The $214 Amazon Kindle Fire HD is Amazon's latest attempt to capture a piece of the already over saturated tablet marketplace. Available to our American neighbours since September of 2012, it's hardly new, but it's new to us. Was it worth the wait? After spending a few weeks with the seven inch, 16GB iteration of the tablet, I can tell you that at least for the time being, your money's likely better spent elsewhere.
Weighing in at 395 grams, the seven inch Kindle Fire HD is noticeably heavier than Apple's iPad mini or the Google Nexus 7 (which weigh 312 grams and 340 grams respectively.) The tablet wears its extra heft well – squeezing and torquing the hardware, I couldn't detect any creaks or pops. That's a good sign in a piece of hardware designed to be tossed in a bag, thrown on a sofa or otherwise abused. It's display is just as tough, as it's made of Gorilla Glass. You'd have to work very hard indeed to scratch or shatter it. Thanks to it's 1280 x 400 resolution display, the Kindle Fire HD provides one of the best viewing and reading experiences of any tablet its size, outclassed only by Apple's 10-inch retina iPad, and Google's Nexus 10 tablet. Audio? It does that well too, thanks to a pair of stereo speakers mounted on either side of the display. All of this is driven by a dual core processor with an Imagination PowerVR graphics core. I'll spare you the technobabble, but suffice to say, with the exception of a short pause while changing the Kindle Fire HD's orientation between portrait and landscape, I didn't notice any interface lag, stuttering video or other processor-related irritants while using the tablet.
Amazon claims the Kindle Fire HD will run for 11 hours on a single charge. But I found that the average runtime I was able to pull out of its batteries after a day of answering e-mail, watching videos, playing a few games and surfing the web averaged out closer to nine hours. That's still a respectable battery life.
And now for the bad news.
The Kindle Fire HD runs a heavily modified version of Android OS 4.0, but it's almost certainly not the 'droid you're looking for. Unlike the the stock version of Android available on the competitively priced $209 16GB Nexus 7 (which is a pleasure to use and navigate) the Kindle Fire HD's OS is – to put it bluntly – a bag of hurt.
In an effort to make all of the tablet's content easy to find and use, Amazon elected to display everything in a finger-flickable gallery. Apps are mixed in with recently visited web pages, kindle ebooks, user uploaded video and images. Users have the option to switch to a list view of the tablet's contents, or browse by category. But no matter what I did, the OS felt like a hot mess. It's also worth mentioning that while the tablet is powered by Android, users don't have access to Google's Play Store, and instead are forced to make due with Amazon's App Store, which, while boasting essential apps like Twitter, Netflix, Skype and Facebook, can't hope to rival the variety of downloadable applications available via the Google Play Store or Apple's massive iOS App Store.
The lack of content can also be felt in the absence of Amazon's Prime Video service and MP3 Store: services that in the United States, make the Kindle Fire HD a compelling option for consumers in the market for a cheap tablet. Even the online shopping options available via Amazon.ca – a portal that the Kindle Fire HD was designed to leverage – are lackluster, and often significantly more expensive in comparison to what our American cousins enjoy.
Despite the excellent quality of its hardware, the Kindle Fire HD stumbles thanks in no small part to Amazon's awkward skinning of Google's Android operating system, a disappointing app store selection and an absence of Canadian iterations of a number of services that the tablet's American user base are currently able to leverage with the tablet. If you're looking for a cheap tablet, you're better off looking elsewhere.