Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ – e-reader with extras

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Amazon plunges into the budget tablet market again with a souped-up e-reader with an attractive screen, a good quality camera and impressive video streaming capability. Can it replicate the original’s success?

HD does movies well but remains as locked down as its smaller sibling.

The Kindle Fire HD is more an 8.9-inch e-reader with tablet capabilities than a full-blown dedicated tablet like its Google and Apple rivals. It measures 240mm by 164mm and is just 8.8mm thick – that’s almost as slim as Samsung’s Galaxy S III.

The device is nothing spectacular in the looks department but neither is it especially hideous – it falls into the ‘black rectangle’ category of devices, saved somewhat by rounded edges for more comfortable cradling.

There’s a speaker band running across the lower back with speaker outlets just about where you’d hold the device, but this didn’t affect sound quality.

It weighs in at 567g, which feels slightly too heavy. Sitting in bed to read, for example, you’ll need to prop up the weight with your elbows, or give your guns a workout. It’s 172g heavier than its smaller sibling, the seven-inch Kindle Fire HD, which seems a lot given the battery life is almost the same.

For your viewing pleasure
The Kindle Fire HD packs a 1,920 x 1,200 display with 254ppi, which shows videos in up to 1080p HD. They look good on this device – the reader became my main way to catch up on my shows, not something that I commonly do with devices. The video quality is good and streaming times are quick with little load time or lag. The Kindle Fire HD uses Gorilla Glass on its touchscreen, which resisted wear and tear well, as did the overall device.

The Kindle’s video section is geared around Amazon’s film and video streaming service, Lovefilm, which is pretty well set up and actually my preference in catalogue size and quality over main rival Netflix (although considering Netflix has just announced its own series with the Wachowski siblings, I’m wavering). For those who want to break free of Amazon’s vice-like grip, you can also download the Netflix app for the Kindle Fire.

Books look good on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, as you’d expect, and all the Kindle capabilities are there – you can change fonts and size, brightness, look up words by tapping (I love this), make notes on a page and bookmark – all pretty much standard fare. If you’re a big Amazon e-book user, this will suit you just fine as the Kindle Fire is focused primarily on Amazon’s own products. Given Amazon’s e-book range is pretty huge, and it has all those lovely free classics to enjoy, this is a smart move.

Irritating OS
The not-so-great move was Amazon’s own version of Google’s Android operating system. Amazon has taken the OS and re-tooled it, but the same tailoring that points you towards Lovefilm, Amazon’s e-book collection and other Amazon offerings (which make it money) is also restricting for the user.

The main home page features a carousel of your most recently used apps, which is frankly a pain. If you’re a sporadic user, your apps become jumbled and it can be a nuisance flicking through to find them. There is a display running across the top with ‘go to’ options (again, Amazon-tailored) but when you just want to quickly access Skype or email, but haven’t done it for a while, flicking through it is an annoyance.

Speaking of email, Amazon has removed an in-built Gmail syncing option. You’ve got your email option, through which you can certainly add your Gmail account, but there’s no dedicated app, even when searching the store. Various apps are missing, like Google Maps, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Drive – Amazon wants you to use its cloud services. This all seems a bit pointless – Amazon seems to have cherry-picked here without any real consistency.

This tailoring can be useful in some instances – documents can be pulled from Amazon Cloud and the Kindle arrives pre-registered, so users can download their content without set-up.

Full article in Mobile News issue 538 (May 6, 2013).

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