Amazon Kindle Fire HD Reviews: Not 'the Best Tablet at Any Price'

Before its official release date this Friday, reviewers have gotten their hands on the updated 7-inch Kindle Fire, which they like, but not as much as Amazon would like. 

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Before its official release date this Friday, reviewers have gotten their hands on the updated 7-inch Kindle Fire, which they like, but not as much as Amazon would like. During the release CEO Jeff Bezos touted it as "the best tablet at any price," which stuck with many of our reviewers, who found the tablet did things well, but did not meet those high expectations. What Bezos meant by that comment was, the tablet is not only an affordable $199, but also works like the fancier, more expensive ones. While the tablet doesn't feel as low-budget as the reviewers claimed last time, it still doesn't match the best tablets (read: the iPad) out there.

Let us count all the ways the Kindle Fire HD is not "the best tablet at any price," writes The New York Times's David Pogue

Well, let’s see now. The Fire HD has no camera on the back, no GPS navigation, no speech recognition, no to-do list or notes app. It trails the iPad in thickness, screen size, screen sharpness, Web speed, software polish and app availability. It can only dream of the iPad’s universe of accessories, cases and docks.

AllthingsD's Walt Mossberg adds his qualms, too.

The Fire HD isn’t as polished, fluid or versatile as the iPad. It offers only a fraction of the third-party apps available on either the iPad or the Nexus 7 (and other standard Android tablets). I found that after prolonged use, the Fire HD showed signs of latency—apps and content displayed delays in launching. This latency disappeared after a reboot.

Then, the software has some big bugs, adds Pogue.

Everything lags a bit; some apps take 7 or 8 seconds to open. The Gmail sign-up wizard has bugs; Draw Something’s screen appears upside-down, and won’t rotate upright; and turning a magazine page or zooming in produces blurry, blotchy text. It takes the gasping processor a couple of seconds to catch up with the sharp text you’re expecting.

It also has littler annoying bugs, too adds Gizmodo's Kyle Wagner.

In addition to the high-level software stutters, there are a handful of granular oversights as well. For example, the screen is excellent for movies, of course, but HD movies that come downloaded in 21x9 format have a peculiar and fairly awful flaw. They're "double letterboxed", meaning that the black strips at the top and bottom of a movie you see when it doesn't fit your screen are there, just twice. One is black, and another is slightly more black. It's distracting, and a big weird misstep in a tablet so focused on media.

Plus, there are other cheap tablets out there now that do things well, adds ABC News's Joanna Stern.

When it comes to its closest $199 competitor -- the Nexus 7 -- the Fire has greater content, more storage space for the price (32GB vs. 16GB), and unique features, like better speakers, X-Ray for movies and Amazon's audible integration. But the Nexus 7 has better app selection, better performance, hardware buttons that don't frustrate, no ads littering the homescreen, and Google's full range of Android 4.0 features, like Google Now.

Maybe it's best to not even call this a tablet competitor, says TechCrunch's John Biggs.

It is not an iPad replacement (or a real tablet replacement) but it is a cheap way to get tablet-like functionality in an e-reader. Do not look at the Fire HD as a tablet. Instead, look at it as a closed system for consuming Amazon content.

But if we're judging this, not as a tablet, but as an entertainment consumption device, it does the best job, argues The Verge's Joshua Topolsky.

On that device, it's not about going toe-to-toe with the competition in every way (as Amazon seems to want to do), it's about offering a lot of fun stuff to consumers, and getting them to consume more. As that device, the Fire HD is a complete success. A marvel of bottom-line engineering and incredibly clever subsidies. It's a really, really good tablet for doing some very specific things. 

It still has the best content out there, adds Topolsky.

the Kindle Fire soars above much of its competition because of the content Amazon offers on the device. The sheer volume of movies and TV, music, magazines, and books you have access to on this tablet is staggering. 

And, the software is designed as a perfect way to watch Prime or read, explains Biggs.

There is no multi-tasking to speak of and no real GPS capabilities. It is less a tool and more a media consumption system.

That isn’t a bad thing, obviously. It definitely streamlines the Amazon experience and if you’re well-invested in Kindle Books and Prime video, there is little need for much more than the Fire HD has to offer. 

Magazine reading is a dream on it, for example, says Pogue.

And reading magazines, which once felt like an arm-wrestling match with intrusion-happy programmers, is now a graceful, effortless experience. In most magazines, you can zoom in to a layout for more legible type, or double-tap for a vertically scrolling text-only view. 

It's still a good value, notes Wagner.

This thing starts at $200 for a 16GB model. As a value proposition, it's hard to argue with top notch hardware at a total cut-rate price. You could spend the same on a Nexus 7, but you'll have to trade the Fire HD's screen, speakers, and extra storage for a more robust UI and the full Android app ecosystem.

And, it has marked improvements over the now $169 Kindle Fire, like the physicality, offers Biggs as an example.

The first thing you’ll notice about the new Kindle Fire is how distinctly different it is from the old Fire. Rather than blocky corners and a thick, almost lumpen body, the Fire HD is all curves and carefully molded plastic and metal. 

But, Bezos didn't call this 'the best Kindle tablet at any price' he called it the best of the best. And, comparing it to the iPad, it doesn't do much more than buy things, adds Topolsky.

But there's a second tablet in the review as well. One that gets compared to the iPad and Nexus 7. One that I expect to do more than just show me movies or help me shop. One that should be a companion for all kinds of things I want to do, that doesn't feel limited, that doesn't respond to my touches slowly, that doesn't make me wait. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.