Decent hardware, but wasted without good software

Due to the design of the tablet, it's very obvious that Amazon intends for its users to hold the Kindle Fire in a landscape orientation, as the layout of the speakers and the camera lends well to this. While it makes sense for a media consumption device to do this, it does make it a bit harder to hold with one hand. This is all relative, of course, because the tablet itself isn't all that heavy due to its diminutive size. Still, it's something to be aware of.

Users reading about the Kindle Fire HD's OS and expecting anything close to Android 4.0.3 Ice Cream Sandwich (upon which the Kindle's OS is based) will be very disappointed. Sure, the interface looks pretty, but the control scheme is much less consistent than you'd expect for it being based on Android. It's awful. The control bar jumps from the bottom to the right side in some apps (but not others), and the same frustrating layout on the home screen makes sifting through different functions a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

There is a modicum of basic connectivity features that just about all tablets share, namely an 802.11n wireless card. Additionally, you can pair accessories using the Bluetooth 3.0 wireless capability of the Kindle Fire HD, and use the micro-USB port to load up files from your computer. If you're a media junkie and want to use your tablet as a home base for all things streaming, the Kindle Fire HD has something to sate your needs: a micro-HDMI port to export your content to a TV.

The purpose of the Kindle Fire HD is not to sell apps, but content.

As far as apps go, Amazon really has not done enough to gain ground on its competitors in the mobile market, but considering the purpose of the Kindle Fire HD is not to sell apps, but content, this is no surprise. Still, you should be aware that this is not a tablet that will allow you immediate access to the hottest apps and programs, and will leave you high and dry if you want to routinely use it to work or do anything other than consume media.

Limited features, but decent screen performance.

The new addition to the Kindle Fire lineup is built around a 5.9375 x 3.75-inch LCD screen with a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, and a fairly well-performing one at that. Not only does it have a decent contrast performance, but it also has a good color gamut. It's not the best, but hey—it does well for the price you'd pay for it.

Given that high reflectivity is mitigated somewhat by a high peak brightness, the does fairly well outdoors, though sharp reflection patterns and bright lights will absolutely ruin your fun. It's not an uncommon problem with LCD screened tablets, as they require their backlight to overpower the ambient lighting in order for their picture to be seen, and tablets with extremely high brightnesses will hurt your eyes in lower lighting conditions.

The battery life on the Kindle Fire HD is fairly good, but doesn't come close to touching its main competitor, the Google Nexus 7.

All things considered, the battery life on the Kindle Fire HD is fairly good, but doesn't come close to touching its main competitor, the Google Nexus 7. After we maxed out the backlight and turned all additional processes and antennas off, the was able to read Tolstoy's tome War and Peace (in digital form) for 6 hours and 22 minutes, while it was able to play video files back to back to back for 6 hours, 3 minutes.

Not a bad media consumption device, but not a very good value compared to other tablets.

When the first Kindle Fire was released, Amazon threw down the gauntlet and challenged the rest of the industry with a low price point and a certain standard of functionality. With the Kindle Fire HD, not much has changed in the software department aside from a different, outdated version of Android to re-skin, and that's a problem. When the closest dedicated competitor runs circles around it with function at the same price, the dual speakers and other minor features become far less important.

That's not to say that this is a bad tablet: It has marked improvements almost across the board from its previous iteration, and it works very well for media consumption. However, the Kindle Fire line of tablets does not seem to be keeping pace with the competition in terms of value or capability. What happens in terms of sales is one thing, but when it comes to measurable performance, the Kindle Fire HD falls short.

The main advantage you get with this tablet is access to Amazon's extended programs... but only if you have a Prime subscription, making the final bill for the tablet about $80 more expensive than its arch-nemesis, the Nexus7. If you have a subscription to Amazon Prime and you're only looking for a media consumption device, the Kindle Fire HD is a perfectly good option that will not disappoint you. However, if you are an app junkie, or need an exceptional battery, this is probably a tablet to skip.

The Kindle Fire HD's problems lie in software, definitely not in performance.

Decent color and high pixel density

A screen with a 5.9375 x 3.75-inch footprint and a resolution of 1280 x 800 nets the a pixel density of 215 pixels per inch (PPI), which is becoming the new normal for 7-inch tablets. For the curious, tablets of this size are starting to see displays—oft-referred to as "retina"—which are becoming closer to the norm.

In our labs, we measured the Kindle Fire HD's screen output to have a black level of 0.65 cd/m2, and a peak brightness of 450.1 cd/m2, giving it a lackluster contrast ratio of 692:1. Unfortunately, it lost a lot of points because its gamma, or how well it transitioned from dark to light, is bad, meaning it does not handle transitions in lightness easily. You may notice some detail errors in shadows.

In terms of color performance, the Kindle Fire HD actually does a fairly acceptable job, though there are some quirks. Namely, reds are shifted and undersaturated, greens are undersaturated, and blues are shifted wildly towards more of a cyan-ish color.

Reflectivity is a bit of a problem on Amazon's tablet, but it could be worse. By reflecting about 19.2% of all light back at the user, you'll definitely notice glare if you're outside and looking to use your tablet. If you must go into the bright light, we suggest maxing out your backlight.

The was able to read an eBook using the proprietary software for 6 hours and 22 minutes straight until the battery died. For video files, the tablet was only able to hang on for 6 hours and 3 minutes before the battery was bled dry. Keep in mind that we had the backlight maxed and all additional processes terminated. Because it takes a lot of juice to produce a mostly white screen, you may be able to coax a bit more battery life from the unit by either changing the background color or turning down the brightness—your mileage may vary.

Meet the testers

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging

@cthomas8888

A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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