On November 20, Amazon will release two new versions of the Kindle Fire HD. Both will sport 8.9-inch screens and include a Wi-Fi-only version ($299 for 16GB and $369 for 32GB) and a 4G LTE model ($499 for 32GB and $599 for 64GB).
In addition to their larger screens, each will sport a higher resolution and a faster CPU/GPU combo compared with the 7-inch model.
What the 7-inch Fire HD told us about the 8.9
I reviewed the 7-inch Fire HD last week and got a few brief moments to play with the 8.9-inch version at Amazon's press event in early September. Design-wise, the 8.9-inch version is essentially a super-size 7-inch model. It has the same beveled backside, micro-HDMI, a micro-USB charging and data port, a 720p front-facing camera on the top of the bezel, and the same way-too-flush volume and power buttons on the right edge. The back still features a tabletwide black strip with speaker grilles at either end of it. The 8.9-inch model is thinner than the 7-inch one, sporting a 0.35-inch depth. It's only a hair thinner than the iPad (2012), and felt fairly light in my very brief time holding it.
Amazon chose not to include an actual power adapter with the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch and will not include one with the 8.9 model. You’ll still get the Micro-USB-to-USB cable that acts as both a charging (connect to your PC to juice up the battery) and a data cable.
The 8.9 model will sport the same refined Android 4.0-based interface all new Kindle Fires feature. Of course you'll get access to all the new features like X-Ray for movies, X-Ray for books, Whispersync for audio, and Immersion Reading.
The 7-inch version did exhibit some performance sluggishness however, but we hope by the time the 8.9-inch version launches, Amazon will have hammered out such issues. Also, as far as I know, ads will still appear on the lock screen unless you pay the $15 opt-out fee.
The 8.9 does what the 7-inch doesn't
As similar as they are in design, there are some key differences between the two Fire HD sizes. The obvious difference is the 8.9’s larger screen, but it’ll also sport a higher 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution, the highest yet for a sub-10-inch tablet. To support the higher resolution, the 8.9 will house a Texas Instruments' dual-core 1.5GHz OMAP4470 with a PowerVR SGX544 GPU for graphics. This will hopefully mean much-improved graphics in games and smoother, quicker navigation through the tablet's interface compared with the Fire HD 7-inch; however, the increase in performance capability could be offset by the higher resolution.
How much is 4G?
The 4G version of the Fire HD 8.9 will be identical to the Wi-Fi only version, but will sport a superfast cellular connection, with a starting cost of $499.
$499 is kind of a high price for a line of tablets that has thus far prided itself on low prices, but the actual cellular plan appears cheaper than what's currently available on tablets. For $50, Amazon offers 250MB per month for 12 months. Both 3GB and 5GB monthly plans are also available, but there are no details just yet on cost. For comparison, 4G on the iPad costs $15 per month ($180 per year) for the same amount of data. A proposition that's $130 more expensive than the Fire HD.
I guess what's surprising to me is the initial $200 jump in price. Now I'm sure some of that goes to the cost of the actual cellular hardware, but it's probably the licensing fees that really jack up the price. That's just me guessing though.
Like with the 7-inch Fire HD, the 8.9-inch version will obviously appeal to Amazon Prime members. For $79 per year, members get access to Amazon's streaming movies and TV shows and can borrow one book per month with no due date.
The Fire HD doesn't offer the freedom a more open-feeling tablet like the iPad or a nearly completely customizable tablet like the Transformer Infinity does. What it does offer is a relatively cheap way to experience a larger form factor tablet with access to tons of books, movies, and TV shows at a heavily reduced price. For some, that may be all they're looking for.
If you're thinking of preordering now, you may want to wait a bit. Both Apple and Barnes and Noble are rumored to introduce new tablets before the 8.9's November release date.
Look for a full review of both the 4G and Wi-Fi-only versions of the Kindle Fire HD right around November 20.