What a difference a few months can make in technology. A while ago, us Brits were looking enviously across at the US at the 7-inch tablets Amazon had on sale, but you couldn't buy them here. Now its Kindle Fire range is on sale in Britain, but what once seemed like a bargain is now much less appealing, thanks to Google upping its tablet game.
Should I buy the Kindle Fire HD?
If you want a simple alternative to theor , this is worth a look -- there are fewer features, but what's here is generally done well. Just make sure you go to a shop to try it out before you buy.
The Kindle Fire HD is running Android, but you'd hardly know it. Amazon has changed a great many things about how the operating system works, so if you're used to using an Android phone, you won't recognise much. That's mostly a good thing in terms of the menus though: I found it much simpler to use than a typical Android tablet.
The homescreen features a straightforward list of items running across the top such as shop, games, apps, books, music and so on. Contrast this with the grid of icons you're usually presented with on an Android device with slightly confusing names. A helpful carousel of icons shows you a list of items you've recently used or opened, so you don't have to dive back into the menus to look for it again.
App store and Web browser
There are some major negatives to all this customisation though. The main one is that you lose access to Google's app store, with Amazon forcing you to use its own one. It's not a disaster, as much of what you can get through Google you can get through Amazon. The official Facebook and Twitter clients are present, for example, as well as apps such as BBC's iPlayer and Netflix. Amazon also offers one paid-for app for free every day. But inevitably there are some apps you might want that simply aren't there -- no Sky Go, for example.
The other major downer is that the web browser isn't great. I found it slow to scroll through web pages once I had double-tapped to zoom in on an area. Often I would just see a big blank area instead of text or pictures, and have to wait for a few seconds for anything to appear.
A small annoyance occurs when using the keyboard in portrait mode. Amazon has placed the system's back button, which looks like a delete button, very close to the actual delete button on the keyboard. When typing, I found myself going back a screen rather than deleting the text, which meant I had to start typing over again. Plus, as someone used to using an iPad, I missed the lack of a physical home button -- Amazon's software equivalent is harder to find and often requires an extra click.
Books, music and video
Thinking of the Kindle Fire HD more as a device for media consumption than a fully-fledged tablet is helpful to understand what it's like to use. The device is sold at close to cost price by Amazon which hopes to make up the difference by selling you music, books, films, magazines and more.
The books side of things will be familiar to anyone who has used a Kindle app on their smart phone -- you get access to all the entire library of books on Amazon and the ability to download and read anything you have previously bought with your Amazon account. The screen is high resolution enough to make text very readable indeed. Letters are crisp and not blurry as they are on some tablets.