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Amazon Kindle Fire HD (2013) review:

An e-reader alternative with tablet extras

While the vast majority of the changes work, there's also a missed opportunity here to add more customization. Samsung does this with great success in its latest version of the TouchWiz UI, last seen on the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. Samsung's shortcut array behaves in much the same way as Amazon's, but also scrolls to the left to include more options and can even be customized to add more choices.

What I've always liked about the Kindle Fire interface is how the content is organized. Instead of pages and pages of app icons as in other OSes, on the Fire each type of content is siloed into its respective section. When I tap Audiobooks, I know I'm seeing all the audiobooks I own and by tapping Store I can easily add more. There's just something comforting about having all your content automatically organized for you.

The Kindle Fire HD (2012) had a bright vibrant screen, but backlight bleeding or "clouding" was apparent when looking at a black or dark image. Clouding on the Fire HD 2013 is much less severe and can only be seen in the corners when the screen displays a dark image -- like during startup.

Tested spec Amazon Kindle Fire HD (2013) Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HD (2012) Google Nexus 7 (2013) Apple iPad Mini (2012)
Maximum brightness 421 cd/m2 430 cd/m2 394 cd/m2 570 cd/m2 399 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.47 cd/m2 0.37 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 896:1 1,162:1 960:1 1,295:1 814:1

The screen resolution is 1,280x800 pixels and isn't nearly as sharp as the Fire HDX's screen, but is still pretty sharp and bright in its own right. It still has a slightly yellowish tint like the HDX's, though.

My biggest issue with the 2012 Kindle Fire HD 7's performance was that it seemed to chug under the weight of its own OS; there was a palpable delay to pretty much everything. The 2013 Fire HD is a different beast altogether. While not as fast as the HDX, navigation performance is much improved over last year, with menus loading almost instantly and that feeling of sluggishness having been mostly wiped away.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 1.5GHz dual-core OMAP 4470 Unidentified 1GB Amazon Android Mojito 3.0
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 Adreno 330 2GB Amazon Android Mojito 3.0
Google Nexus 7 (2013) 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 (single-core) 2GB Android 4.3
Apple iPad Mini (2012) 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual-core) 512MB iOS 7.0.1

3DMark (Unlimited)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 1 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Graphics Test 2 (GPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Physics Test (CPU)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

3DMark is now available for Kindle Fire tablets and, judging from the scores, we can be fairly certain that the 2013 Fire HD has even faster gaming performance than the 2012 Fire HD 8.9. The 2012 Fire HD 7 could not complete the test. The new Fire uses the same CPU as 2012's, but we aren't sure which GPU is in use here. It's either an upgraded GPU or the Fire 3.0 OS simply has dramatically improved OpenGL performance.

As for actual games, with default graphical effects on, Riptide GP 2 ran smoothly on the 2013 Fire HD, but attempting to include more graphical effects sometimes resulted in the game crashing. Also, Riptide GP 2 struggles to even get through its initial load in a timely manner and takes its sweet time when switching from attract mode to the title screen. In fact, strangely, the 2012 Fire HD seemed to load faster.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here.

Video Battery life (in hours)
Amazon Kindle Fire HD (2013) 9.3

The 2013 HD 7's speakers are louder than the HDX 7's, but its sound is scratchy in comparison, especially when taken to the highest volume. Compared with most other tablets, however, the HD actually has really good speakers and they only reveal their deficiencies when being directly compared with the HDX's.

The appeal of the Kindle Fire HD will really depend on your needs and expectations. As a simple bare-bones tablet to read books on, stream movies, TV shows, and music on, or surf the Web with, it gets the job done. If you have a more demanding job for it, however, you'll want to set your sights higher.

First off, if you plan to store HD movies or TV shows, you'll want to look first at the 16GB version of the tablet. However, even then, you may still run into headaches. If you do a lot of traveling, but don't have constant access to Wi-Fi, and want to take your videos with you, the 32GB Fire HDX should be your first stop. It's $269, but if your needs match up, it's worth the extra money to avoid the headaches.

The 32GB Nexus 7 starts at $269 as well and is a fantastic 7-inch tablet. It also runs a much more open and customizable version of Android with more apps. There's also the Nook HD and HD+ tablets at $129 and $149, respectively, but though they too have access to the Google Play store, their performance is dated and their media ecosystem is inferior.

From there, things get more expensive, with other small-tablet alternatives like the iPad Mini (2012) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, each starting at $300.

While not a great tablet, the 2013 Fire HD offers worthwhile value thanks to its low price and Amazon's ecosystem. However, if your needs go beyond the rudimentary, there are plenty of other places to look.

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