Amazon Fire HD Tablets Review
Tablets are in an odd place right now. Sales are slumping for both Android and iOS devices and with phones growing in size every few months the need for a separate, similarly sized device that lacks all the smartphone features is definitely waning.
But that isn’t stopping Amazon, in fact the online shopping behemoth has recently refreshed almost the entire Fire tablet line, giving spec bumps to both the HD 7 and HDX 8.9 and unveiling possibly the most interesting of all, the Amazon Fire HD 6.
I’ve been using the Fire HD 6 as my sole tablet for about a week and it’s surprised me, far outweighing any expectations I had when I first booted it up and tapped in my Amazon details.
But, let’s start with a quick overview of things. The Fire HD 6 as you might have guessed, boasts a 6-inch display which is actually the feature that sets it apart from the rest of the crowded tablet space.
A 6-inch display is more common for a smartphone than a tablet, with most slates slipping into the 7-10-inch range. It gives the Amazon Fire HD 6 a real selling point.
There have been larger tablets this year, the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2 for example; so seeing one go the other way and offer something much smaller is hardly surprising.
With long battery life, a sharp screen and some useful software features, the HD 6 offers impressive value for the money. It’s an excellent choice for children, and anyone else looking for a small-screen tablet on a budget.
If you’re concerned that your child might damage or destroy your tablet, Amazon has you covered with the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition. This durable tablet comes with several built-in apps, and the parental controls protect your child from accessing content you do not want him using. When we compare Kindles, we focus on the overall capabilities, design and usability, and while the Kids Edition doesn’t offer nearly as much as the other Fire tablets and some eBook readers, it is a good tablet for kids.
The Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition comes with several built-in apps, and when kids access the Amazon store, they’ll only be able to choose from kid-friendly apps, books and games. During the first year of ownership, you get free access to Amazon FreeTime, which means that your kids can download apps without charging your credit card.
One of the most frustrating features of this tablet is the lack of a preview function. As you and your kids are browsing the store for apps, clicking an app starts downloading it. This means that you’re likely to fill up the 8GB drive quickly, 4.5GB of which is available to you. There are no expanded storage options, and you cannot supplement storage with an SD card.
This tablet for kids comes with a durable case. There is extra support on the corners, so if your child drops the tablet on a hard surface, you won’t have to worry about it cracking. Should something break on the tablet, Amazon supports it with a two-year unlimited warranty.
The final drawback of the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition is the clumsy user interface for parents. At startup, it goes right into the children’s screen, and parents can switch to a regular Fire interface by punching in a password. It takes a little while to get used to switching between the systems, and adjusting the parental controls takes some time to understand.
When it comes to tablets Amazon has become a real powerhouse. The retailer is back with its 2014 lineup and the runt of the litter is the affordable Fire HD 7. The Kindle name is gone, but there’s still plenty that Amazon’s bringing to the table.
Affordability is the key issue here and I’ll be revisiting it during the course of this review. It’s well known that Android makes money from services and so can deliver the hardware at extremely friendly prices. And yet, with the likes of the Tesco Hudl 2 out there, is Amazon’s offering still worth it?
The 7-inch Amazon Fire HD 7 starts from (US$139) for the 8GB version with special offers. Bar the size, it’s more or less identical to the Amazon Fire HD 6 which starts at (US$99). The difference is the 6-inch model has a mono speaker, smaller pixel density and a lower weight.
The focus of this review is the 7-inch model but I’ll mention these differences in more detail when it’s relevant.
When it comes to the tablet essentials, the Fire HD 7 has everything in place. There’s a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM and choice of 8GB or 16GB internal storage. It’s not a bad roster sheet when you keep in mind the iPad mini 2 is over $180 more expensive and houses a dual-core 1.3GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space.
The tablet as we know it has existed for only three years and we already have plenty of tired old cliches about them. The first is that they’re media consumption machines, built only for taking in movies and leafing through magazines.
Tell that to the legions of suit and tie types running their empires via iPad and keyboard dock. The finest tablets, devices like the Apple’s iPads, Google’s Nexus tablets and Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z, are versatile machines with lush ecosystems and sleek hardware that’s a pleasure to hold.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX comes close to standing among those champion slates. With its pixel rich screen, speedy guts and compact frame it’s Amazon’s answer to the iPad mini 2 with Retina and the Nexus 7. But instead of being the Jack of all trades you might hope for, it ends up as that cliche device that’s built more for pleasure, and purchasing, than anything else.
It’s a high speed gateway to Amazon’s world of stuff, all of it ready to ship right to your door, as well as music, movies and games to download or stream. Those one touch purchases are dangerously convenient, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
The new Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is an update that improves on its predecessor in a number of tangible ways. It combines a gorgeous display with stunning sound and silky smooth performance. The design is solid, the parental controls have been beefed up, and Firefly joins Mayday on the exclusive feature list.
If you’re looking for a catch then here it is – the Fire HDX 8.9 is primarily designed to sell Amazon content. If you’re a big fan of Amazon and you’re already invested in the ecosystem, or you don’t mind that idea, then come on in the water’s lovely. If not perhaps you’d be better looking at something else.
Starting at (US$379) for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only version “with special offers” (adverts) the Fire HDX 8.9 is competitively priced and aimed squarely at the mass market. At the top end it goes up to ($595) for the 64GB, LTE, ad-free model, but you can bet Amazon won’t be shifting nearly as many of those.
The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 goes head-to-head with the big tablet king, Apple’s iPad Air 2, and the latest challenger from Google, the Nexus 9. It’s a touch more expensive than the Nexus 9, but a lot cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and it boasts a few specs that put both of its major competitors to shame.
Has Amazon got it just right? Is the Fire HDX 8.9 the perfect tablet for content consumption? That rather depends on what you’re looking for.