Yesterday, at an event in Santa Monica CA, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Kindle Fire HD. The device comes in two flavors, 7-inch and 8.9-inch, and they will retail for $199 and $299, respectively, with the former shipping from September 14th onwards while the latter will see a November 20th release date.
The most interesting is certainly the 8.9-inch 4G LTE version featuring 32GB of internal memory and priced at $499 with a $49.99 per year data plan!
On paper, the specifications and pricing look awesome, the processor is powerful enough and runs a decent GPU for gaming purposes. As for the display size and resolution, they are great, with a thin form factor (8.8 mm for the 8.9-inch) and weight (20 ounces for the 8.9-inch) that make it more comfortable to carry than the iPad.
I played with the 7-inch version which is certainly a serious competitor to the Nexus 7. We could not play with the 8.9-inch model. Read the complete article to discover my first impressions.
I played for about 20 minutes with the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch while taking pictures of the device.
The Kindle Fire HD 7-inch is well designed, it is very light and features a good build quality. The back is slightly curved and gets a soft touch texture crossed by a darker band that visually connects the two speakers. The device is comfortable to hold in the hand.
The volume and power buttons are almost invisible on the right side, and the micro USB is located on the bottom side with the micro HDMI connector. The audio jack is at the top of the right side.
The Kindle Fire HD 7-inch is certainly way more elegant and thinner than its predecessor, and I prefer the look of its backside better than the Nexus 7.
The display quality is very good, thanks to its high resolution (1280×800). The colors are bright and the contrasts are deep. Watching videos and browsing photos on this tablet is a real pleasure.
According to Jeff Bezos, the display quality is better due to its laminated touch sensor that prevents the air gap and enables 25% less glare alongside sharper contrasts. We will need to spend some time with the review unit and compare it to the Nexus 7 (same display resolution) and the iPad (higher resolution) to see if it really makes a difference.
High quality HD IPS display with polarizing filter and anti-glare technology
Dual stereo speakers with Dolby sound
16GB storage minimum (instead of 8GB)
New email app that works with Exchange
40% faster WiFi : dual band (2.4 GHz, 5.0 GHz), two antennas and MIMO technology
(see comparative chart provided by Amazon)
4G version (8.9-inch) @ $499 with a great 4G plan ($50 a year)
X-Ray for movies
X-Ray for books
Whispersync for Voice
Whispersync for Game
Kindle Free Time allows to set a time limit for each type of content for kids
Overall, the user interface is responsive and the carousel on the home screen is very fluid. However, I noticed that getting to each section at the top is a little bit slow. I was told that the demo units at the event were pre-production units and that the software is not yet final, and the final product should be faster on that side.
The user interface is similar to the previous model, and personally, I still like the fact that you can easily access all kinds of content, although you are pretty much kept inside Amazon-land.
According to the online retail giant, users have access to over 22 millions apps, games, songs, movies, TV shows, magazines, books via the Amazon store.
Just like the previous Kindle Fire, you may be able to get non-Amazon apps (from sites like GetJar or Only Android), but you may need to go to the settings first to do so. You can read more info on how to do it in this PC World article. I did not have the time to check how you can do it on the new Kindle Fire HD.
The ease of use should work again wonderfully for people who are not tech-savvy and love to consume content on a tablet. Everything is organized around content categorization (books, videos, apps, docs…) and the Amazon store is the first section displayed at the top.
It is interesting to note that, in addition to the carousel, Amazon used an “old web concept” for the navigation across the tablet: the good old top navigation bar with clickable words to access sections. This is quite different from the “icon only navigation” that you find in all other mobile operating systems, additionally it allows to organize the tablet exactly like an online store.
The low price 4G LTE plan offered by Amazon for the 8.9-inch that will retail at $499 is the killer feature released yesterday. In the picture below, check the slide shown by Jeff Bezos that compares pricing with the 4G plan offered with the iPad: you will save $400 per year with Amazon.
Virtual keyboard: Typing was smooth and very easy using the virtual keyboard in landscape mode with both thumbs. It is responsive and the predictive typing is comfortable to use, thanks to the 7-inch form factor.
Email: The email was not set on the unit I tried, but according to the Amazon representative I talked with, it is now possible and very easy to setup Exchange email accounts.
Skype: I tried Skype briefly, and even so, that was only the chat function. The app was not preloaded in the device, and it was fast to download it from the cloud menu in the App section. I did not try video conferencing, since I was advised that the WiFi connection was overloaded and it might not work.
Web Browser with Bing Search: Given the overloaded WiFi network during the event we cannot judge the perceived performance of the web browser properly, especially for page loading time. Page scrolling and pinch to zoom were pretty fast and fluid. Since Amazon claims to have a faster WiFi connection than any other tablet (31 Mbps download speed), I certainly want to check web page loading time under regular conditions.
The search box is powered by Bing and I did not check if it is possible to switch to another search engine, anyhow you can always go to the web to access another search engine.
Video (very good): I watched briefly the first movie featured in the Video section: “Hunger Game”.The viewing experience is great, the image quality is really good and the video is fluid. I had a blast using the new X-ray feature in that movie, at any time you can click on the actors’ pictures and obtain additional information. (see photo)
Speaker-quality: I could not gauge the audio quality properly since the place was way too noisy, I only know that the sound is pretty powerful when the volume is set at maximum. The dual speakers with exclusive Dolby sound may make a difference. We all know that getting good audio quality in thin tablets at a low price point is a challenge. I cannot wait to hear them when the review unit comes our way!
Magazines (very good): The magazine application is very nice, it is comparable to the one found in the Nexus 7. I did not play with it enough to notice any difference.
Books with Whispersync for Voice and X-Ray (very good): Whispersync is the Amazon feature that allows syncing all your books across multiple devices. Today, Whispersync for Voice was released during the event: it merges the audio book with the regular book. Watch the demo in the video. Similarly than X-Ray for movies, you can access additional information about the characters and where they are mentioned in the book (see the demo in the video).
Gaming with WhisperSync: The gaming section is full of games and I did not really have the time to try one. The Power VR GPU featured in the OMAP SoC looks good on the paper, but we need to run benchmarks to see how good it really is for 3D gaming.
According to Jeff Bezos presentation, the OMAP 4470 (featured in the 8.9-inch / the 7-inch gets the OMAP 4460) significantly outperforms Tegra 3 (the processor that runs the Nexus 7) – see the slide above and below.
WhisperSync for Games is a cloud service that will store game scores and other in-game data that developers want to save across devices.
Kindle Free Time (looks useful for parents): This feature allows to set time limits for each content category. Kindle Free Time can manage multiple profiles as well. It looks useful for parents, please note that I did not play with it.
Just like its predecessor, the new Kindle Fire HD does exactly what Amazon wanted it to: it is affordable and provides an easy way to consume more content from Amazon. For evidence, refer to the statement in the slide below that was displayed during the presentation.
We know that it is extremely difficult for manufacturers to make money with low-cost tablets, that’s why a company which does not need to make profits from the hardware itself has a better chance to win the game. For Amazon, this is a business not unlike what Microsoft and Sony are doing with their game consoles.
With the improved display, the upgraded processor with great performance (according to Amazon’s benchmarks), the upscale audio (dual stereo speakers with Dolby sound) and an affordable price, the Kindle Fire HD is a “killer”. We will have to compare it carefully with the Nexus 7 which provides similar quality for the same price point.