Amazon Kindle Fire HD: What you need to know

A Google Nexus 7 rival with strong specs
  • Jim Martin (PC Advisor (UK))
  • 07 September, 2012 18:58

Amazon has finally announced the long-awaited Kindle Fire. Here's everything you need to know about the flagship HD version. See New £69 Kindle eReader: what you need to know.

The headline specs are: a 7-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800, a 1.2GHz dual-core processor plus a PowerVR graphics chip for gaming, 16GB of RAM (or 32GB in the £199 version), dual-band Wi-Fi (on both 2.4 and 5GHz), and a battery that's claimed to last for 11 hours of video playback. See also Amazon reveals £69 Kindle eReader.`

The device measures 199 x 135 x 10.5mm and weighs 395g. That's around 45g heavier than identically priced Google's Nexus 7. See also - group test: what's the best tablet?

Kindle Fire HD: Content

Specifications are interesting if you're into technical details, but content is more important. BlackBerry's PlayBook was a great tablet when it launched, but there are precious few apps to install on it and many are more expensive than their Android or Apple iOS rivals. Take a look at As it happened: Amazon Kindle Fire event.

The Kindle Fire HD gives you access to Amazon's extensive library of not just eBooks, but also video and music.

Kindle Fire HD: Music

Amazon has sold MP3s alongside CDs for a long time now, and there are 20 million songs in the MP3 music store.

Like Apple's iTunes Match, Amazon's forthcoming Cloud Player (which will launch at the same time as the Fire HD) means you can import your music to the cloud and download any of your collection to your Kindle Fire HD. This means you're only partially limited by the internal storage: you simply remove the music you don't want to listen to, it stays in the cloud, and you can download it again when you want it back again. The only snag is that, while your Amazon music purchased are stored free of charge, only the first 250 songs of your own collection can be uploaded before you have to pay. See Amazon introduces Kindle Fire HD to UK too.

Kindle Fire HD: Videos

Since Amazon bought Lovefilm, the Kindle Fire HD benefits from access to the vast movie and TV collection. If you're already a Lovefilm subscriber and have Instant as part of the package, you'll be able to stream movies just as you do already on your TV or computer. Whispersync means you can carry on watching a movie on any of your devices, as the Pause and Resume feature remembers the scene you last watched.

Kindle Fire HD: Books

The Kindle Fire HD has a colour LCD screen just like your laptop or PC, rather than the black-and-white e-Ink screen of a traditional Kindle. You can still read books on the Fire HD, of course, and can choose from the same million or so paid-for eBooks, plus millions of free titles in the public domain.

Reading on a colour screen is different from a non-backlit e-Ink screen, and some people don't find it as comfortable for long periods. However, it means you can read digital magazines on the Fire HD: there's a choice of more than 150 titles to choose from in the new Amazon App Store.

Kindle Fire HD: App Store

Inevitably, the Kindle Fire HD means there's a new app store in town. Although the Fire HD runs a heavily customised version of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), there's no Google Play store. Instead, Amazon has a curated store of its own, with far fewer apps. The number is sure to grow quickly, and big-name titles are already there, but the Nexus 7 currently beats the Fire HD where games and productivity apps are concerned.

Kindle Fire HD vs Google Nexus 7

We could compare the Fire HD and Nexus 7 spec for spec, but that's not as meaningful as looking at what you can do on each device. The Fire HD is all about accessing Amazon's massive range of media, be that eBooks, music, movies, TV shows and - now - magazines. Yes, you can play Angry Birds on it, browse the web, and sent email as well, but it's predominantly an Amazon storefront.

The Nexus 7 is more of an enthusiast's tablet, with full access to hundreds of thousands of apps in the Play store. It also gives you unfettered access to the Android operating system, while the Fire HD's locked-down version isn't really recognisable as Android at all.

The specs war

Some of the technical details are worth understanding. One of the Kindle Fire HD's obvious advantages is that is, for your £159, you get 16GB of storage. Google gives you just 8GB and Amazon has gone to great lengths to point out that "8GB is not enough for an HD device". Bear in mind that, unlike a lot of Android tablets, neither the Fire HD nor the Nexus 7 allow you to add to that storage capacity using micro SD cards.

Less obvious is the Fire HD's screen details. Amazon has included a polarising filter and anti-glare technology which should improve on the already good viewing angles of the IPS (in-plane switching) screen, and make it more readable in bright light.

The speakers haven't been neglected either: there's a pair of dual-driver speakers in the back which, along with Dolby technology should make it sound a lot better than the Nexus 7 if you want to use it to watch movies or other videos without headphones.

The Fire HD has an 'HD' front-facing camera for Skype calls, but we'll have to wait until we can test it out to find out if it's any better than the Nexus 7's.

Finally, the Fire HD is equipped with dual-band Wi-Fi, which can automatically switch between 2.4GHz and 5GHz. What this means is that, if you have a dual-band wireless router, you might see faster downloads and more reliable movie streaming. However, since most people don't have a router that works on 5GHz, you're unlikely to see any benefit.

You might, however, benefit from the dual Wi-Fi antennae in the Fire HD. Also known as MIMO (multiple in, multiple out), this can improve wireless transfer speeds and signal strength so you should be able to use the Fire HD further from your router with fewer droped connections.

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