Amazon's Kindle Fire HD family: The highs and lows you need to know

Amazon's Kindle Fire HD family: The highs and lows you need to know

Summary: There's no doubt that Amazon's Kindle Fire HD family is great hardware, packaged and put together at a very competitive price. But there are some negatives that anyone planning to pull the trigger on a pre-order need to know about.

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Book giant Amazon yesterday pulled back the curtains on its new Kindle Fire HD family of tablets.

Now that the fanfare and hype has died down a bit, it's time to take a closer look at the device and examine just how much of a game-changer it is likely to be.

There's no doubt that Amazon's original Kindle Fire tablet was a huge hit. It earned over 10,000 5-star customer reviews, it remained the number-one best-selling product on Amazon since its introduction, and it captured 22 percent of U.S. tablet sales in nine months. Amazon hopes to duplicate that success with its family of Kindle Fire HD tablets.

There's certainly a lot of high-end technology packed into every Kindle Fire HD tablet.

First, there are new displays. The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD comes with a 1920x1200 1080p HD display with in-plane switching, Advanced True Wide polarizing filter. The 254 pixels per inch, Amazon says, are "indistinguishable to the human eye" -- in other words: it's a retina display. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD features a 1280x800 screen resolution. Both screen sizes feature 10-point multi-touch support.

The screen also features a custom laminated touch sensor that Amazon claims offers 25 percent less glare than the latest Apple iPad. Most displays are constructed from two sheets of glass, an LCD, and a touch sensor separated by an air gap. This gap allows light to come through the touch sensor and reflect off the LCD, which causes additional glare.  The Kindle Fire HD eliminates this air gap by laminating the touch sensor and the LCD together into a single glass layer.

The Kindle Fire HD is also powered by some serious silicon. The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD is powered by the latest generation dual-core 1.5GHz OMAP4 4470 processor with an on-board Imagination SGX544 graphics engine that's capable of over 12 billion floating point operations per second -- or 50 percent more than Nvidia's Tegra 3 processor.

The processor in the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD is a dual-core OMAP4 4460 1.2GHz part. Less power, but this is offset by the smaller screen.

Then there's the high-end "laptop" quality Wi-Fi hardware. The Kindle Fire HD feature a dual antenna design for better reception, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi and MIMO (Multiple In/Multiple Out) that offers higher bandwidth and longer range.

Amazon claims that this is the first time that all of these state-of-the-art Wi-Fi technologies have been included in a tablet, and that together they add up to 40 percent faster throughput compared to the latest generation iPad. 

The Kindle Fire HD also comes in a 4G LTE version for those wanting high-speed data access when out and about. In order to cram an LTE modem into the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon had to come up with custom hardware only 2.2 millimeters thick.

LTE data packages aren't usually cheap, but Amazon has this sorted. Kindle Fire HD owners will be able to purchase a 12-month data plan offering 250MB per month, 20GB of Amazon Cloud storage, and a $10 credit in the Amazon Appstore for a one-time cost of $49.99. If this isn't enough, customers will be able to choose to upgrade to 3 GB or 5 GB data plans from AT&T directly from the tablet. 

The Kindle Fire HD also redefines storage, adding 64GB to the normal 16GB and 32GB offerings for the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD comes with either 16GB or 32GB. All that local storage is backed up by Amazon's cloud storage.

The Kindle Fire HD has another first for a tablet: the next generation Dolby Digital Plus audio platform. Also included is Dolby's audio suite for Kindle Fire HD, which is used to automatically adjust volume and deliver easier-to-understand dialogue in movies and TV shows. 

All this technology hasn't compromised battery life either, with the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD rated to be able to deliver over 11 hours of battery life. However, it is worth noting that Amazon hasn't yet released the battery specs for the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD, so there may be a nasty surprise there waiting for owners.

The Kindle Fire HD tablets also support Bluetooth and HDMI for connectivity, and have a front-facing HD camera for keeping in touch with others.

Prices for the tablets are as follows:

Model Price
7-inch Kindle Fire HD - 16GB $199
7-inch Kindle Fire HD - 32GB $249
8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD - 16GB $299
8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD - 32GB $369
8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE - 32GB $499
8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD 4G LTE - 64GB $599

From a hardware, price, and services point of view, there's a lot to like about the Kindle Fire HD. But there are some things that anyone thinking about buying one -- especially if they don't already own a first-generation Kindle Fire -- need to know.

First up is the fact that the Kindle Fire HD is a vehicle for delivering you ads. Yes, that's right. Every Kindle Fire HD that Amazon sells is ad-supported, those ads being displayed on the lock screen when the device is not in use, and in the corner of the home screen. If you're comfortable with such things, fine; but if you're not then this might be a black mark against the entire lineup.

Another downside is Amazon's app ecosystem. While it certainly can't be described as a bad, it's not going to offer the same variety as Google's Play store does, and new apps may take longer to become available from Amazon's store. If you like to have the latest "must have" Android app as soon as possible, then an Amazon tablet might not be the Android device for you.

If you already own an Android or iOS device, then you should be clear about the fact that everything you've bought -- apps, content and so on -- can't be migrated to the new platform. If the stuff you've bought is disposable then this won't matter, but if you have apps or content that you turn to regularly, switching platforms will mean buying your stuff again.

It's also worth noting that in order to make use of the 5GHz Wi-Fi, your router will need to support the 802.11n standard. If you've bought a new Wi-Fi router in the last couple of years then chances are good that you're good to go; otherwise, you're not going to get the full benefit of the technology packed into Amazon's new tablet.

There's no doubt that Amazon's Kindle Fire HD family is great hardware, packaged and put together at a very competitive price. The introduction of these new tablets is going to be hugely disruptive to the Android ecosystem, and quite possibly put a speed-bump in front of the iPad. But as with most things, it's not a one-size-fits-all tablet.

That said, Kindle Fire HD is probably the closest thing to a one-size-fits-all tablet that seen yet.

Image source; Amazon [1, 2, 3], Dolby.

Topics: Amazon, 4G, Android, Hardware, Mobile OS, Tablets

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143 comments
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  • I think the 4470 is a quad-core processor..

    .. and is the one powering the 8.9" Kindle. Error there?
    addicted2088
    • Product numbering schema can lead one to believe that...

      But, it's a dual-core with symmetric multi-processing. Some may say the benefits of SMB allow it to run like a quad-core.
      Geary Hughes
    • 4470 Processor

      It is a dual core processor
      aekatz@...
    • Totally agree with addicted2088 suggestion that

      Totally agree with addicted2088 suggestion that .. and is the one powering the 8.9" Kindle. Error there? http://awazbox.com/
      hinakhanji1
  • Really, really good tablet, but still not a Retina display

    "254 pixels per inch that Amazon says are "indistinguishable to the human eye" -- in other words: it's a retina display"

    The point is that whether certain screen can be called "retina" or not depends on viewing distance. This is smaller device, hence people will look at it from closer distance. So this adds up to slightly lower pixel density and all together those facts make the experience worse, not quire retina-like.

    Also, OS/UI, software and media library are lacking comparing to iPad.

    But besides that, Amazon Kindle Fire HD is very strong tablet. The issue here is that it is nearly three months away, though.
    DDERSSS
    • Of course it isn't a Retina display

      Retina is trademarked by Apple. Only Apple can designate a display as being Retina using an absolutely arbitrary measure like "viewing distance" in order to add another bullet point to its spec sheet.

      Amazon has stated that at the recommended viewing distance, this has pixels that are indistinguishable to the human eye. In other words, this is as good (if not better) than the iPad 3 display.

      "Also, OS/UI, software and media library are lacking comparing to iPad."

      Thanks to a cartel that Apple formed and is currently under investigation for by various anti-trust agencies. "Don't buy the Kindle Fire or we will make sure you won't have a good media library for it."
      toddbottom3
      • so

        apple uses an arbitrary measurement which you have an issue with yet amazon's statement about viewing is valid because, well, they said so didn't they... and because they said so, why it's as good if not better! even before it's in any ones hands you have decided! you being all that and more.

        ah, the cartel. yes yes, the cartel. you do know that under investigation is not the same thing as guilty no? you're aware of this certainly no? that whole innocent until proven guilty thing? tell me you haven't passed judgement already.
        oneleft
        • Amazon has no choice but to say that because...

          Apple is the 800 pound gorilla and since they use an arbitrary term like "retina display", Amazon has to couch their description of their device in terms that the average tablet user can identify with even though the term itself is meaningless in real terms.

          The FTC should disallow Apple from using this "designation" just like the FDA disallows certain terms in over the counter products that claim to be "light" or "healthy."
          laequis
          • Amazon? or Adrian?

            Did Amazon use the term? or is this somthing Adrian used? From the article, it appears that Adrian is using the term, Retina Display. Besides, if it isn't trademarked the FTC would not care.
            hforman@...
    • "Retina" is a BS marketing term

      These aren't Apple's trademarked "Retina" displays. Nothing is shared with Apple here.

      You don't see this misleading journalism in any other industry:
      "The new Honda Insight is a hybrid car... in other words, it has a Toyota Prius motor."
      No, no it doesn't.
      And that automotive journalist would be fired.

      I think this journalist maybe just needs to be sent back to school for a college degree in English (which should be a prerequisite) - if he had said "in other words - it's like a Retina display", then this wouldn't be misinformation.
      Maybe next, the author can write a review entirely in ebonics so at least we know we're reading from someone with a ghetto grasp of the world and how it works, who makes what, etc.
      geolemon
      • Re: ...sent back to school...

        Add to the English degree at least a moderate understanding of Human Factors and the Human visual system, and I'll agree even more.
        Willnott
      • So

        Amazon uses the same phrase as apple did, which sounds like theyre saying it's just as good, the author points this out and you... Did ya notice he didn't capitalize the word retina?

        Allegory. Look it up.
        oneleft
        • No, Go Look It UP

          Nobody said that Amazon used the term. Where does it say that? The term "Retina Display" is not a trademark, to my knowledge. It is not even a technical term.
          hforman@...
    • My question would be...

      Who cares about Retina? No, really, who REALLY cares?

      My math may be off a bit here, but in the current product, we are talking about ~260,000 pixels per square inch? You don't think that's enough for an 8.9" tablet? LOL....

      Retina is simply over-engineered bragging rights, as 260,000 pixels per square inch your eye won't even distinguish with any reasonable amount of motion found in video and games. A static picture? Perhaps. But what are most of doing with our tablets? (I for one am not staring at the smallest of details on individual pictures utilizing my phone/tablet. I'd reckon those swirly little fragments you can focus on in your eye, if you concentrate, are larger.

      Your 24" monitor is running at 1920x1200 which equates to 96,000 pixels per square inch.

      So tell me again, is RETINA truly the exciting thing we all desire? Reverse your Applobotomy for a moment, if you can, and give me an honest answer.
      thoiness2
      • And just to clarify...

        ~260,000 pixels per inch is 1920x1200 on an 8.9" display.
        thoiness2
        • And...

          The worst part about the over-engineering is that it requires far more processing power to move those pixels if it is not simply being scaled. Which means:

          If you were running the same device with a normal screen, you'd be able to do far more with it (perhaps double the performance?) than you could with the over-engineered one!
          thoiness2
        • Math

          The 8.9" screen is a 16x10 shape, so it's about 7.5" x 4.7".

          The screen is about 35.3 square inches and 1920x1200 is 2,304,000 pixels.

          About 65,000 pixels per square inch and about 255 pixels per running inch.

          ===============

          Regarding a 24" 1920x120 monitor. The screen is about 20.35" x 12.72".

          The screen is about 258.85 square inches and 1920x1200 is 2,304,000 pixels.

          About 8,901 pixels per square inch and about 94 pixels per running inch.
          Regulator1956
          • Ah yes...

            I knew I was forgetting something there. The physical squared dimensions of the screen. Doh... I factored in at 8.9" being the squared value instead of the actual area of the screen (pretty big mistake, I'll admit). Hey, I've been out of math class for over 10 years now...lol

            Still, the point still stands, even using the correct numbers, that it would be highly unnecessary given the visual acuity of any human under any sort of motion.

            I actually use a 37" TV at ~1' for my monitor on my PC @ 1900x1080. Yes, when standing still, it does not look the great, but throw in a movie, a game, a video, and I don't feel like I'm missing much. My 24" Dell @ 1', on the other hand @ 1920x1200 is pretty darn sharp, and as your corrected math showed, that's highly unimpressive (in theory) in comparison to retina, or even to the device held in your hand as shown in this article.

            I don't know about you, but I have not run around mashing my tablets into my face to view individual pixels?
            thoiness
          • LOL - I like your point!

            It's true - we don't tend to mash tablets into our faces to see if we can pick out individual pixels. It's all about how nice it looks from a typical viewing distance, and unless there is a dire need for high resolution - which would be the case for some applications - it is over engineered and over priced. This seems to me to be the case for many of the 'Retina' screens on Apple products. Not everyone wants to pay a premuim price for something they cannot gain any measurable advantage using over a more suitably spec'd and priced product.
            pethers
        • And...

          The 8.9" display would have to be viewed from about 8 inches in order to see the same fine detail - but viewing at that distance for very long at all will be quite fatiguing to our visual system, to say the least. Farthermore, farsighted viewers will not even be able to focus at that distance without ising a magnification aid.
          Willnott