Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7, what of performance?

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 395g – more than double the regular E Ink Kindle. It’s larger, too, with a chunky, soft-plastic back, a wide bezel and a full-colour 1,280 x 800 IPS touchscreen.

True, it undercuts Google’s rival Nexus 7 on price, but there’s a hidden cost. Amazon’s tablet uses a custom shop-front interface, making it feel like a device designed primarily for consuming content – and for buying more. As an example, the first item in the horizontal navigation menu on the homescreen 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”s tap on a title and you’re whisked directly to the Amazon website, to complete the purchase in the built-in Silk browser.

As for reading on this tablet, text is remarkably clean and sharp, with superb contrast. In sunlight, the Fire HD’s screen jacks up to a spectacular brightness, remaining readable so long as you angle the high-gloss display to avoid reflections. The only real downer is the sheer heft of it, which makes it tiring to hold one-handed.

Amazon is also keen for you to use the Kindle Fire HD for movies and music, with the buttons and connectors positioned to imply a video-friendly landscape orientation. The speakers won’t fill a room, but they sound great, with an impressively airy tone. Syncing music from your PC is simply a matter of copying files into the Kindle Fire HD’s Music folder, or using Amazon’s Cloud Player service, which automatically syncs with the device.

Video comes via Lovefilm’s Instant service, from which movies and TV episodes can be downloaded or streamed, and Amazon’s own store as well. A micro-HDMI socket allows you to enjoy video on the big screen.

It’s only when we reach apps that the Fire HD’s glow starts to fade. Predictably, the device comes with Amazon’s Appstore. All the big apps are here, along with the tempting Free App of the Day, but you can’t install Google Play on the Fire HD at all –it won’t even run – so if you’re already using an Android smartphone or tablet your existing apps are useless here.

And what of performance? On paper, the 1.2GHz OMAP 4460 processor sounds reasonable for a small tablet, but the Kindle Fire HD is left lagging behind the newer Nexus 7, and in real-world use we found navigating the interface a distinctly jerky experience.

Amazon’s heavy customisation doesn’t help, seeming to prioritise its own commercial interests above yours. T o access the web browser from the main menu, for example, you must scroll past seven categories of purchasable content. Wake the device up from sleep and the lockscreen shows adverts for Amazon partners – a “feature” you’re can pay £10 to disable. As for battery life, don’t expect miracles. We were able to watch 6hrs 28mins of full-screen video; if you switch off Wi-Fi, expect about an extra two-and-a-half hours on top of that.

If you like the idea of a multimedia tablet tied into one retailer, the Fire HD makes sense, but it’s probably worth waiting until the Kindle Fire HDX – with its higher resolution screen – arrives before making your purchase. For everyone else, the freedom of the new Nexus 7 makes it a better long-term bet.