Technologizer

Review: Kindle Fire HD Is a Very Amazon Tablet

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But Bezos didn’t talk about one aspect of this strategy: The Fire HD’s software features embedded marketing messages of various sorts. Each time you turn the screen on, you get a full-screen color billboard which may be either an Amazon “special offer” or a plain old ad — I got one for the new movie The Words. There’s also a plug for one piece of content at the bottom of the home screen.

Amazon already uses a similar approach with its monochrome e-readers: The company lets customers choose between cheap ad-supported versions and slightly pricier ad-free ones. It says that almost everybody opts to watch the ads and save a few bucks. With the new Kindles, however, there’s no ad-free variant. That led to a brief kerfuffle which Amazon quashed by announcing that it would let customers remove the ads for a one-time $15 fee. Fair enough.

(MORE: Yes, You’ll Absolutely, Positively Be Able to Remove the Special Offers from Amazon’s New Kindle Tablets)

I’d probably pay the $15 myself, not so much because I’m ad-adverse as because the promotions I saw were often distractingly irrelevant. Amazon has access to 15 years’ worth of data on my taste in entertainment in the form of my past purchases, yet it kept telling me about items I’d never buy, such as a John Mayer album.

But the marketing messages which baffled me most are the “Customers Also Bought” suggestions which appear when you browse through your collection of books, videos, apps and games with the tablet in portrait orientation. The ones for books made sense, but many others seemed to be random — a game called Where’s My Perry popped up alongside almost every program I tried, including the TIME app — and they aren’t labeled, so it can be tough to tell what they represent.

It’s important to note that the Amazonian qualities of the Kindle Fire HD aren’t all about marketing opportunities. The company has devoted considerable effort to building apps which go beyond the basics of media consumption, and which take advantage of unique Amazon content and technologies.

For instance, the company owns audiobook kingpin Audible, which allows it to offer “Immersive Reading,” an option that lets you pay a few more dollars more for an audio soundtrack. It’s available for around 15,000 titles, which play synchronized narration as you read a Kindle e-book. (These are professionally-recorded tracks by authors and noted performers, not the robotic text-to-speech voice which is also available unless the publisher has disabled the option.)

X-Ray, an existing Kindle e-book feature that lets you pull up information about characters, concepts and other vital details as you read, is now available for thousands of movies, a development made possible by Amazon’s ownership of IMdB. With a tap, you can see which actors are in a scene you’re watching, then browse around to learn more about their work. It’s very slick, and there’s no equivalent on other tablets.

Also unique — although not available until the Kindle gets a software update next month — is a kid-friendly mode called Kindle FreeTime. Parents can set varying time limits for specific types of content, so, for example, a child gets unlimited access to books but only an hour a day of gaming time. Multiple-offspring households can have different profiles for different kids.

Whispersync, Amazon’s blanket moniker for technologies that preserve settings between sessions and across multiple devices, shows up in more places than ever. The company now gives game developers the ability to store your progress in the cloud, so you don’t get kicked back to the first level if you delete a game and then reinstall it later. It also syncs your place between the Kindle and Audible editions of a title, letting you read over breakfast and then pick up where you left off as you listen to the same book in audio form on the subway.

So that’s the 7″ Kindle Fire HD. It offers a lot for the money; it’s full of ambitious features; it provides super-convenient access to a never-ending trove of content. Amazon declares that it’s the most advanced 7″ tablet on the market. From a technical standpoint, that’s a reasonable claim.

But is it the best one?

I won’t even contemplate that question until we know if the shipping software is less quirky than the pre-release version I tried. And even if the company irons out all the bugs, this tablet amounts to a Rorschach test. If the concept of a 7-inch window into Amazon’s vast shopping mall sounds aggravating, you’ll be more pleased with the Nexus 7, which remains a fine tablet in its own right.  It’s more of a general-purpose computing device.

For happy Amazon customers, though, a Kindle Fire HD could be just the ticket — assuming that Amazon thoroughly polishes the software, that is. Here’s hoping it’s in rock-solid shape by the time the 8.9″ model debuts right before Thanksgiving.

MORE: 30 Days with Google’s Nexus 7 Tablet

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Riley Wave
Riley Wave

I just researched various budget tablets and considered the Kindle HD, and the Nexus 7 but then found another brand new model that overall has better features – and is only $189 – it’s the Novo 7 Flame by Ainol Electronics and you can buy it in the United States through TabletSprint.Com – its build quality is excellent and it includes a dual core cpu, has the same type of high quality screen as the Kindle Fire HD, has a Micro-SD slot, Full HDMI 1080p HD (the Kindle only offers 720p) and has two cameras – a 2 MegaPixel front Webcam and a high quality 5 MegaPixel rear cam for Photos/Video with Auto Focus amp; Flash – it also offers an option for 3G -- TabletSprint.com also has another model, the Novo 7 Crystal coming in October and it’s only $129 and has a dual core CPU.

Bobbilee
Bobbilee

The label of "fool" is a relative term. My interpretation of your use of that label is to imply that the Nexus 7 is a superior device so anyone who purchases a Kindle Fire HD is a fool. I disagree! The new Fire HD has almost everything I want in a 7" device. It has: amazing anti-glare graphics display; the best audio speakers/stereo sound; 16 or 32 gb storage; Bluetooth and HDMI connectivity; dual antenna wifi; dual core power, which is equal or better to tegra 3 quad core; respectable battery life; and unparalleled access to all of Amazon's content!

I have an android smartphone that I use for taking pictures, gps, and google centric information. My phone is always with me whereas those features are unneeded for the Fire, which may or may not travel with me on short errands about town. I am very familiar with the google play store and the range of apps. I am not impressed! I prefer the quality control of the Amazon app store. As for the highly praised jelly bean os, so what? In a few months a new flavor of Android will be out to replace it and perhaps Nexus owners will be able to widely beta test that flavor before the rest of us are subjected to it's inevitable bugs.

The only thing I think is missing on the new Fire HD is an SD card slot but hey that is missing on the Nexus and iPad too but at least I will have 32 gb of storage on my Fire for the same money as a Nexus and far cheaper than an iPad! ....Ya I have a new iPad too and it does not serve my reading needs as it is too heavy and the lack of the ability to access file folders or manipulate files easily is not impressive either. Goals of productivity are still better served with a small laptop.

Frankly, the only fools are the ones who do not weigh their goals for the device carefully before purchase. I want Amazon content and the Fire HD will serve that goal very nicely indeed with many little extras that the current competition lacks!

ministerial
ministerial

You'd be an absolute fool to buy a 7" Fire over a Nexus 7.

I can't speak the the new 10", but I'm happy with my ASUS 10" Transformer, which is cheaper if you buy the plastic model.  No 4g, but it's not like Amazon gives you more than a taste of bandwidth.