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Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in review: Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7in

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MSRP: $199.00
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The Good The Kindle Fire HD has a most impressive-looking 7-inch tablet screen, its speakers deliver killer sound, and its refined interface is the best gateway to Amazon content for Prime members. New enhancements fill its $200 price to the brim with value.

The Bad Performance is sluggish at times and the Fire HD is less comfortable to hold than the Nexus 7. The curated app store means many apps and games are not available. There's a $15 opt-out for ads.

The Bottom Line With a beautiful screen, refined interface, and huge coffer of media consumption options, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD is the Kindle Fire as it should have been.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7

Review Sections

Editors' note (September 25, 2013): The product reviewed here has been discontinued; however, there are plenty of new Kindle Fire options, including a redesigned Fire HD.

The original Kindle Fire felt like a rushed, but mostly successful attempt to deliver a gateway to Amazon video, music, and book content. The Kindle Fire HD improves on the original in nearly every way and, thanks to some key refinements, proves to be a much better delivery system for that media.

Amazon Prime members looking to sate their ceaseless hunger for movies, TV shows, music, and books need look no further. With the huge media catalog available, you'll surely get your fix here.

However, if the idea of the full Android OS, GPS, NFC, and complete access to the Google Play store whet your appetite at all, the Nexus 7 is watching you from afar, all sexy and seductive like.

It's not a question of which is better. It's more a question of which is better for you. Keep reading to find out.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HD ($199 for 16GB and $249 for 32GB) has one of the widest bodies of any recently released 7-inch tablet, including the Nexus 7. The top and bottom bezel (when held in landscape mode) feel needlessly long, and as a result, the Fire HD just isn't as comfortable to hold in one hand as Google's tablet. It's also slightly heavier than the Nexus 7.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD Amazon Kindle Fire Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Google Nexus 7
Weight in pounds 0.86 0.9 0.74 0.74
Width in inches (landscape) 7.7 7.4 7.6 7.8
Height in inches 5.4 4.7 4.8 4.7
Depth in inches 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.9 0.78 (power button side), 0.6 opposite side 0.76 0.8

Beveled bottoms are the new hotness -- for tablets, anyway. From the Nexus 7 to the iPad, and Microsoft's Surface tablet, beveled bottoms are to 2012 what legitimately thin form factors were to 2011. Beveled bottoms have the power to make a tablet look thinner than it actually is, but while the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch is thinner than the Kindle Fire and the Nexus 7, its bevels aren't quite as successful at making it look as thin as the others.

The tablet is dark gray and looks fairly plain, with a tabletwide black strip on the back as the only real distinguishing aesthetic trait. In the middle of the top portion of the bezel sits a 720p Web chat camera with a nearly invisible ambient light sensor sitting to its left. The bezel itself is surrounded by an outer plastic shell for added protection.

The Kindle Fire HD's protective outer plastic shell. And yes, I go through Kindle Fires like I go through biodegradable cups. Josh Miller/CNET

Along the bottom edge, directly in the middle are both a Micro-USB and a Micro-HDMI port. On the right edge, from top to bottom, are a headphone jack, volume rocker, and the power/sleep button. Both the volume rocker and power/sleep button sit flush with the tablet's body, making them difficult to find without looking. Sitting alone on the top edge is a microphone pinhole.

The back is smooth and not nearly as grippy as the Nexus 7's pleathery back or even the Kindle Fire's more rubbery one. Dual inch-long speaker grilles adorn the Fire HD's back at the far left and right sides, continuing into the tablet's right and left edges.

The black strip on the back is one of the few visually distinctive features of the Fire HD's design. Josh Miller/CNET

For some strange, ill-conceived reason, Amazon chose not to include an actual power adapter with the Kindle Fire HD and instead supplied only a Micro-USB-to-USB cable. While the tablet will charge when connected to a plugged-in computer, it will do so very slowly and only when asleep. Thankfully, if you own the original Fire (or pretty much any Micro-USB-to-power adapter) its charger should be compatible with the Kindle Fire HD.

Software features: The refining
Amazon has completely redesigned the Kindle Fire's interface. It's sleeker, more streamlined, and feels more mature, eschewing the toylike quality the original had. Images and text are sharper thanks to the higher resolution and higher contrast of the screen. The carousel interface is still here, but scrolls faster and looks smoother, with app icons rendered in higher-resolution, less pixel-y forms. Apps can be removed from the carousel at will and/or added to favorites, which appear at the bottom of the screen, negating the need to scroll through your entire catalog to find the app you want.

The Fire HD's new interface offers more options and is much more streamlined. Josh Miller/CNET

Newsstand, Books, Music, Videos, Docs, Apps, and Web return as top-of-the-screen content tab options, and have now been joined by Shop, Games, Audiobooks, Photos, and Offers. Search returns as well and now allows you to search in Amazon's stores as well as your libraries and the Web.

Settings can be accessed with a quick swipe down from the top bezel and now feature more options for social-network integration, more customization, and tighter security. Within each content tab, there are still the very useful cloud and device denotations at the top that help signify which pieces of content are on the Fire HD or currently in the cloud.

Settings are now laid out in a much more efficient manner and provide more options. Josh Miller/CNET

There are problems, though. The interface can be sluggish at times and the screen isn't as responsive or as precise as it could be; it sometimes fails to react to taps. Also, as streamlined as the interface is, at times it serves only to illustrate how much better it could be. After entering a content tab, you can't travel directly to another and must instead tap back and choose a new selection. I would have loved to see a more elegant solution that allows carousel options to always be available onscreen.

Software features: The newening
The streamlined interface isn't Amazon's only accomplishment here; it has added several new features to further set apart the Fire HD from other tablets.

With X-ray for books you can get more information about characters, terms, and historical figures mentioned in a Kindle book, and it also highlights exactly where (via page number and a graph) in the book those details are mentioned and can jump right to the appropriate page. Definitely useful, but the ability to search for specific terms should be at the top of Amazon's to-do list when the time comes to revise this feature.

X-ray for movies is frankly a lot less useful, as it's essentially an integrated IMDB feature that provides access actor bios while you watch the movie. Just tap the screen while watching "The Avengers," for example, and a drop-down menu of the actors appearing in the current scene appears. Select whichever actor you're interested in and as long as that person is actually listed in IMDB, you'll have access to his or her bio. Impressively, this works in real time, adding and removing people from the list as they enter and exit scenes. It's not compatible with all movies yet, and I've yet to see it featured in any of the TV shows I've watched on the device.

The perfect lunchtime tablet? Possibly, if you enjoy consuming sandwiches as much as you enjoy consuming media. Josh Miller/CNET

Immersion reading uses the audio and Kindle versions of a single book and combines them to create an experience currently not reproducible on any other tablet. As the text is read by the original audiobook reader, each word is highlighted on the Kindle book version, allowing you to follow along, bouncing-ball-style (well, sans an actual bouncing ball), with the story. It takes a bit of getting used to, but can be appealing for audiobook fans like myself who love to listen, but want to retain the actual experience of actually reading as well.

In addition, Whispersync for voice allows you to stop reading at any spot in the Kindle version of a book and then continue later at that exact spot in your audiobook and vice versa.

Now each of these scenarios, however, requires that you'd be willing to purchase both the audiobook and Kindle versions of a book. So, who in their right minds would actually own both versions of the book? Well, probably people who want to take advantage of these two features. As an incentive, Amazon claims it will offer discounts on audiobook versions of books if you already own the Kindle version; however, this won't extend to every book-audiobook combo.

Hey, I'm a fan of volume rockers on Kindle Fires as much as the next guy, but when they're as flush with the tablet's body as much as these are, finding them with just your fingers can be tough. Josh Miller/CNET

You can now import your photos from Facebook to your Amazon Cloud Drive and view them (or any photos already in your Cloud Drive) on your Fire HD. Unfortunately, if importing directly from Facebook, you're not able to specify which photos you want to import and are forced to import them all.

Newsstand has been given a face-lift and now includes a slick new page-turning animation and the option to tap on an article and read it in simple text. The Kindle Fire's e-mail interface, thankfully, has also been redesigned, now looking less like a '90s message board and more like a modern, legitimate e-mail client. Also, contacts can now be automatically imported by e-mail account instead of by each individual contact, as it was on the original Kindle Fire. A full calendar app with built-in reminders has been added as well.

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