Review: Kindle Fire HD 8.9"
If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend reading my first impressions of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ before diving into this review.
I’ve been using the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ tablet for approximately two weeks now and I can say that it is a solid tablet computer. Starting at $299 for the WiFi-only model, which if you’re going to buy the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ tablet is what I recommend you get, otherwise you’ll be paying $499 for 4G/LTE capabilities and at that price point, I’m going to say you’re still better off with an iPad. But at $299, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ is an excellent tablet for music, movies, and television.
So let’s get to the review.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ is enclosed in a plastic case, it isn’t the same caliber enclosure as an iPad but it doesn’t feel cheap either. The only issue I had with it was the back of the tablet is a black matte finish that really likes to keep finger prints and is very tough to clean off.
In terms of the screen, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ sports a very nice 1920×1200 HD display, which really does look great. It’s probably the only other tablet display that I can say is comparable to the iPad’s retina display. It provides great color and contrast, making movies and TV enjoyable to watch on a smaller screen.
However, the screen isn’t the only feature of the device that makes watching movies and TV enjoyable. The Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ comes packaged with Dolby speaker technology and boy do they sound good. The dual stereo speakers offer loud clear and crisp sound that I haven’t heard on any other tablet including the iPad. The audio packaged on this device paired with the beautiful screen make it quite an intriguing purchase as a media tablet, especially with Amazon’s collection of TV and movie titles (which we’ll discuss more later).
The device is powered by a 1.5Ghz dual-core processor with Imagination PowerVR 3D graphics core and 1GB of RAM. It comes with two options for storage, you can either get a 16GB or 32GB model. I got the 16GB model and it has 12.7GB of storage available for use (32GB model has 27.1GB), which may or may not be enough storage for some people and is definitely something to keep in mind upon purchasing. With that being said, if you use Amazon’s Cloud Storage drive storage may be less of an issue for you as you can easily access your Amazon Cloud Storage from the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ — in fact, the integration is very seamless.
Amazon also makes a big deal about its dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi on the device, which they claim offers 40% faster downloads and improved streaming when compared to the iPad 3. In my tests, I didn’t find it to be a truly noticeable increase in speed of downloads or streaming when comparing it with my iPad 3.
The device has a built-in micro-HDMI out port so you can hook-up it up to a TV (requires an additional cable) and mirror the content on the device to the TV. This is nice, but I wish Amazon had something more like Apple’s AirPlay which can do the same thing but wirelessly. Though, I suppose that would be tough to do without an additional piece of hardware such as an Apple TV connected to the TV.
The front-facing HD camera is nice and is great for video Skyping, however, I really would have liked to see a nice rear-facing camera as well.
Amazon claims over 10 hours for typical usage activities, I’d say that’s about right in my tests. Obviously mileage may vary depending on use cases, however, anywhere from 8 to 10 hours of battery life can be expected in most cases.
The Catch: Charging the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ can be painful
Additionally, as I mentioned in my initial impressions, this thing will not charge fast enough unless it’s plugged into a wall outlet and for that it requires that you purchase their accelerated charger. If you don’t already have a USB to wall outlet converter, you need to buy this additional piece of hardware from Amazon or you’ll be sorry (the device will take forever and ever to charge without it). In fact, according to Amazon’s device specs, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ tablet will charge in under 14 hours connected to a computer via USB. Wow, excuse me while I go take an extended nap.
Moving onto the software…
Operating System & Apps
The Kindle Fire line of products runs a highly modified version of Android that locks you into Amazon’s ecosystem of apps, books, movies, TV shows, and music. This is fine for every aspect of the ecosystem except for apps. Amazon’s selection of books, movies, TV shows, and music is phenomenal, and is even better if you have Amazon Prime due to the built-in access to Prime Instant Video. However, when it comes to apps, Amazon’s App Store selection is lacking.
There isn’t nearly as much of a selection as on Apple’s App Store or even Google Play. Sure, you a some of the big app titles such as Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Angry Birds, and HBO Go, but there’s still a lot to be yearned for.
The modified Android operating system has its quirks too. For example, the camera app doesn’t have a dedicated app icon within your “Apps” section and searching for it using the Kindle Fire HD’s search feature doesn’t yield any results either. In order to access it, you need to go to the Photos section of the device and open the camera that way. Why can’t there just be an icon for the camera to open? I’m not sure.
You will run into things like that occasionally with the Kindle Fire HD. Sometimes it will take a second or two before you can completely figure out how to interact with something, while other times it makes sense immediately.
Amazon’s built-in web browser is called Silk and it’s OK. It’s certainly no Google Chrome or Safari, both of which are far better mobile browsers in my opinion. However, it can get the job done, and will have to, considering Google Chrome isn’t available in the Amazon App Store, so you’re stuck with Silk for the time being.
If you have ever used an iPad, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. The pinch-and-zoom functionality in Silk is a bit jerky — it isn’t nearly as fluid as an iPad. Now, it’s not unusable, but again, it becomes clear why Apple holds patents for that stuff, their implementation is much better on iOS devices.
I downloaded a free game from the Amazon App Store, it was some shooting game, and while I’m not much of gamer it was entertaining enough and the graphics were quite good too. There were no hiccups or lag, the controls worked well, and levels loaded fairly quickly.
Content: Books, Movies, TV, Music
This is one area where Amazon really excels. Between it’s Prime Instant Video offerings and its vast collection of books (and audio books), music, TV, and movies — it’s really easy to find content that you would want to watch, read, or listen to. And all of that content is integrated seamlessly into the Kindle experience, often available with just one tap on the screen.
By the way, the X-Ray feature which allows you to get more information about characters/cast in movies, books, etc is actually pretty cool. While I see it as more of a novelty feature and something that you probably won’t utilize most of the time, it’s still cool to have for when you want to use it.
The special offers version of the Kindle Fire HD isn’t that bad, the ads appear on the lock screen and are not intrusive. However, if you don’t want ads, you can pay an additional $15 to get a version without ads. Overall though, the ads don’t interfere with anything and will not cause you to regret not spending the extra $15.
Should You Buy One?
Ah, yes. The eternal question, should you buy a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″? For $299, definitely. I think it’s a great alternative to the iPad, especially if you’re planning to use it mostly for media content (books, movies, TV, music) and that’s due to its great screen and even better speakers.
Again though, I have to stress that if you’re looking at the $499 model which has 4G/LTE capabilities, at that point I would probably lean closer towards recommending an iPad.