We rarely devote a section to a tablet's speakers, but the Kindle Fire HD models have remarkably good stereo speakers with Dolby audio. Not only are they a vast improvement over the meek original Kindle Fire speakers, they're full and rich sounding with noticable channel separation. While the first Fire wasn't loud enough to overcome the whirring of my exercise bike in an otherwise quiet room, the Fire HD models manage just fine. That's important for a device that's designed to present both music and video. In fact, music is actually enjoyable through the speakers rather than sounding like the soft, hissy nastiness that we hear from most 7" tablets including the Nexus 7. For even better sound, plug in a decent set of stereo headphones or speakers. You can even use Bluetooth stereo speakers with the Fire HD.
Performance and Horsepower
The dual core TI OMAP 4770 CPU runs at 1.5GHz, which is 300MHz faster in terms of clock speed than the 7" Fire HD. That's also a somewhat faster CPU with a slightly faster PowerVR SGX 544 graphics processor. The 8.9" Fire HD needs that extra horsepower to drive all those additional pixels vs. the 1280 x 800 resolution Fire HD. It has solid though not cutting edge 3D performance. It handily outperforms the Nvidia Tegra 2's GPU, but can't touch the quad core Tegra 3 with 12 core GeForce graphics. The Fire HD 8.9" has 1 gig of DDR2 RAM.
Despite Jeff Bezos' hype, the Kindle Fire HD tablets aren't going to set new speed records for Android tablets. Far from it. But it is more than fast enough to get the job done, from HD video playback to moderate gaming. Web browsing speeds are as good as on devices with much faster CPUs, and games on the Amazon App Store played perfectly. This isn't a tablet for cutting edge geeks who crave the fastest silicon in production. It's here to get a job done, and it does that job just fine. We also noted that the Fire 8.9 feels a little snappier than the Fire HD 7" model, though in each case we have a feeling that Amazon's highly customized UI stands in the way of even greater responsiveness.
Really, little has changed from the last gen Kindle Fire, but we'll note the new features here. The Fire HD now has access to X-Ray for movies in addition to books, so you can get info about the movie and actors when watching an X-Ray compatible Amazon video (courtesy of IMDB, which Amazon owns). You can read a book while listening to it read aloud via text to speech and now with Audible companion books too. There's Whispersync to keep your place in books, movies and audiobooks. In fact, Whispersync can save your place in compatible games too via the new GameCircle that also handles social gaming.
We're thrilled that the Fire HD has calendar and contacts applications that can sync to Google, and the email client (pretty much the standard Android email client) can pick up POP3/IMAP/Exchange/Yahoo/Gmail/AOL and other popular email sources.
The Fire HD models are ad sponsored. That means you'll see an ad when you wake up the device. If you swipe the double-ended unlock bar left to right, you'll get more info about that ad (a special offer, a trailer for an upcoming movie or TV show, even a free $5 to spend on the Amazon MP3 store). If you swipe right to left (grab the lock symbol and swipe), you'll go back to whatever screen you left off on. Amazon will make your Fire HD ad-free if you pay them $15.
Yes, you can side-load apps that you've downloaded to your smartphone or tablet and transfer them to the Kindle Fire HD, but it takes some know-how and often rooting your other device to extract apps from it to transfer to the Kindle. You can also search the web for the apps you're interested in, and you may find them available for download from places other than the Google Play Store. Peruse the Amazon App Store from your computer's web browser: if you find key apps missing, the Fire HD 8.9" might not be for you.
The Kindle Fire HD is rootable, though the bootloader is securely locked. Root access opens up possibilities for installing the Google Play Store and enabling login in other side-loaded Google apps.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9" has a 6000 mAh Lithium Ion battery that's sealed inside. As mentioned, it doesn't come with a charger so you'll either use your smartphone charger or buy Amazon's $20 charger. You can charge via your computer's USB port but plan on keeping it plugged in overnight if the battery is nearly drained. The company claims 10 hours of use with mixed tasks that include web browsing, reading books, watching video and listening to music. In our tests, the tablet averaged a respectable 9 hours and standby life is much better than average.
It's hard to not like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9. It excels at its purpose as an affordable one-stop device for reading Amazon books and magazines, streaming Amazon video, playing music and providing you with a safe (albeit somewhat limited) app store. It's brain-dead easy to use, Amazon provides excellent support and their various stores have more than enough content to keep you entertained for the next 20 years. The IPS display is very sharp and has excellent viewing angles, the speakers are awesome and battery life is good. The larger screen vs. the Fire HD 7" model is a strong selling point if you watch videos often and read digital magazines. It's everything that a purpose-built entertainment tablet should be. Just remember, it's not designed to be a general purpose Android tablet.
Price: $299 for 16 gig model and $369 for 32 gig model. $499 for 32 gig LTE 4G model (includes a very small monthly data allowance).
iPad Mini and Kindle Fire HD 8.9"