Kindle Fire HD 8.9": The Evolution of the Kindle From E-Reader to Tablet
Nov 18, 2012 (Updated Nov 18, 2012)
Review by John Staradumsky
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Improved physical design, stunning display, low price, larger screen.
Cons:Takes a long time to charge, some apps incompatible from previous version.
The Bottom Line: Could be the best tablet bargain out there.
Has it really gotten to the point where we have to upgrade our electronic gadgets every year? It was just last fall, after all, that I bought my first Kindle Fire (that’s when it was launched after all). I’ve been addicted to it ever since, and it goes wherever I do. Or at least it did. That’s because Amazon announced a refreshed line of Kindle Fires for 2012, and I knew that I had to have one.
Recommend this product?
Not so much because of the fact that there was anything wrong with my trusty Kindle Fire, mind you. It was just that the new ones packed some amazing features that I knew would enhance my Kindle experience with books, videos, music, audiobooks, games, and apps.
New Kindle Models
The classic Kindle Fire would be dropped to $159, and is a great value at that price if you are looking for a solid, entry level device. It has even been slightly improved since 2011. The new Kindle Fire HD would boast even better screen resolution and a faster processor, more memory, and better Wi-Fi for $199. It was released shortly after being introduced in late September.
I, however, was holding out for the larger, 8.9” Kindle Fire that was set to be released on November 20th. This was a trade-off to be sure, as my old Kindle, at 7 inches, was not much larger than a paperback book and immensely portable for that very reason. Still, I decided that I wanted the larger model at 8.9 inch screen size.
The 8.9 inch kindle Fire HD comes in several flavors. I opted for the basic model that runs $299 and has 16 GB of internal storage. The next model up will run you $70 more at $369, with the only difference being 32 GB of onboard memory. Both of these kindles are Wi-Fi only.
If you want a 4G LTE model, those are available starting at $499 for a 32 GB model and $599 for a 64 GB version. Monthly data plans are available, as well. For occasional use beyond the reach of a Wi-Fi network, you can pay $49 and get 250 MB of data a month for a year. This also includes an extra 20GB of free cloud storage and a $10 credit towards the Amazon app store.
It should be noted that all of the Kindle Fire models will display ads when you start up the device. This is no big deal for me, but if you want to remove that feature it will cost you another $15.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch vs. ipad Mini
As I said, I had opted for the $299 Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch model. But a funny thing happened on the way to the tablet. Apple, sensing that other makers were eating its lunch with smaller, cheaper tablets than the ipad, launched the ipad Mini before I received my new Kindle.
That, I think, makes an excellent segue into an ipad Mini to Kindle Fire comparison. Obviously, at $299, the Kindle HD 8.9 inch will save you a few hundred over the ipad 3. But what about a comparison to the new ipad mini? I had a decision to make when the ipad mini was announced, especially since most of my family is already hooked on Apple and has been bugging me to convert. I had a considerable amount invested in Amazon content, though, which was a consideration. Most of it would be portable to an ipad, but the easy interface to your content that the Fire features would not be the same.
For starters, the ipad Mini would cost me $30 more for a similar 16GB, Wi-Fi only model. Not so much as to make a difference, but then I started to look at the specs. First off was the display, and the Kindle clearly had the advantage over the ipad Mini. The 1920 by 1200 anti-glare display was clearly superior to the ipad’s 1024 by 768 display, and of course the Kindle’s screen is an inch larger. The Kindle HD also boasts a faster processor and Wi-Fi, and better speakers. The ipad mini seems to have the edge with it’s camera.
I decided to stick with my order for the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch model.
The Kindle HD Arrives
Earlier I mentioned that my new kindle HD was to ship on November 20th. But as I was checking my Amazon account on the preceding Friday, I noticed that the $299 for the device had already been charged to my account. Sure enough, a quick hop over to Amazon.com indicated that the Kindle HD had shipped the day before, and was on the UPS truck for delivery.
I was happy to get my kindle HD early, and popped it out of the box posthaste. I was immediately impressed by the larger display and new design. The device did not have the same heft as my own kindle in proportion to its size, and as a result felt less sturdy. Still, it’s clear Amazon has learned from some of the mistakes they made with the original Kindle Fire.
First off is the power button, which has been moved from the bottom to the top of the device. This was a major annoyance on my old Kindle Fire, as it had an alarming habit of being depressed when the tablet was held upright and trying to shut the power off.
A volume control button is another welcome change; the first Kindle Fire did not have one at all. There’s a new front facing camera and improved speakers on the sides of the device as well. The micro USB connection is joined by a micro HDMI output, too.
One pet peeve that I have is that there is no power adapter included. While you do get a micro USB cable, this is really for connection purposes to a PC; same will not effectively charge your tablet. Actually, it’s not really the omission of the power adapter that bugs me. Let’s be fair, the kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch is a steal at $299, and you can get an Amazon “Powerfast” adapter for $19.99. It’s just the plug really, and connects to the device via the included cable.
My peeve, then, is that I would have liked to have known ahead of time that I needed to buy the power feed. Luckily, my old Kindle charger is compatible, but won’t charge the device as quickly as the new one will. Annoyingly, Amazon changed the price to $9.99 on the adapter, but then when I went to buy one the price had changed again to $19.99 again with a $3 MP3 credit. I will hold off, I think, to see if it goes back down.
My Kindle HD arrived fully charged and already configured to my Amazon account. I did need to download a software update which took about 30 minutes to fully configure and delayed my ability to start playing.
While the power adapter omission was mildly irritating, the inability to use a number of the apps I had purchased for my Fire was downright infuriating, such to the point that I called Amazon and obtained an RMA. To be fair, most of my apps work on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet. One in particular, though, that I use almost daily was incompatible when I received my tablet.
The app in question is Comics by Comixology. I use this app almost daily, and have spent a considerable amount on digital comics that I and my sons read. To be unable to access these was intolerable, and I called Amazon Tech Support and e-mailed Comixology about the problem.
I wasn’t alone in my dismay; a number of new Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet owners also posted their displeasure on Amazon and the Comixology Facebook page. It seemed amazing to me that Amazon would not correct this, since they get a cut of every comic sold through the tablet app.
Fortunately, Amazon and Comixology worked to resolve the incompatibility issues and I was able to download the app the following day. Of course, you may not find my tale of woe all that disheartening, especially if you don’t read comics. You should, though, be concerned about the incompatibility of apps, and I should further advise that I do have a number still that won’t work. This is not a problem that Apple has had from ipad model to ipad model.
As with the original Fire, you will find navigation is fairly intuitive, and not much has changed in the department. The home screen is where the action is at, and you can always navigate to it from any book, video, or app by tapping the screen at the bottom to retrieve the menu; then hit the home icon. It’s that easy. Once there, you will notice key information displayed at the top of the screen: “alerts” about software updates, new e-mail, and even a friend’s latest move in “Words With friends”; the time; Wi Fi status; and battery strength.
Gone, though, is the “Gear” icon that brught you to your settings menu in the past. Instead, you need to swipe down from the top center of the screen to get to some options: you can lock and unlock your device, adjust volume, screen brightness, see and choose wireless networks, sync with Amazon, see device information, and much more.
You have several ways to access your content. The home screen is presented as a row of your most recently used books, apps, videos, and websites. This is called the “carousel”, and you can scroll through it with the touch of a finger. Any time you access anything in the carousel, it gets bumped to the front of the line. Again, this is much the same as the first Kindle Fire.
Holding your finger on a content pane in the carousel allows you to delete it from rotation, delete it from the device, or add it to your favorites. Favorites, however, are no longer displayed on a lower “shelf” on the home screen. Instead, there’s now a favorites icon in the shape of a star beneath the carousel (it’s also accessible from most other areas in the device). Tapping it at any time will bring up all the content in your favorites menu.
You can also access content directly by category from a menu above the carousel. In addition to the original Kindle Fire Options of Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web, you can also choose from Shop, Games, Audiobooks, Photos, and Offers. From each of these categories, you can see content on the device and in the “cloud”, and also access the Amazon store to purchase more. As with the first Fire, there is a search box on the home page and for each content category.
How Much Storage Do I Need?
The amount of storage that’s right for you is entirely dependent upon the way you use your Kindle. At 16 GB of memory internally (only 12.8 GB of which is user accessible), I have roughly twice the storage that I had with my old Kindle Fire. Truth be told, I never used all of that, though I came close. Mostly that is because I generally access my content from the cloud. If you are not often in range of Wi-Fi and store more content locally, you may choose to opt for more storage.
Managing your content and the amount of memory it consumes is simpler with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet. From the settings menu, simply choose “Device” and “Storage” and you’ll get a detailed analysis of your usage by content type. Tapping any of these categories will bring you to a list of that content; you can delete what you no longer want locally to increase available memory.
The Cloud allows you to store content on Amazon’s servers for access through a Wi-Fi or cellular connection with compatible models of the Fire HD. The Fire HD has excellent Wi Fi detection and transfer speed capabilities, indeed even better than the ipad 3 offers thanks to the dual Wi-Fi antennas. This allows you to transfer files to your device in no time.
Amazon gives anyone with an Amazon account 5 GB of storage space for free. You can use it to store documents, videos, and music for your Fire.
Any music, magazines, books, and videos you purchase through Amazon do not count towards your limit. Need more space for your stuff? Amazon offers the option to buy more, the cheapest plan being $20 for an upgrade to 20 GB. Best of all, this option includes unlimited music storage. Amazon recently copied Apple’s “matching” option; if they have the same music in their library that you are uploading they will automatically upgrade your tracks to 256K or better quality. There is no charge for this with one of the paid cloud plans.
Amazon has the drop on anybody else in the content category. Not even Apple comes close, except perhaps in music, but Amazon offers reduced price songs and albums that I have rarely seen on itunes. In addition, many purchases on Amazon come with promotional MP3 credits, so you can download songs as a bonus. While it’s true that you can access this content through other devices, for me the integrated interface with the Kindle Fire makes them much easier to get to.
While it is true that the content is not unique to this device and may seem a curious component of a review of the Kindle Fire HD, I truly believe that it is a very important factor in your decision on whether or not to buy this device or an ipad, Surface, or Nexus tablet.
Amazon offers a number of magazines and newspapers by single issue or by subscription. You can find such favorites as Time, The Economist, Forbes, Us, Popular Science, and much more.
Amazon has a massive library of books to choose from, most of the latest titles and lots of classics, too. Many books are free. I had a large library already from Amazon, so I was good to go with my new Fire HD. I generally keep a few on my device and store the rest in the cloud for later retrieval. As with all e-readers, I love the convenience of being able to download a book the day it is released. No trip to the store required.
Also par for the course is the ability to adjust display (meaning font and print size) to your liking, though sadly the text-to-speech option that was present on the very first Kindle is still not available. Here’s hoping Amazon brings it back someday.
The Fire is a surprisingly good music player. Although it will never replace my Zune as my preferred music device, I do enjoy streaming music from the cloud while web surfing or playing games. As with the Kindle Fire, the Fire HD boasts an impressive little music player that streams high-quality audio to your headphones from the cloud or local storage.
There are a number of apps available for music lovers as well, most of them free. Pandora, Spotify, and Iheart Radio are all available for the Fire HD.
Still annoying is the inability to play digital copy from my blu ray purchases. That said, there are plenty of options for video with the Fire. The Amazon video store offers a large library to select from, with much content available for rental or purchase. Any purchased content can be accessed from the cloud or the device.
When renting a title, Amazon offers the convenient option of downloading to the device so that it can be accessed when Wi Fi is not available. You have 30 days to start watching; once you do the content will be deleted after a 48-hour window.
Documents can be accessed from the cloud or the device for access as well. Quickoffice is included at no charge with your Fire HD. This comes in handy, though the files are locked for read access (though different apps allow you to alter them).
You can upgrade to the full version of Quickoffice for just $15. I in fact did this shortly after purchasing my first Kindle Fire. This allows easy editing and creation of documents.
Amazon is not even close to offering the app content that Apple does, and likely never will. While the library of Android apps available for the Kindle has grown, it is still only a subset of those available on most dedicated Android devices (such as my cell phone). Bottom line for me, though, is that the apps catalog on Amazon suits my needs, and while I may not always be able to get an app I want, I can usually find the app I need.
A large library of audiobooks is available through Audible.com, an Amazon company. These are my constant companions on the way to and from work, and help me to endure the traffic.
The Fire HD uses the Amazon Silk browser. It’s intuitive, learns from the sites you visit most frequently, and starts loading them in advance on its servers when you start surfing (you can shut this off if you prefer). You can bookmark favorites, and websites look good when displayed in either mobile or normal formats. Overall, though, it’s not all that different than most of the popular browsers out there.
As with the Kindle Fire, Performance of the Kindle Fire HD has pleased me overall. Using the performance of my old Kindle Fire as a baseline, it’s easy to see the improved performance on this model.
Web pages load more quickly than in the past with the improved Wi-Fi connectivity. Video and music stream flawlessly with a strong source as well. All the better to access your content from the cloud.
The display is perhaps the most impressive new aspect of the Kindle Fire HD. Video is crisp and clear, and HD movies look better than ever. Apps and games are most impressive, with some HD Apps like “Angry Birds Star Wars” appearing in glorious, sharp detail and amazingly rich, vibrant colors. Digital comics from the Comixology app truly dazzle.
Books, also, are easier to read, at least for me. One of the disadvantages of the Fire line is that it lacks the e-ink of the original Kindle. That device was much like reading a conventional book with e-ink. The Fire’s display was prone to impart eye fatigue for this reviewer much more quickly. Happily, with the higher resolution and improved display, this does not seem so much a problem with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet.
On Screen Keyboard
Certainly, the larger display of the Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet allows facilitates the use of the keyboard for e-mail and word processing much more easily. Quite simply, it’s much easier to type on the screen keys with the larger display. Often, I found myself making numerous typos on my old Kindle Fire because the keys were just too small; tilting is sideways to increase size reduced my content space. Not as much of an issue with the larger Fire HD.
So far, I haven’t noticed any benefit from the faster processor. All my games and apps run pretty much as smoothly as they did on the original Kindle Fire. Perhaps that’s a compliment to that device.
Another of the features that Amazon touts as much improved are the speakers. “Exclusive Dolby audio and dual stereo speakers for crisp, booming sound without distortion” are promised. From my standpoint? Not so much. While it’s true they are slightly louder, a welcome improvement, and have a marked increase in stereo separation, they have little bass at all. I’m not really disappointed about this in such a small chassis to be fair, just don’t expect to replace your boom box with the Kindle Fire HD for audio playback.
Battery Life and Charging
Battery life has averaged about ten hours of assorted use (apps, books, music, videos) from a full charge. Your mileage may vary with your usage mix; apps and games devour power the most quickly. The device does take a long time to charge with my old Kindle Fire adapter (similar AC adapters can also be used).
An hour’s charge brought me from 5% to 40% charged; it took another two hours to fully charge my tablet.
A Few New Features
Worth mentioning is Bluetooth capability, not present on the original Kindle Fire. So far, I have been unable use it to play audiobooks and music through my car’s speakers, though I was able to successfully pair my new Kindle to the car.
A front-facing HD camera is another new feature on the Kindle HD. While there is no native app for it, it does work with Skype for video calls. You can also use it with facebook to record photos and videos; there are several apps for the camera available for purchase. Picture quality and sound recording are very good, indeed, though I find that the front-facing aspect makes it difficult to take photos of things other than yourself.
In addition to the second-day shipping upgrades Amazon prime offers, you can also access a large library of movies and TV shows with your Kindle Fire HD as a member. In addition, there is a large library of books that are not otherwise free available for borrowing, one per month. Prime is, it should be noted, an additional $79 a year, and you are under no obligation to purchase it.
Although I still have major concerns about the incompatibility of apps, I am nonetheless very happy with my new Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch tablet. Concerns remain that content I purchase now may not be available for future models. Amazon uses the perpetual access of your purchased content from the cloud as a selling point, so I would expect to be able to use it in the future.
Still, the Kindle Fire HD shines in so many other areas that I can overlook this. The brilliant display, increased size, faster Wi-Fi, camera, Bluetooth, slightly better sound, all make this a truly useful one-stop entertainment device. The $299 price seals the deal.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 inch device truly completes the evolution of the Kindle from dedicated e-reader to multi-purpose tablet.
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