Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 review: Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good

Average User Rating

3 stars 12 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Bold, Full HD display; Slim and portable design; Access to Amazon's streaming media services.

The Bad Lovefilm videos require constant Wi-Fi connection; Restricted to Amazon's app store only; Rival tablets have more potent specs.

The Bottom Line The Kindle Fire HD 8.9's Full HD screen and easy access to Amazon's streaming services makes it an attractive choice for media lovers who don't want to fork out for an iPad. Its lack of offline video is annoying however and the Nexus 7 still packs more features for less money.

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Amazon's regular E Ink Kindle continues to be massively popular thanks to its easy to read display and Amazon's vast collection of digital books. The Kindle Fire HD tablets aim to take that popularity and add high-definition colour screens and a host of media streaming services on top.

The 8.9-inch model reviewed here begins at £230 for the 16GB model or £259 for 32GB. Both of those are subsidised slightly by displaying ads on the lock screen. An extra £10 will get you the tablet with no ads. You can always buy the ad-supported version and pay to remove the ads if you find them annoying.

Should I buy the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch?

The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is identical to its 7-inch sibling in basically every way. They share the same outward design, run the same simple-to-use-software and have access to the same multimedia content from Amazon. The only difference is down to the physical size of the screen.

With a bigger display and higher resolution, the 8.9-inch Fire will be better suited to watching videos and reading glossy magazines on without zooming in as much. On the other hand, it's slightly less portable than the 7-inch model and less comfortable to hold up in one hand. If you primarily want a Fire for ebooks, with just a splash of social networking, the smaller Fire might be the one for you. It's really down to personal preference.

Both models rely almost entirely on Amazon's various streaming services and dedicated app store. Although there's plenty of content available, if you want to browse a much wider selection of apps or make more use of other, non-Amazon services, an Android tablet might be a better choice.

The Google Nexus 7 is still a superb option, providing a high definition screen and powerful processor. At £160, it's £70 less than the cheapest Kindle Fire. Spend an extra £39, however, and you can snag an iPad mini. Its metal frame is much more luxurious, you can download videos from iTunes for offline playback and you'll have access to hundreds of thousands of apps in the iOS app store.

Design and build quality

In design terms, the 8.9-inch Fire is identical to its 7-inch sibling. Both models share the all-black colour scheme and rubberised back with metal strip. That rubberised back looks rather smart although picks up greasy marks a bit too easily. It's not as luxurious as the metal on the iPad mini, but it doesn't feel cheap either.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 back
The back of the Fire HD 8.9 is the same as its little brother, but that's no bad thing. It looks smart.

The difference between it and its little brother is in size only. The expanded screen size means it now measures 239mm wide, 163mm tall and is 9mm thick. It's slightly slimmer than the smaller model, although isn't pushing the iPad mini's svelte 7.2mm thickness. At 567g, it's heavier than the iPad mini too, but it's far from bulky. You won't struggle much to hold it in one hand while reading for at least an hour.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 back
The only difference between the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models is the size.

There's no flex in the chassis, nor is there any annoying loose panelling, which helps make it feel like a well constructed slate. I'd have no worries about chucking it into my carry-on luggage and waltzing through the airport. If you want to keep it pristine for as long as possible though, there's a wide selection of cases and covers on Amazon.

Around the edges you'll find a micro-USB port for charging and data transfer, a micro-HDMI port for connecting it to a big TV, along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume rocker and power button. The buttons sit almost perfectly flush with their surroundings, which makes them very difficult to find by touch alone, and I found this a little annoying. They're easy to press once you eventually find them though.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 back
The buttons are difficult to find but easy to press.

There's no slot for a micro SD card, so you'll have to make do with whatever storage amount you chose. If you get the majority of your content using streaming services like Spotify, Lovefilm and Netflix then you'll probably be fine with the 16GB model. If, however, you're likely to buy a lot of image-rich magazines, want to save photos and music locally and are a serial app addict, I recommend opting for the higher capacity model.

Tucked into the metal strip on the back are a pair of speakers. I was far from blown away by the sound they produced, but then speakers on tablets and phones never impress. They do the job for the odd YouTube clip, but if you want to enjoy your movies at their best, you'll want to plug in a good set of headphones. Having speakers on either side does at least mean you aren't constantly covering them up if you hold one side, as I constantly find to be a problem with my third-generation iPad.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 back
There's a camera on the front for video calling.

You won't find a camera on the back, but there is a front-facing lens to make video calls over Skype.

Screen

The 8.9-inch display boasts a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, making it Full HD. That's quite impressive for a device of this size. It gives it a pixel density of 254ppi. By contrast, the 7-inch model has 216ppi, while the iPad mini brings up the rear with 168ppi.

Although it has a higher pixel density than its little brother, I actually found the smaller screen appeared sharper. The fine detail in a tree's leaves in my test image were much clearer on the smaller screen. Colours are slightly warmer on the 8.9-inch model, but it isn't noticeable enough to make much difference when you watch movies.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 back
My test image didn't look as sharp on the 8.9-inch as it did on the 7-inch, but I've seen a lot worse.

It might not look quite as crisp as its sibling, but fine text still looked perfectly sharp. It therefore functions well as an ebook reader and can display your streamed movies in Full HD without any problems. It's also bright and rather bold too, so it's generally well-equipped to act as a all-round excellent media device.

Amazon Kindle software

At its core, the slate is running on Android software, but it's unrecognisable from the Android you'd experience on phones like the Samsung Galaxy S3 or HTC One . Amazon has essentially taken the architecture of Android and built its own software on top.

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Where to Buy

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Part Number: CNET-Kindle-Fire-8.9-16GB
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Regional specs shown for US. UK specs are unavailable.

  • Wireless Connectivity IEEE 802.11b
  • Weight 20 oz
  • Storage 16 GB integrated
  • Processor OMAP4470
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