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Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9” review

Seth Barton
12 Apr 2013
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
229
inc VAT

Great hardware for the money, and a great range of content to buy, but Amazon’s take on Android still feels comparatively inflexible

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Specifications

8.9 in 1,920x1,200 display, 567g, 1.5GHz TI OMAP4470, 1.00GB RAM, 16GB disk, Android 4.0 (customised)

Amazon tends to release its new hardware first in the US, with a lengthy wait before other countries receive it. The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9” has taken 6 months to arrive in the UK, trailing well behind its smaller 7in sibling the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, but despite the wait it still feels like both an up-to-date device and a keenly priced one.

The reason for this is its highly-detailed screen, with a huge 1,920x1,200 resolution. At 8.9in across, it’s smaller than the 9.7in and 10in screens on the Apple iPad 4 and Google Nexus 10 respectively. Doing the maths it has an impressive 254 pixels per inch (PPI), which was indistinguishable to us from the iPad’s 264PPI or even the 300PPI on the Nexus 10.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9”

The highly-detailed display does a great job of showing LoveFilm's HD content

It’s not just detailed either, the IPS screen is a match for those other devices in quality too, with vibrant colours and decent blacks - a good thing given how much Amazon uses black in its user interface. We find it a bit dreary, but we guess it must save on battery life, with the backlight usually being dialled back to suit. Unlike its big competitors the Kindle Fire HD has an HDMI output, so you can easily enjoy content on a bigger screen.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9”

The speakers are excellent, for a tablet, among the best we've heard

As well as a great screen, the new tablet also has great speakers. With Dolby audio support, the stereo speakers sound far better the mono speaker on the iPad, though we prefer the forward-firing speakers on the Nexus 10, as they don’t get muffled when you place the tablet flat on a surface.

The smaller screen size makes for a smaller, lighter tablet too. At 567g it’s almost 100g lighter than the current iPad and it’s also slightly slimmer too. There’s no 3G version, and there’s no rear-facing camera, just a front camera for Skype chats and the like.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9”

THE HDMI output is a useful extra

INTERFACE

The home screen provides a simple carousel of your most recently used items. To do this it mixes the last webpage you looked at, with movies, books and music - all there to be jumped straight back into. You often find yourself thinking you’ll read a book, but then are reminded you never finished watching that film, it’s a far better way to browse your entertainment options than separate apps.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9”

The main screen's carousel of content is a great idea

You are mainly limited to enjoying that content using the Kindle’s built-in apps though, as others aren’t available via its app store. This isn’t a problem if all your content comes from Amazon of course, but can be limiting for other files. You can still drag-and-drop content to the device from a PC, as with other Android devices. But if you find a video file won’t play then you’re stuck, unless you want to start fiddling about with sideloading apps onto the device, in which case you should just buy a Nexus 10 and be done with it.

Back to Amazon’s own content, the choice is pretty impressive. Outside of an iPad, this is the only place you can enjoy LoveFilm Instant on a tablet, with loads of HD content that looks fantastic on the screen. If you’re a big LoveFilm fan then this is a great device for watching on, though without a download facility you’ll need Wi-Fi to do so.

Generally speaking, there’s no content on offer here unless it’s coming from Amazon. Netflix is available on the device though - we’re guessing it was too popular to ignore, plus Amazon’s LoveFilm service doesn’t operate in the US, so it’s not got a direct competitor over the pond.

The reading app works fine, and though the LCD screen can’t match Amazon’s own Kindle Paperwhite for reading, books with illustrations are far better on this device. Unfortunately, the software for reading graphic novels isn’t as good as the best examples (such as the Comixology app, again not available on Kindle Fire) and the 16:10 screen isn’t as well suited as Apple’s 4:3 iPad screen.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9”

Amazon's guided view for graphic novels isn't the best we've seen

The choice of apps is rather limited compared to the full Google Play Store, and it’s disappointing to find that apps, such as Facebook, don't appear to be anything more than the usual smartphone version, when the resolution on the display could do so much more. We switched to the browser instead for this. The iPlayer app, as with other Android devices, aggravated us but no offering a HD option, and we couldn’t coax the browser to get this from the desktop version of the site either.

The browser generally works well, there are tabs, a choice of search engine for the address bar and everything seemed to work as you’d expect; plus the high resolution makes everything look smooth. If you do have a problem with a specific site though, such as your bank or webmail, then it’s not straightforward to load another browser onto the tablet.

There is an email client built-in but setting it up is hidden under the More option of the settings menu. It works fine, but it’s hidden in the apps menu, when we’d have preferred a link from the main menu, as there is for the web browser. We found it didn’t update our email very often, and so notifications came late, or sometime not at all.

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