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.