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Kindle Fire HD

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star
Carrier: N/A WiFi-only
Manufacturer: Amazon
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What's hot: Excellent display, wonderful array of Amazon content, easy to use, great customer service.

What's not: No access to the Google Play Store or other Google services.


Reviewed Sept 16, 2012 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The Kindle Fire HD 7" tablet is Amazon's follow-up to the successful $199 Kindle Fire (now reduced to $159 and rechristened the Kindle Fire SD). The HD Fire improves just the things we wished for as first gen Fire users, but it's not the power monster that the also $199 Nexus 7 is. That's fine with us because the tablets aim for two very different kinds of users. The Kindle Fire HD is for those who want a tablet primarily for easy content consumption; and that means Amazon's ever-popular content plus services like Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu Plus. In fact, you can even side-load the Android Nook app if you like! If you're primary interest is watching movies and TV shows, also consider the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" that has a larger and higher resolution display.

Kindle Fire HD

The Kindle Fire HD runs Android OS 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich, though you'd barely guess from looking at Amazon's highly customized user interface with the big carousel of content and tidy bookshelves. That UI is largely unchanged from the first Fire. No geeks, there's no way to make this look like standard Android without hacking the tablet or side-loading alternate Android launcher apps. It has a very sharp IPS 1280 x 800 Gorilla Glass display that's very noticeably better than the 1024 x 600 Kindle Fire SD display. Movies look so much better! Text in books is extremely sharp and clear. Graphically rich magazines in page view mode actually have readable tiny text.

The Fire HD has a new dual core TI OMAP 4460 CPU clocked at 1.2GHz, and the tablet feels more responsive, though that may in part be due to better software tuning. On Quadrant, it scored 2174, which was par for the course among last year's Android tablets, but falls way behind the mid to upper 4000's we see in Tegra 3 tablets and Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 used in 2012 Android smartphones. Still, that's a bit faster than the original Fire and it's more than adequate to power the apps and services on the Fire HD. High quality movies render fine without stalling (the dual band WiFi with MIMO certainly helps too), web pages render much more quickly and games run smoothly. The UI lags less than on the first generation Fire.

Design and Ergonomics, Video and Audio

In terms of looks, Amazon isn't going to turn out a design contest winner for $199. That said, this is a very nice looking tablet, though it still manages to look chunkier than it is (at 0.4", it's the same thickness as the Nexus 7 but appears thicker). The tapered sides look modern and attractive and we like the racing grille that traverses the soft touch back and showcases the excellent stereo speakers with Dolby audio. The bezel is wide and that makes the 13.9 ounce Kindle Fire HD look less modern and aggressive, but ergonomically it gets the job done by giving you a place to grip the unit when reading.

Kindle Fire HD

The Fire HD has a micro HDMI port, Bluetooth 4.0 and a front video chat camera: all important additions as well as features the first Fire lacked. The micro HDMI output good quality audio and video in our tests with a Sony AV receiver, and we were able to watch Amazon Prime videos on the big screen using the tablet.

The Fire HD has a micro USB port so you can charge the tablet and transfer content to the tablet (books, music, videos and personal files). You can also use Amazon's unlimited cloud storage service to transfer content to the tablet and stream anything you've bought from Amazon, obviating the need for more internal storage or an SD card (the HD Fire models lack SD card slots). Amazon includes a USB cable in the box but no charger. You can charge over USB, use your smartphone's charger or buy Amazon's pricy $20 Kindle Fire HD charger. While we understand that manufacturers omitted E-Ink reader chargers to bring the price down (E-Ink readers require charging only once a month on average and require fairly low amps to charge quickly), it's a little disappointing that Amazon left it out for this much more power hungry LCD based device.

Kindle Fire HD

The front camera delivers surprisingly sharp and bright video when using the included Skype for video chat. It's one of the better mobile video chat cameras on the market, and the only thing that reduces quality is if you walk around while chatting (the camera has a hard time keeping up with quick background changes and sends out blocky video). The mic picked up our voice and sent clear audio to our chat partner. Incoming audio was likewise clear and reasonably loud. You can also use a wired or Bluetooth headset for chats.


Deals and Shopping:


Amazon Kindle Fire HD Video Review


We rarely devote a section to a tablet's speakers, but the Kindle Fire HD has remarkably good stereo speakers with Dolby audio. Not only are they a vast improvement over the meek original Fire speakers, they're full and rich sounding. While the first Fire wasn't loud enough to overcome the whirring of my exercise bike in an otherwise quiet room, the Fire HD manages 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 muted, hissy mess 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 4460 CPU runs at 1.2GHz. That's the same CPU used in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and it was the launch platform for Ice Cream Sandwich at the end of 2011. The Fire HD has PowerVR SGX 540 graphics for decent though not cutting edge 3D performance. It handily outperforms the Nvidia Tegra 2's GPU, but can't touch the 12 core GeForce GPU in the Tegra 3. The Fire HD has a much more workable 1 gig of DDR2 RAM vs. the 512 megs on the first Fire. The tablet is available with either 16 or 32 gigs of flash storage (a high quality Samsung eMMC according to the iFixit teardown).

Despite Jeff Bezos' hype, the Kindle Fire HD isn'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 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.


  Quadrant GLBenchmark 2.1Egypt Offscreen AnTuTu Sunspider JavaScript Test
Kindle Fire HD 2174 33 fps 6749 1787 (Silk), 1605 (Chrome)
Kindle Fire SD (first gen) 1963 N/A 4665 2145 (Silk)
Nexus 7 3638 64 fps 10,456 1720
Toshiba Excite 7.7 3996 61 fps 9559 2002
Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 3545 49 fps 7050 2003
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 2705 28 fps 4841 2288


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, so you can get info about the movie and actors when watching an X-Ray compatible Amazon video. 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.

And for something controversial: 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 rooting) of 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 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 Amazon Kindle Fire HD vs. the Google Nexus 7

This decision might be easier than you think. These two tablets are designed with very different users in mind. It used to be that geeks on a tight budget who wanted a good quality general purpose 7" tablet had to buy and root a Nook Tablet or Kindle Fire. Thanks to the Nexus 7, that's no longer necessary. Being a Google pure experience device, the Nexus 7 not only has full access to the wide range of Google apps and services like Gmail, Maps and the Google Play Store, but it's easy to root and load custom ROMs. If that makes you grin madly, then the Nexus 7 is for you. If you could care less about Google's app store and don't know root from ROMs, but you do want to read eBooks, stream video in high quality and listen to music, then the Kindle Fire HD is for you.

Both are roughly the same size and weight (the Nexus 7 is 1.9 ounces lighter), but each tablet has hardware strongpoints. For the Kindle Fire HD these include excellent stereo speakers with Dolby audio, an HDMI port and strong dual band WiFi. For the Nexus 7 it's the GPS (the Kindle Fire HD, like the non-3G/4G iPad can only use WiFi triangulation for location services, though there is a GPS chip that's not currently enabled in software) and a much faster CPU.

For $199 you get 8 gigs of storage on the Nexus 7 ($249 for 16 gigs), while the Kindle Fire HD has 16 gigs for $199 and 32 gigs for $249.

Both have access to MS Office compatible suites, should you wish to get work done. Both have PIM apps and an email client. The Fire HD doesn't have a dedicated Gmail cliient though, you have to use the email client to pick up Gmail.

Amazon's customer support is stellar; it's the best in the business (OK, Apple's is also top notch). Google's support is very weak and Asus' is passable.

Most importantly: if you want a fast, general purpose tablet with access to the Play Store and Google's other services and markets, get the Google Nexus 7 by Asus. If you want a turnkey device to consume books, magazines, movies from Amazon, Netflix and Hulu and music, get the Kindle Fire HD.

Battery Life

The Kindle Fire HD has a 4400 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. The company claims 11 hours of use with mixed tasks that include web browsing, reading books, watching video and listening to music. In our tests, that's proved accurate and the Fire HD outlasts the admittedly robust Nexus 7 (to be fair, the Nexus 7 has a much faster CPU with twice the cores so it needs more power).


It's hard to not like the Amazon Kindle Fire HD. It excels at its purpose as an affordable one-stop device for reading Amazon books and magazines, streaming 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 for a 7" tablet and battery life is very good. 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: $199 for 16 gig model and $249 for 32 gig model



Kindle Fire HD



Kindle Fire HD


Kindle Fire HD


Kindle Fire HD

Above: The Nexus 7 and 7" Amazon Kindle Fire HD.


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Display: 7" capacitive IPS touch screen (Gorilla Glass). Resolution: 1280 x 800, supports both portrait and landscape modes. Has an ambient light sensor, gyro and proximity sensor. Has micro HDMI out.

Battery: 4400 mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable. Battery is not user replaceable.

Performance: 1.2GHz dual core TI OMAP 4460 CPU, PowerVR SGX 540. 1 gig DDR2 RAM, 16 or 32 gigs internal storage.

Size: 7.6 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches. Weight: 13.9 ounces.

Camera: Front HD video chat camera with Skype.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers with Dolby audio, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n with MIMO and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Android OS 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich heavily customized by Amazon.

Expansion: None.


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