While waiting on my pre-ordre of the new Kindle Paperwhite e-book reader, I decided to browse the Kindle Fire HD series of tablets. In retrospect, that might have been a mistake, because I promptly cancelled my pre-order of the Paperwhite and bought a Fire HD 7″ tablet instead.
These are my impressions after using the Kindle Fire HD for less than 24 hours, having had no experience with it prior to this day. First impressions are important. My first impression of the Fire HD is that it doesn’t instantly grab me in the same way the first iPad did.
Where’s the power button, for crying out loud? You would think use testing would have revealed that the power button is impossible to find–not good. On the iPad, there’s an actual button, and actual pair of volume buttons, and a real-life Home button. On the Fire HD, none of the above.
Eventually, you’ll find that the smooth black edge of the Fire HD has a slight break that reveals a button that’s indistinguishable from the black edge without using a fingernail. Again, I have to ask, who thought this was a good idea? Anything that takes me out of the app to screw with the hardware is a VERY BAD THING.
You don’t want your users losing track of where they are in an app to find the stupid buttons that should be easy to find via touch–one sense. If I need to use to senses–touch and sight–and even then have problems, well, we have a problem with the device. In this image, you can just see the power button to the right of the similarly inconspicuous volume buttons. Some might think this is nit-picking, but I feel it’s very nearly a deal killer and am already thinking of ways to enhance the buttons. A case with button openings would solve the problem.
Why such a stickler? Don’t misunderstand, I like this device, which is a terrific value. But what if you need to quickly power off or turn down the volume, while distracted? Navigating even the “Favorites” icon at the upper right is not an option while distracted or in a hurry.
Do the rest of the hardware specs really matter when usage is flawed from the moment you try to power up? I’m not sure because I’m already annoyed with this device. Yes, of course that’s unfair and subjective. I can forgive the button flaw in time. And, this isn’t a review so much as it’s a personal op-ed. For a real review, try Tom’s Hardware.
The apps are the usual Android fare with Amazon’s own custom dashboard and apps built in (extending the Android OS 4.1 “Ice Cream Sandwich”). It takes a little research to find good alternatives to familiar iOS apps, which was not a sales point for me. I knew this was an Amazon device that did not have full access to the Google Play store without a bit of tinkering. I purchased it specifically because it is an Amazon device. If it were merely an Android tablet, with the annoying buttons, I might have been satisfied with the Amazon apps installed–but more likely I would have returned it.
As an Amazon Kindle device, the integration with my Amazon accounts is impressive and very, very welcome. I have an Amazon Prime account which was instantly recognized when I entered my Amazon login credentials. Also seamless was integration with my Amazon Audible account for audiobook access. The content is presented extremely well. Whispersync for Voice reads a Kindle e-book to you with professional narration (via the audiobook edition), with real-time highlighting of the e-book. This is a remarkable feature and one of the three major selling points for me.
I spend about 50% of my iPad time in the evenings browsing Amazon products, reading and writing reviews, managing wishlists. I don’t spend a lot of money in online stores, I just enjoy Amazon primarily for the book listings, and secondly for the media content. I’m also a bargain hunter, usually buying from Amazon resellers rather than buying new products. For instance, the Kindle Fire HD that I’m reviewing here was purchased from a reseller at a significant discount from the full retail price of $159 (which was very reasonable already).
I like the Fire’s user interface, especially the Carousel that shows a revolving icon show of the most recently used apps, albums, movies, and even web sites visited. The carousel adds albums downloaded from the Amazon Cloud, and my first reaction was to remove them from the carousel until I learned to just leave items alone and allow the carousel to sort by usage. My most used apps and content take turns sitting in the top 10 spots for easy access. I like this sorting mechanism better than category links to get to my stuff–and infinitely more than page after page full of app icons (e.g. iOS and Android proper).
The ultimate test for me is whether the Kindle Fire HD easily replaces one or more of my other gadgets (preferably more than one). The iPad set a very high standard. My original 1st-gen iPad is aging, so I’m looking for a new tablet to replace it. The full-size 8.9″ Fire HD would certainly do the trick. A better comparison here would be an iPad Mini, in which case the Fire HD wins hands-down due to the higher resolution. (Keeping in mind, though, that this current-gen Fire HD can only handle 720P, not full 1080P). The question depends on what apps I use on the iPad. I use it entirely for entertainment–no e-mail, no productivity apps (although I own Pages and Numbers, I rarely use them now), no music. The main apps I use are Netflix, Chrome, Amazon Shop, and about 100 games. Since all of these are possible with the Fire HD, then for my usage it can replace an iPad, although the full-size Fire HD would be a better choice there.
Secondly, can it replace my 3rd-gen iPod Touch? Besides music, I also listen to Audible audiobooks with my iPod, so that’s an easy win for the Kindle–it’s Audible integration is much better. A 4th-gen iPod would be a stronger contender since the Audible app can download content directly, while the 3rd-gen requires an iTunes sync. Portability is a fail since the Kindle is too big and heavy to stick into a pocket for a jog or hike. It does succeed, though, as an audiobook player in the car. So on this front, it’s about 50/50. Since this isn’t solely to replace the iPod, that is a bonus. I might get away with not needing a next-gen iPod as a result.
Thirdly, will it replace my two-year old Kindle Touch? Hmm, that’s a more difficult question than the previous two, oddly enough. On the one hand, the Fire HD supports Whispersync for Voice, which I like very much. But, it’s twice as heavy as the Kindle Touch. I have medium-sized hands and don’t mind the weight–I’m used to holding an iPad for hours at a time already. But, the truly great thing about the Kindle Touch is it’s light weight. It literally feels like a paperback novel. In that respect, the Fire HD does not quite succeed and I find myself still wanting a new Kindle Paperwhite. (The cancelled pre-order might have to be re-pre-ordered after all).
Again, it comes down to usage. I love to read outside in the sunlight on my porch chair or lounger. But, admittedly, I only do that about 10% of the time, spending far more time reading in my home-office, the living room, or a cafe during lunch on work days. The 80/20 rule applies. In this regard, due to the extra weight, lower battery life, and readability issue, it only replaces my Kindle Touch 50% of the time.
In conclusion, I find that I have mixed feelings about the Kindle Fire HD. I was hoping it would replace two or three other devices. It might replace an iPad most of the time, and an iPod most of the time, but a Kindle reader only part of the time. In other words, it is not an all-in-one replacement and I find myself still preferring a Paperwhite for reading. There’s just something about the ultra-light weight of the dedicated Kindle that a media powerhouse tablet can’t provide. It does everything else extremely well. It will probably get more use than my iPad and iPod once the alternatives to all of my preferred iOS apps are discovered.