It's only been a year since the original Amazon Kindle Fire's debut, but the market for $200 mid-size tablets is now brimming with options from major brand names. Google unleashed its well received Nexus 7 Tablet last month, and Microsoft will release its Microsoft Surface tablet-ultrabook hybrid in late October. Barnes & Noble, too, will soon update its scrappy NOOK Color. And many Apple fans are waiting on the announcement of a possible iPad Mini in the next month.
And while the original Amazon Kindle Fire sold extremely well — and jump started the $200 tablet craze — it was greeted with a hearty meh from the press. Earlier this month, though, Amazon tried again.
In addition to an upgraded "original" Fire, Amazon debuted the Kindle Fire HD in a variety of flavors: the 7" version will retail for $199 (16GB) and $249 (32GB); the 8.9" WiFi tablet (which approaches an iPad-like size) for $299 (16GB) and $369 (32GB); and the 8.9" LTE-equipped tablet for $499 (32GB) and $599 (64GB). This latest line of HD Fires has received some complimentary (if not overwhelming) reviews, with an emphasis on how far a consumer's dollar can go with the basic $199 7" version. Here's a glimpse at what the tech world is saying about the new Amazon Kindle Fire HD.
Praise for the Speakers, Improved WiFi, and Readable Screen
Amazon is pushing the Fire HD as a top-shelf media consumption device, and the company is specifically kvelling over the Fire HD's high-resolution IPS LCD screen (1280x800p on the 7", 1920x1200p on the 8.9") with new anti-glare technology.
But ABC's Joanna Stern gives the screen a tepid rave: "I didn't find the Fire HD's display that much better than the Nexus 7's in my side-by-side comparisons, but I did notice a difference outdoors .... It's not as good as the regular E-Ink Kindle under direct sunlight, but ... it was much easier to see text and images on the Fire HD's display than on the Nexus or iPad." Kyle Wagner at Gizmodo offered a brighter review: "The retina-caliber display makes reading books and articles easier on the eyes," he says, before beaming that it "might be the first time reading a book on a backlit screen doesn't feel totally idiotic."
Aside from the near-universally extolled screen quality, the Kindle HD also packs a set of stereo speakers — a rare feature for most tablets. These speakers are additionally blessed with Dolby Digital technology, an inclusion that CEO Jeff Bezos touted heavily during the tablet's debut. The press, too, appreciated this specification, if to a lesser degree. Joshua Topolsky of The Verge commented that, "You won't get anything near those lofty [PR promises], but [the speakers] do sound quite nice, and it's a welcome change to have stereo sound."
Another notable upgrade is the dual-band dual-antenna WiFi, which Gizmodo praises as a noticeable improvement. "The WiFi really is better than competitors'. The Fire HD was on average more than twice as fast as the Nexus 7 and the original Fire."
The OS, Design, and Advertisements Leave Something to Be Desired
The Fire HD is by all accounts a superior media delivery mechanism, but it falls short in tablety ways. Kyle Wagner summarizes: "It's terrific, until you actually need to accomplish a task other than watching a full season of Fringe." To start, it's missing some key ingredients, namely multitasking. And even though the Kindle OS is built on top of Android, it will only run a fraction of the apps available in Google Play. Moreover, while CNET applauds the upgraded interface, deeming it "sleeker, more streamlined, and more mature," the publication still laments its occasionally sluggish performance.
CNET further critiques the build of the tablet, suggesting that its not as user-friendly, or as light as the Nexus 7. "The top and bottom bezel (when held in landscape mode) feel needlessly long, and as a result, the Fire HD just isn't as comfortable to hold in one hand as Google's tablet."
Likely the biggest gripe about the Fire HD is its deep integration of the Amazon storefront — specifically, the "special deals" that appear throughout the UI, which Jamie Lendino at PC Mag dubbed a flat-out "disgrace." Reportedly, Amazon had to subsidize the Fire HD quite a bit to get it to the $200 price point. In order to justify this expense, they loaded the OS with
advertisements "special deals" that can be purchased through the Amazon store with a tap of the screen. However, Amazon has announced that users can opt out of Kindle Fire HD ads for an additional $15, bringing the non-ad "base" price to $214. (The Nexus 7 starts at $199 without ads, but it features 8GB of storage instead of 16GB.)
Overall, the Kindle Fire HD is being hailed as a marked improvement over the previous incarnation, and the stereo speakers and screen in particular are receiving high praise. But there are several caveats, too, suggesting that there's no rush to buy the Kindle Fire HD just yet — especially when there are still other tablet offerings to come later this season. Plus, there's a good chance we'll see some slight discount or bundled deal in the coming weeks or months, so you might as well wait patiently to save some scratch. Keep an eye on our Kindle deals page or set up a custom email alert to stay abreast of the latest Kindle news.