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:
|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.