Kindle Fire HD 7" and 8.9"

While Google and ASUS have been basking in the glory of the release of the Nexus 7, and with Apple expected to announce a smaller iPad as early as next week), Amazon has been busy building two devices that cover all bases, media and productivity. 

The Fire HD 7" is a likable candidate in the race for best media tablet. The closed-OS mentality of Amazon's highly-modified version of Android may steer some users awry, but Prime users who enjoy the benefits of the thousands of TV shows and Movies that stream free through Fire tablets may have a greater interest in the closed OS. Amazon recently announced a partnership with Epix to add even more content to their service, which as of this writing includes a total of 2,037 TV seasons (1,524, plus 513 HD seasons) and 5,888 movies.

That is a lot, and Amazon has steered towards newer shows and films like The Avengers and Doctor Who, not I Love Lucy.

On top of that, Amazon's massive selection of books and magazines is the largest available, more than Apple and Google can muster for direct competitoin, and that likely won't change even if  the Kindle tablets aren't successful. All of that considered, Amazon's focus for the HD tabs is twofold: more storage for a lower cost, and an excellent display. I'll need more testing to confirm the latter, but they've certainly made high-end tablets accessible by cost alone.

Again, without better equipment on-site and ample time to benchmark, I can't give any quantitative measurements on how good the display is. The way that Amazon is making the screens on both the 7" and 8.9" "stunning" is through laminating the two panes of glass together to get rid of any air gaps generally made between separate panes, and using what Amazon calls an Advanced True Wide polarizing filter, to improve viewing angles. The lamination is supposed to also reduce glare up to 25%, and from roughly ten minutes of use the glare is visibly less than typical tablets like the iPad or Galaxy Tab 10.1, but those observations were made under lamps, not sunlight.

Both screens are also very dense, at 254 ppi for the 8.9 and 215 ppi on the 7. On the one hand, I'm happy by the 1920 x 1200 resolution on the Fire HD 8.9", which utilizes the 16:10 aspect ratio instead of the more traditional 16:9 widescreen most of today's tablets, monitors, and TVs use. The additional vertical real estate will be beneficial for users who do a lot of web browsing and perhaps make use of productivity tools with the larger tablet. Then again, I know with the ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700T, at 10.1" and with a display of 1080p, I don't need more space going down.The iPad, by comparison, has a 9.7" 2048 x 1536 4:3 display. The Fire HD 8.9 hits a pleasant median between not enough and too much pixel real estate. We'll have to see in further testing when the 8.9" releases in November.

I did play with the viewing angles, and as you can see in some of the pictures in the gallery above, the Fire HD seems to be viewable all around. I had no trouble reading at extremes of over 160 degrees. 

The Fire HD models pre-load all non-streaming media (books, magazines) prior to viewing, which even under fast networks makes the tablets appear to lag. While waiting for the book/magazine to load, users still have full access to the device, but no loading screen and the darkened selected reading material just makes the whole process feel cheap, like it can't load properly. In fact, the Fire HD is loading the entire thing to the RAM so that flipping pages is as seamless as possible, which is a nice change of pace, especially for anyone who's used tablets like the Nexus 7 and notices how even on native magazines it takes a few moments to load every new page. Individual page loading doesn't occur on the Fire HD, at least not with the 7" model. The 8.9" model was kept away from public hands because it hasn't been certified by the FCC just yet.

One other point highly stressed by Amazon was the stereo speakers, which were impossible to hear in a crowded airport hangar. Stereo speakers aren't new to tablets; the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 2 has them in the front, directly facing users. On the Fire HD they are placed where users are expected to hold the device; cupping the hand over either of the speaker grills amplifies the sound forwards, though it isn't exactly comfortable to hold the Fire HD like that. I'll have to see how it feels in the home, under extended use.

Because there wasn't enough time to really play with the software, let's talk quickly about pricing for the 8.9" model. It comes in two forms, Wi-Fi only and LTE. The LTE model is, for now, US only, and works on AT&T's LTE network only. Sorry Verizon subscribers. The Wi-Fi version will sell (and is available for pre-order) for $300 and $370 for 16GB and 32GB, while the LTE model is $500 and $600 for 32GB and 64GB, respectively. If you, like roughly 95% of Americans, don't have AT&T LTE available in your area, the Fire HD does support HSDPA/HSPA+ (3G/4G) and EDGE (2G) networks, which is an improvement over Verizon's LTE network. AT&T's 4G network isn't nearly as stable, but it is nationwide in my experience.

For the first year, Fire HD 8.9: owners can pay $50 once for 250MB/month. After that year ends they go to a traditional data plan by AT&T. Monthly plans normally cost $15/month, totalling to $180, so the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" with LTE saves users $130 over other plans, not including the lower starting cost. Amazon also stated that the 3GB and 5GB plans will be available, but hasn't released pricing for those plans. Only the 8.9" tablet will have LTE available; the Fire HD 7" won't have that functionality whatsoever.

How about for international users? In the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain the Kindle Fire HD 7" will be available on October 25th. The e-readers will be available sooner to over 100 countries. 

The last note is on battery life. Amazon hasn't released any details on the batteries inside any of the Kindle devices, nor did so last year. In our review of the original Kindle Fire, the tablet used a 16Whr battery, which lasted 6 hours of continuous use. The Fire (2012) is expected to last, according to Amazon, 8.5 hours, while the Fire HD 7" should last 11 hours. There is no word yet on the Fire HD 8.9", but those numbers do fall in line with last year's numbers, the increase in performance power and RAM, and more efficient software.

Kindle Fire (2012): A slight update to replace last year's model
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  • jahara21 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    I just pre-ordered the 3G Kindle Paperwhite and it gave me the option to get it without the special offers for an additional $20 (bringing it up to $199). Reply
  • marvdmartian - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Don't know how the new Fire tablets will be, in this regard. But I picked up the lowest end Kindle reader a few months ago (Walmart had it for $79, with a $30 gift card....making it, effectively $49), and it's ad-supported.

    The ONLY time I see any ads is if it goes into standby (after a few minutes of no use, which gives you a full page ad), and if I go to the main menu, which gives you a little strip ad at the bottom of the screen.

    Since I'm not actively using the Kindle when it's in standby, that ad is completely non-instrusive. It's like having a commercial on, in the middle of your TV show, while you're going to the bathroom. The little strip ad is simply ignored. And while it's not really much of an option on an internet tablet, with my reader, I turn off the WiFi (to help battery life), and after a week, the ads are replaced by some fancy pattern, with small text asking you to please turn on WiFi, in order to download new ads.

    Yeah.......I'll get right on that one, Amazon! ;-)
    Reply
  • Hemi345 - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    My thoughts exactly. B&N's Nook Color/Tablet might not have the eco system Amazon's Kindle Fires do, but the hardware is solid and well designed, expandability is there, and the user experience is right on. Reply
  • joshv - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    So I take it that you don't subscribe to cable or satellite TV? Reply
  • tecknurd - Saturday, September 08, 2012 - link

    The ads on Amazon Kindles made me go with a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch. I selected the Glowlight version. Ads on a product that you paid for is pathetic. Marketing is playing tricks. Amazon should be sued for doing such tactic. It is like Paid Day loans because you are paying like 60% in interest which is against the law. Reply
  • doubledeej - Thursday, September 06, 2012 - link

    Why does every tablet maker (aside from BlackBerry) put the speakers on the back, facing backward? Its almost like they want everybody in the room to hear your tablet but you. Come on, guys! Move the speakers to the front where they belong! Reply
  • Samus - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    Tell me about it. My $2000 Samsung 3D LED TV has worse sound than my 30-year old Toshiba 25" clunker because the speakers face the brick wall behind it.

    When I buy a $2000 TV, I don't expect to have to buy an additional $500 soundbar to correct its shortcomings...and it's not just Samsung, it's EVERYONE. Not a single LCD TV I looked at put speakers on the front. Why? For asthetics? Does everyone all the sudden think they're Apple now? Form over function...right.
    Reply
  • Impulses - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    My four or five year old Vizio TV has front firing speakers, they still sound like crap. Why would you need to spend $500 on a sound bar regardless? You can get a small amp and some bookshelf speakers for like half that much and they'll probably blow away most sound bars. Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    I second this. I also have a Vizio 50" plasma in the basement, with front speakers that suck. I just bought a $35 (on sale) set of logitech speakers + subwoofer - something like this:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    and it sounds great. I have a fancy surround systembuilt into my family room upstairs, which cost a lot more money, but this cheaper solution really isn't bad - as good or better than a sound bar.

    However a sound bar might be needed if you don't have a convenient place to put speakers.
    Reply
  • bigboxes - Friday, September 07, 2012 - link

    You spend $2,000 on a TV and don't have a dedicated A/V system. Fail. Reply

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