Everything about the new Kindle Fire HD 7" tablet from Amazon makes it a superior device to the original Kindle Fire, which was released about a year ago. That may be more a comment on the faults of the original Kindle Fire than on the features of the new one, because the new Kindle Fire brings Amazon up to speed with the current tablet market. The original Kindle Fire was slow, heavy, and weird: it's principal selling point was that it was cheap. The Kindle Fire HD is a pleasingly designed, responsive, easy to use media consumption and purchasing machine--and its still cheap. For consumers who want to buy and consume books, movies, a decent (though far from comprehensive) selection of apps, and not have to think too hard about how to use or curate their device, the Kindle Fire HD is a great choice.
The main thing to know about what separates the Kindle Fire HD from the iPad is that Apple thinks of the iPad as a portable computer, meaning its uses are limited only by the imaginations of app developers. Sure, it's also designed to be a movie-viewer, e-book reader, game-player, etc, but it's a computer at heart.
Amazon has a different philosophy: the Kindle Fire HD is a machine that lets users buy and consume content, and that's it. There's nothing wrong with that fact if that's the device you want--think portable TV rather than portable PC. Just know that this is no iPad or even Google Nexus 7, nor is it meant to be.
Anyway, back to the device at hand. Amazon has smoothed over all the rough spots of the previous device and added some nice new tweaks.
The OS and User Interface
The operating system behind the Kindle Fire is still a heavily modified version of Android, though Amazon has used a more recent version of the software. Thankfully, the clunky bookshelf metaphor of the home screen from the original Kindle Fire is gone. Instead we have a sleek, black background in which the content carousel -- which displays the most recently used books, movies, Web pages and apps, and the device controls -- floats. Favorite content can be pinned to a menu that now pulls up from the bottom of the screen by tapping a star icon. Content areas--"Shop, Games, Apps, Books"--are highlighted across the top as before, though Amazon's added some new ones (like Games and Photos--oh, there's now a photo-viewing app that allows users to add photos to an Amazon CloudDrive account and then view them on the device).
Shopping is even more front-and-center on this device than on the previous fire. When you bring a piece of content to the front of the carousel, a bunch of "Customers Also Bought" suggestions pops up below the carousel. All you have to do is tap one of them and you're spending money.
But the whole system is pleasing to look at, puts content in the forefront, and makes the device easy to use.
The reading experience on the Kindle Fire HD is a big improvement over the old Kindle Fire, which had a reading app that wasn't even as good as the Kindle iOS and Android Apps. This reading app feels like it was designed to take advantage of the capabilities of the new device.
if you tap a page in an e-book, the usual location and pagination information appears along the bottom of the screen ("real pages" never made it to the old Kindle Fire even though they were available on the Kindle iOS and Android apps), but now there's also a handy navigation menu along the top of the page that lets you change font and color settings, jump to the ToC or other parts of the book, scan and make notes, activate X-Ray (for enabled books), do some social network sharing, and access and create bookmarks. Page turns are smooth and quick. This is how the reading experience should have been on the original device.
Screen, Speakers and Other Improvements
The new screen, though technically not capable of displaying HD content, is much clearer and brighter. The touch functionality is smooth and responsive. It looks great. Amazon also seriously updated the sound on the device; now it also sounds great--the old Kindle Fire could be muddy and far-away-sounding. The speakers are more than loud enough to fill a small room with music.
There are a bunch of other new features: X-Ray for movies, which offers info about actors and films being watched by interfacing with IMDB. More compelling for readers is Whispersync for vice, which can syncronize your reading position between corresponding audio and text books. Pretty cool.
Amazon has also added a front facing camera and pre-installed Skype on the device, so now there's video calling capability. Amazon has also added its' "Offers" program, which places paid advertisements on your lock screen as well as on the bottom bar on the home screen. You can turn it off for a one-time payment of $15.
There's now an integrated, one-stop shop where you can find digital goods and physical goods. This is handy, as on the old Fire, every kind of content had its own show and the main Amazon app seemed like an afterthought.
There's also a cool, smart-cover-like cover that wakes and sleeps the device when it's opened and closed.
The new Kindle Fire HD is a great device for reading, watching, listening and buying books, videos and music. If you're not looking to write documents, record and edit movies or even music, or do a handful of other more sophisticated things, this is the best device you'll find for the price. And if you've already bought a lot of digital content from Amazon, you'll have it at your fingertips as soon as you turn this thing on for the first time.
Owners of the original Kindle Fire may be frustrated by how much better this device is; it makes the old one seem like a rough draft, something that never should have been released.
But, if you don't compare it to the old Fire, or to the iPad, or if you don't care about the differences between this and those devices, this is a great tablet. It's brought Amazon up to speed with its competitors and shows Amazon is damn serious about its future as a digital content and device company.
Keep in mind, though, that rumors are rampant that Apple is about to introduce an iPad-Mini. If Apple can get anywhere near Amazon's $200 price point, then you'll have access to all of the above and more through Apple's eco-system and Amazon's iOS apps. But that's still good news to Amazon, which sells plenty of digital and physical goods on iPads, too.