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Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in review

Verdict

A tablet custom-built for buying books and movies: for mainstream apps and web browsing, you may want to look elsewhere

Review Date: 27 Sep 2012

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £133 (£159 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £139
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

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.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in - front

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.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in - rear

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.

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User comments

Nexus for geeks, Fire HD for normals

The Fire HD is there to compete for the same audiences as the iPad - people who want the handholding of a custom, fixed interface and ecosystem - but who are either invested in the Amazon ecosystem or who were not prepared to pay/couldn't afford £400 for a tablet.

These are the sort of people who use Amazon to buy all their consumables - the people who will see the ads for the Fire HD and, used as they are to the price of the iPad, will suddenly feel there's a tablet they can afford. I felt exactly the same way when what is now the Kindle Keyboard was launched at £109 - suddenly I could afford a decent ebook reader.

For all that we geeks find a micromanaged user interface cloying and claustrophobic, my parents would welcome being given very clear directions on what they should do with their tablet. Non-techie parents of young kids will welcome the excellent parental controls built-into the Fire, knowing they can hand it over without fear of what they may see on it or do with it.

The Fire HD is not for me - I am very, very happy with my lovely Nexus 7. But I might get one for my 6 year old son, or my mum who's in her 70s.

It's a pity that the value isn't as good in the UK as the US, but that's also true of the Nexus - and £159 is bloody cheap for a good quality tablet.

Personally, I am MUCH more interested in when Amazon plans to launch its paperwhite ebook reader over here. But from a business point of view, this proliferation of cheap, credible Android tablets with good ecosystems has got to be a good thing.

By KevPartner on 28 Sep 2012

E-Ink Kindle

UK customers are not offered the latest E-Ink Kindle that you refer to. That is US only. We only get a minor update to the old model.

By tirons1 on 28 Sep 2012

@tirons1

Yes, I know. That's why I said I was interested in knowing when Amazon plans to launch it - it will come at some point. Probably spring next year.

By KevPartner on 28 Sep 2012

Content...

The biggest problem is content. I don't know what the UK offering is like, but here, in Germany, they offer around a quarter of the number of films to buy for the Kindle as I already have on DVD!

I like reading on my Kindle, but I don't like reading on my smartphone, because of the smears, they really annoy me and I end up wiping the display clean every couple of pages. A physical button to turn pages is a big plus on the Kindle.

As to Kevin's headline, I would say that the Kindle HD is for Amazon customers, the Fire for geeks.

By big_D on 28 Sep 2012

@ Darien

Can the Kindle Fire HD output via HDMI while also doing the bluetooth via audio? I'm interested in one for watching movies while rowing (in a shared house with close neighbours, so just cranking up the volume on speakers isn't an option and normal headphones pop out).

I like the Nexus 7, but with no HDMI out it's a non-starter for me, I'm afraid. And the bluetooth + HDMI out thing seems to be an issue with so many devices - my Galaxy S2 and S3 don't support it, neither do various tablets and other phones that I've tested.

It's either that or I rig up some kind of mount on the fan-wheel so that the screen is closer...

By bioreit on 28 Sep 2012

@KevPartner

Oops. Sorry I didn't read your post to the end.

By tirons1 on 28 Sep 2012

@big_D

I don't know if this would work for you, but I use the white text on a black background option. It hides the smears fairly well and is less obtrusive when reading in bed.

By tirons1 on 28 Sep 2012

@bioret

If your viewing device (tv, projector etc.) has a headphone socket, you can get a quite cheap bluetooth transmitter to plug into it from ebay. That should get around your biggest problem and allow you to work with your S2 or S3.

By Shuflie on 28 Sep 2012

It's a portable shopping device, that just happens to be a tablet

By luckyse7en on 1 Oct 2012

The tech specs on this left almost as any questions unanswered as it answers.

Does it have a micro USB/USB port?
Does it support SDHC/microSDHC?

MP3/Flac/Xvid/Divx/h/x.264/.mkv/.avi etc.

How many cores does the CPU have?

By James22_uk on 2 Oct 2012

Yes to micro-USB, no card slot, dual-core CPU. The built-in player supports only H.264 MP4s but you can of course install other player apps.

By DarienGS on 2 Oct 2012

@ Shuflie

Thanks for the reply - I've tried a couple of bluetooth 3.5mm adapters including an IOGear one and I've found the additional audio lag to be unacceptable: around an extra 1.5 seconds on top of the 0.5 second delay just from using the headphones. I'm pretty sensitive to audio lag and 2 seconds of lag is almost laughable.

But thanks for taking the time to help!

By bioreit on 3 Oct 2012

@ Shuflie

Thanks for the reply - I've tried a couple of bluetooth 3.5mm adapters including an IOGear one and I've found the additional audio lag to be unacceptable: around an extra 1.5 seconds on top of the 0.5 second delay just from using the headphones. I'm pretty sensitive to audio lag and 2 seconds of lag is almost laughable.

But thanks for taking the time to help!

By bioreit on 3 Oct 2012

For that reason, I'm out...

I'm fed up with being denied cool features by Amazon here in the UK. Kindle gifting, the ability for publishers to see highlighted text, every single hardware release... I'd love a Paperwhite.

For that reason I'll stick with my venerable Kindle Keyboard until we start getting near simultaneous release of all features and hardware.

To rub salt in the wound they charge us the dollar price in pounds as if they don't understand what an exchange rate is... no wonder companies call us Treasure Island.

By thechasman on 9 Oct 2012

Seems like you've got your wish. The Amazon front page introduced it today for pre-order, it will be released 25 October, according to Amazon

By StoneFree on 12 Oct 2012

quasar

why is it so difficult to read the HD fire 8.9 in daylight when I have no problem with my old kindle and why does the Fire not have whispa net?

By platinum on 11 Apr 2013

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