Kindle Fire HD 7-inch 16 GB: $199
Kindle Fire HD 7-inch 32 GB: $249
I’m a big fan of the Kindle Fire. So much so, I actually bought one. In article after article, I’ve extolled its virtues. There’s no question the iPad is the best tablet, but the Fire isn’t a tablet per se. It’s a content enjoyment device (CED?).
Surprising absolutely no one, Amazon has released an updated version with a higher resolution screen, some tweaks, and a bit more polish than the original Fire.
Worth an upgrade? Or at least a look?
If you’ve read any of my other tablet reviews, you’ll know I find detailed recitation of specs to be completely banal. But as the specs are what makes this tablet different, I guess it’s worth going over. Well, at least the important parts.
Despite having roughly the same screen size, the Fire HD is about a half an inch wider than the first Fire (Fire 1?). It’s also an inconsequential 0.1 inch taller. It still fits in the back pocket of a pair of jeans, but it’s a tight fit. If you put any serious case or cover on it, I bet it would be too bulky. This is a disappointment, as the size is one of the things I like best about the Fire 1.
Volume buttons are new. I didn’t think it was a huge deal that the Fire 1 didn’t have physical buttons, but apparently it drove some people batty. So above the power button there are volume up/down buttons.
There’s a camera on the front so you can Skype, which is a nice addition.
One of the more bone-headed design moves on the Fire 1 was the placement of its two main speakers are on the top (as held vertically), or, as you’re holding it to watch a movie, on one side, under your hand. Bizarre.
The Fire HD has one speaker on each size, a big improvement. They also play a lot louder, with significantly better bass response.
Part of the improvement is the inclusion of the mobile version of Dolby Digital Plus. Dialogue is more intelligible with DDP enabled, and the sound is fuller. Treble is maybe a little bright, but depending on the environment where you’re listening, this could easily get evened out. I’m actually surprised at how decent the built-in audio is, offering a viable alternative to headphones (presuming, of course, those around you are also interested in watching).
If you turn off the DDP, the sound is fine, if a little more small-speakery. I imagine most people will leave it on.
The Fire 1 got flack for having “only” 16 GB of storage. For a non-HD device, this seemed a reasonable amount. However, on an extended trip, I found it to be somewhat lacking. Filled to the brim, 16 GB gets you enough for one leg of a really long flight. Because of region locking, though, you can’t fill it up with new content once you get to your destination. This is an issue. If you take long flights, I’d highly recommend the 32 GB version for $50 more.
For most people, though, 16 GB is plenty for even cross-country trips.
The screen, of course, is the most notable change between the Fire 1 and the Fire 2. The Fire 1’s screen suffered, mostly, from a lack of specs — people faulted it for being low resolution when, in reality, it didn’t matter.
But the new screen sure is purrrdy. I decided to run it through our standard suite of tests, like any other display. I’ve added CalMan software to my arsenal since I reviewed the Fire 1, so I ran that through too for a more direct comparison.
The two standouts are the color and color temperature. It’s interesting that the Fire HD has such a warm color temperature, about 500 Kelvin warmer than what we calibrate TVs to. Sure the Fire 1 was 800 Kelvin cooler than 6500K, but cooler is a lot more common than warmer. Not really a big deal either way, just interesting. With video, the Fire HD has a slightly warm, greenish tint, but it’s slight.
However, color is much more of a big deal. As you can see from the charts below, the color accuracy on the Fire 1 is right terrible. Normally I’d go into detail about how each color point is wrong, but there’s too much. They’re all bad. Yellow’s almost not bad.
The color on the Fire HD is much better. Red, magenta, and blue are a little off, but all are at least close. It’s still worse than what you’d find in a decent HDTV, but for a portable device, I’d say this is perfectly reasonable.
The contrast ratio is actually slightly less on the HD (930:1 to 1,012:1), but this isn’t going to be noticeable. The HD is both brighter with the backlight at max (125.5 footLamberts, up from 108.8) and darker with the backlight at minimum (2.07, down from 2.977), both good things.
Off-axis performance is much improved on the HD. Moving even slightly away from center on the Fire 1 would result in a purpling of the blacks. There is very little change at all off axis with the HD.
I compared the same feed of a few videos to compare. The first episode of the first season of Sherlock, in particular, which on the HD streamed in HD from Amazon. The image on the Fire 1 was definitely softer, the HD noticeably more detailed. The difference isn’t quite as much as the difference between DVD and HD, but it’s close. The added detail is an improvement, as the Fire 1 did look fairly soft.
However, I think the better color accuracy is responsible for far more of the visible improvement in the screen over the Fire 1 than the resolution increase. Skin tones, grass, the sky, all seem much more realistic, without the washed-out look that the Fire 1 can have. As the screen was the worst part of the Fire 1, on this front the HD offers a decided upgrade.
I’m not going to beat a dead horse. The iPad and the Fire are the only two tablets that have access to nearly all the digital content you might actually want. Check out our megacomparison of iTunes vs Amazon Instant Video vs Google Play vs Sony Unlimited vs Samsung Media Hub.
It still all comes back to content. Always. The Fire HD has some polish, a better screen, better sound (at least partially thanks to Dolby) and a nice bump in storage capacity, if you get that version. But in the end, it’s still the content that wins out. I prefer the smaller form factor of the original Fire, but you can’t deny that for $199/$249 the Kindle Fire HD is still a screaming deal.
It’s been a year, but my original recommendation holds true: If you want a laptop-replacing tablet, get an iPad. If you want a small device to enjoy your content wherever you go, the Fire is the only other choice. Well, at least until the iPad mini gets here. . .
One last thing. All new Kindles have built-in home screen advertising. It’s not intrusive, but you have to pay $15 to get rid of them. Not cool, if you ask me, but so it goes.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.