I noted, the Kindle Fire HD does not support the new "Mayday" feature that Amazon has been advertising. However, if you swipe down from the top of the screen, tap the Settings option on the top right, and then select Help, you'll see various options, including Wifi information and troubleshooting tips, a comprehensive User Guide, information on providing feedback on select features, and information on contacting Customer Service via email or phone.
So what are the drawbacks? No camera or microphone, so no video conferencing, no Skype, no picture-taking. A little underpowered with a slightly reduced battery life and slightly higher weight when compared to the newest tablets (e.g., the Kindle Fire HDX has a quad-core processor, 11 hour battery life, and a 10.7 oz. weight compared to the Kindle Fire HD dual-core processor, 10 hour battery life, and 12.2 oz weight). On the other hand, you're paying $90 less for the Kindle Fire HD so you're getting a pretty good value.
Also, like the other Kindle Fire tablets, as well as the Apple iPad and the Google Nexus, the Kindle tablet line doesn't have a micro-SD slot, so the assumption is that you're consuming content from the cloud. This is fine when you're using your tablet with wifi; not so good when you're traveling and want to load up your tablet with content for the trip. If the latter is something you expect to do regularly, you might want to consider the 16GB version. Also, if all of your content is on iTunes or on Google Play, you would have to side-load everything onto the tablet. As is true of Apple and Google tablets, there's no way to automatically connect to the cloud storage of the competition.
Update: I was asked in the comments about downloading Prime Instant Videos. I verified that I can download Prime Instant Videos to my Kindle Fire HD. However, that option is not available for all movies and TV shows. It looks like they had to get the permission of the studios and not all of them said yes. So, for example, I was able to download "Casablanca" but not able to download "The Avengers" even though both are part of the Prime Instant Video collection and both are available for free streaming.
Update: There seems to be some questions (and some misinformation) about the Amazon Prime 30-day free trial that comes with these tablets. That 30-day free trial expires automatically unless you specifically renew; they will not charge your credit card. That differs from the experience when you explicitly sign up for the Prime 30-day free trial on the Amazon.com website. In the latter case, unless you cancel, your 30-day free trial membership will automatically convert to the annual membership.
Update: There also seem to be some questions about the "special offers" version of this tablet. The special offers consist of an image with a link on the startup screen for the tablet. Once you're past that screen, there is absolutely no difference between the "with special offers" and "without special offers" tablet. Typical offers include advertising a new game, special deals on specific Kindle books, special deals on tablet accessories, or even the occasional deal on the tablets or e-readers themselves (a particularly noteworthy deal was the offer of $100 off the latest e-reader). If you find the advertisements irritating, you can always go to the Manage Your Kindle page on Amazon.com (https://www.amazon.com/myk) and pay $15 to turn them off forever.
Update: How does this Kindle Fire HD differ from the previous generation Kindle Fire HD? (Although the real comparison should be with the previous generation base Kindle Fire, for more on that, see below.)
- It's a bit lighter (12.2 oz vs. 13.9 oz)
- It's a bit smaller (7.5" x 5.0" x 0.42" vs. 7.6" x 5.4" x 0.4")
- It's a bit faster (1.5GHz dual-core CPU compared to 1.2GHz)
- A redesigned shell with power and volume control buttons that are easy to find!
- The base version of the new Kindle Fire HD has 8 GB instead of 16 GB.
- No camera
- No HDMI out (but see the description above for details on how Amazon is providing a software solution for sharing your tablet screen on your television)
- No ambient light sensor, so the brightness is always set manually
- It contains a power adapter, something that was sold separately with last year's model
- It has an updated OS and updated feature software.
- It's $60 cheaper ($80 cheaper if you count the power adapter). Since last year's Kindle Fire HD had 16GB rather than 8GB, perhaps the comparison ought to be that it's $30 cheaper ($50 if you count the power adapter).
As I wrote above, this isn't the successor for the 2012 Kindle Fire HD; it's the successor for the base Kindle Fire. There were three tablets last year: Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, and Kindle Fire HD 8.9". There are three tablets this year: Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HDX, and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9". If you bought the Kindle Fire HD last year, the equivalent model this year is the Kindle Fire HDX. So how does this year's base model compare with last year's base model?
- It's got a much better display (1280x800 vs. 1024x600), plus better technology driving the display (10-point multi-touch vs. 2-point multi-touch). The display is also brighter and cleaner. There really is no comparison.
- It's got better sound (including Dolby audio).
- It's much faster (1.5GHz OMAP 4470 vs. 1.2GHz OMAP4430).
- It's lighter (12.2 oz vs. 14.1 oz).
- It has better battery life (10 hours vs. 9 hours).
- It's $20 cheaper ($40 cheaper if you count the power adapter).
Last year's base model had no microphone or camera; neither does this year's. Last year's base model had no HDMI output; neither does this year's. Last year's base model had 8GB storage; so does this year's. Last year's base model had no ambient light sensor; neither does this year's. And so on... When you look at it that way, this is a heck of a deal.
How does the Kindle Fire HD compare to the competition? In this class, the major competition would be the 2012 Apple iPad Mini, which Apple is still selling, and the 2012 Google Nexus 7, which Google no longer sells but which is still available on Amazon.
HD: 1280x800 - 7" display (216 ppi)
Nexus: 1280x800 - 7" display (216 ppi)
iPad Mini: 1024x768 - 7.9" display (163 ppi)
These are all decent, previous-generation displays, with the iPad Mini both a winner (it has a larger screen) and a loser (it has lower resolution). It's worth noting that the aspect ratio of the HD and Nexus is 16:10 while the aspect ratio of the iPad Mini is 4:3. Where this matters is watching video. If you're watching an old television show, a 4:3 aspect ratio is fine. If you're watching a high-def movie, the 4:3 aspect ratio is going to leave large black bars on your screen and the video will be much more compressed than it would be on the HD and Nexus. Apple chose to maintain backward compatibility with prior devices rather than moving up.
Sound: The HD has Dolby Audio; the other two have standard stereo sound. The iPad Mini also makes the same mistake that Amazon made in its first-generation tablet: putting both speakers on the same side (in this case, at the bottom of the tablet). If you're watching a video, you'll have the tablet turned sideways and the sound will all come from the same side. The HD has the speakers placed in a more appropriate location.
Networking: All have dual-band wifi.
Size and Weight:
HD: 7.5" x 5.0" x 0.42" and 12.2 oz.
Nexus: 7.81" x 4.72" x 0.41" and 12 oz.
iPad Mini: 7.87" x 5.3" x 0.28" and 11 oz.
There's really nothing to choose from here. All three are small, thin, and light. The iPad Mini is the largest but it also has the largest screen, and it is the lightest and thinnest.
HD: Dual-core 1.5GHz OMAP 4470, 1GB memory
Nexus: Dual-core 1.20 GHz Tegra 3.0, 1GB memory
iPad Mini: Dual-core A5, 0.5GB memory
The HD wins this round, although none of these is a real barn-burner, which is not a surprise at this price point. Both the HD and the Nexus have more RAM than does the Mini.
Cameras: Both the Nexus and the iPad Mini have 1.2 MP front and 5MP rear cameras. The HD has no camera. If you need a front-facing camera, you'll need to move up to the HDX. If you need a rear-facing camera, you'll need to move up to the 8.9" HDX.
Battery Life: HD = 10 hours; Nexus = 9.5 hours; iPad Mini = 10 hours.
Expansion: None of them have a microSD slot; they all assume that you'll be using their respective cloud systems.
Price: The HD is $139, the Nexus is approximately $165, and the iPad Mini is $299. The iPad Mini is priced very high for what it offers; Apple dropped the price only $30 (down from $329) when it debuted its 2013 iPad Mini with Retina display. The HD is really a great price but you don't get a camera with this model.
From my own perspective, there is no single clear winner, as each tablet has strengths and weaknesses. If you already have Amazon Prime, the HD is a no-brainer, with the access to the Prime Instant Video and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. If you want apps, Apple and Google both have far more choices. If you want to watch movies, I'd pick either the HD or the Nexus, as Apple's aspect ratio and its lagging sound put it at the back of the pack. If price is a factor, then I'd pick the the HD, unless you really need a camera, in which case, I'd recommend the Nexus.
If you're heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, i.e., you already own an iPhone or iPad and all of your content is on iTunes, the HD really isn't the tablet for you. Similarly, if you love browsing Google Play for apps to play on your Samsung Galaxy phone, you're likely to be disappointed in the section available on Amazon (although, as I note above, most of the Google Play apps can be sideloaded onto the tablet). If you love your Google Now or Siri, neither of which will ever be available on Amazon, this isn't the tablet for you.
Update: It was pointed out to me in the comments that I missed a couple of alternatives that are worth considering. One alternative is the 2012 Kindle Fire HD 8.9" tablet, which is still available here on Amazon.com. (The 7" Kindle Fire HD is no longer available on Amazon but you might be able to find it at a local Best Buy or office superstore as those stores run through their inventory.) If you want a larger, true HD tablet for $229, the 2012 HD 8.9" tablet is pretty compelling. The only drawback is that it's a two-hander; this isn't a tablet you're going to be comfortable holding in one hand for very long. But sometimes the extra screen real estate is worth it.
A second alternative is the 2012 Barnes & Noble 7" Nook. This was a very good tablet in 2012 and it still holds up in 2013 as a bargain tablet. The specs make it competitive with the Kindle Fire HD and B&N is currently selling it for $129. It's an even more compelling deal because of two factors: the first is that it has a micro-SD slot, so you can expand its available capacity, and it provides access to the Google Play store, so you have the full range of Android apps. The one drawback is that there is reason to question whether B&N is going to remain in business, as it's been steadily losing money and market share over the past few years, with no signs yet of that stopping. Also, like the Kindle Fire HD, the Nook doesn't have a camera.
The bottom line: The Kindle Fire HD tablet is primarily intended as a viewport into Amazon content and Amazon services. If you have Amazon Prime and you have Amazon eBooks in your collection, this tablet is a no-brainer. The price is low, particularly for what you get, and it's a small, light, budget (without being cheap) tablet with a good display and good sound. This really is an excellent value.
Now that I have a Kindle Fire HDX tablet (see http://www.amazon.com/review/R2KVHBC7NMNOGU for my review), I'm in a little better position to talk about which one I'd recommend:
You should get the Kindle Fire HDX if:
- You're a techie who wants the latest and greatest, the best display, the fastest processor.
- You need a camera for Skype or other video app.
- You play graphics-intensive games (e.g., racing games).
- The size and weight matter to you, even in such small increments as this.
- You think you will need the Mayday technical support.
You should get the Kindle Fire HD if:
- Price is a factor. $90 cheaper is not an insignificant amount. This really is an excellent value for the money.
- You want an inexpensive tablet for a child (and, for this case, the lack of a camera might well be a plus)
- All you want is a basic tablet for reading books, playing music, watching the occasional video, playing Words with Friends, and the like. While the screen on the HD isn't as stunning as is it on the HDX, this is still a true HD screen and it is very good.
Note: I check back here pretty regularly. If you have questions, I'll be happy to try to answer them.