Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in review
A tablet custom-built for buying books and movies: for mainstream apps and web browsing, you may want to look elsewhere
To us Brits, the Kindle brand is all but synonymous with an E Ink screen and month-long battery life. Now, a year after its US launch, the Kindle Fire is coming to the UK to shake all that up – and it’s accompanied by a brand-new cousin, the Kindle Fire HD 7in. It's due for release on 25 October, but we've got our hands on a US model to road-test the hardware right now.
As soon as you pick up the Fire HD it’s clear this isn’t just another Kindle. For one thing, it weighs a lumpen 394g – more than double the mass of the regular 170g Kindle. It’s larger, too, with a chunky, soft-plastic back and a wide bezel, housing a full-colour 1,280 x 800 IPS touchscreen in place of the familiar greyscale Kindle display, plus a front-facing HD webcam. Underpinning it all is Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich.
Yet the Kindle Fire HD isn’t just another Android tablet. Price-wise, it’s a direct rival to the Nexus 7: in fact, it undercuts Google’s tablet, offering twice the storage at the same price point. Where Google uses the clean Android 4.1 front-end, however, Amazon’s tablet uses a custom shop-front interface, providing a very different experience. In short, it feels like a device designed primarily for consuming content – and for buying more.
As an example, take the horizontally scrolling navigation menu on the homescreen: the first item on offer is “Shop”, and the last is “Offers”. Below that comes content consumption, in the form of a carousel display of all your purchased books. As you use the tablet, recently accessed items and apps join this carousel, and when you stop on an item, the smaller icons at the bottom update to show relevant links. For books this is “customers also bought”: tap on a title and you’re whisked directly to the Amazon website, to complete the purchase in the built-in Silk browser.
If you’re accustomed to the classic Kindle, you may be sceptical about using a device with an LCD panel as an ebook reader, but it isn’t as bad as you might think. Text is remarkably clean and sharp, with superb contrast – by comparison, the Nexus 7 always looks slightly grey. In sunlight the Fire HD’s screen jacks itself up to a quite spectacular brightness (452cd/m2), remaining readable so long as you angle the high-gloss display to avoid reflections.
All the expected Kindle features are present – you can search, annotate and bookmark to your heart’s content – and the X-Ray feature makes it easy to find characters, places or odd phrases if you’re chasing a reference. The only real downer is the sheer heft of it, which makes it tiring to hold one-handed. Physical page-turn buttons are gone, too: you have to swipe or tap the screen.
Content options aren’t limited to books. Naturally, Amazon audiobooks can be downloaded. (Update: This review originally stated that Amazon's WhisperSync service had been extended to support audiobooks. Amazon has since clarified that this upgraded WhisperSync service is currently available only in the US.)
The Kindle Newsstand service comes preinstalled, allowing you to subscribe to hundreds of newspapers and magazines. You get the same content as on the black-and-white Kindle, so it’s all pretty text-heavy.
|Price ex VAT||£133|
|Price inc VAT||£159|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||5|
|Dimensions||137 x 193 x 10mm (WDH)|
|Resolution screen horizontal||800|
|Resolution screen vertical||1,280|
|CPU frequency, MHz||1.2GHz|
|Camera megapixel rating||0.9mp|
|Accessories supplied||Charging cable|
|Mobile operating system||Android 4 (customised)|