Kindle Fire HD reviews are in: Better, but not the best tablet at any price

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When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the new Kindle Fire HD family, he told those in attendance that he wanted to sell the best tablets at any price. However, the first reviews of the refreshed tablet from Amazon beg to differ, especially in the software department.

From a technical standpoint, the Kindle Fire HD is what the original Kindle Fire should have been: It has a sleeker, slimmer body; a high-resolution 7-inch screen (better than the Nexus 7); a dual-core processor; minimum 16GB of storage; a front-facing camera for video calls; and dual Dolby Digital speakers—all starting at $199. This is why the majority of the first reviews of the Kindle HD found it more than satisfactory.

The problems with the Kindle Fire HD seem to be with the software. The first Kindle Fire shipped with sluggish software (a customized version of Android) that was later addressed in an update. This time around, the situation seems unchanged.

“The general feeling when using the Fire HD was that of a kind of light confusion, a low hum of 'where am I now?' Things were never where I expected them to be, or they moved, or they had to be summoned from a hidden menu,” Joshua Topolsky wrote in his review for The Verge.

Topolsky continued: “The other big issue I have with Amazon's OS is that it can sometimes feel sluggish, laggy. The keyboard on the device feels downright delayed when you're typing on it, pressed buttons sometimes seemed to momentarily stall, and moving in and out of applications could sometimes cause a slight freeze, where the content (or worse, nothing) will just sit onscreen, stuck.”

Walt Mossberg found similar issues with the Kindle Fire HD in his review at All Things D: “The Fire HD isn’t as polished, fluid or versatile as the iPad. It offers only a fraction of the third-party apps available on either the iPad or the Nexus 7 (and other standard Android tablets). I found that after prolonged use, the Fire HD showed signs of latency—apps and content displayed delays in launching. This latency disappeared after a reboot.”

David Pogue, reviewing for The New York Times, also mentioned “The Fire still lacks built-in apps for navigation, notes, to-do lists, alarm clock or stopwatch.” He also noted “there are the bugs. Once again, Amazon seems to have scrambled for the holidays, with the intention of polishing its software later.” And if the fact that you will have to pay $15 after purchase to remove the ads from the lock screen of the Fire HD, Pogue also highlighted the tablet doesn’t come with a wall charger, either—that’s $10 extra at purchase time, or $20 later—all tactics to keep the prices as low as possible.

Roberto Baldwin at Wired writes that the Kindle Fire software, particularly the browser, doesn't feel finished yet: “The tablet always seems to hesitate a moment before launching the browser. The Web browser is better than before, but it’s still the place where the Kindle’s weakness is most exposed. The browser itself is better than before, but it’s still the place where the Kindle’s weakness is most exposed. Some sites lack the smooth scrolling evident in the rest of the operating system.”

Tim Stevens, reviewing the Fire HD for Engadget, also found that the tablet's browser “still doesn't beat a standard browser in either initial rendering time or fluidity of pinch-zooming.” However, “that main carousel of content and apps and websites that is the trademark of the Fire series no longer has fits and stops and stutters—but there are still some sluggish moments, particularly when reading comic books.”

In his review for Time, Harry McCracken chose to skim the issues with the Kindle Fire HD's operating system “until we know if the shipping software is less quirky than the pre-release version I tried. And even if the company irons out all the bugs, this tablet amounts to a Rorschach test. If the concept of a 7-inch window into Amazon’s vast shopping mall sounds aggravating, you’ll be more pleased with the Nexus 7, which remains a fine tablet in its own right.  It’s more of a general-purpose computing device.”

John Biggs from TechCrunch puts it best: “The Kindle Fire HD isn’t a great tablet but it’s a great media device. ‘Power users’ will feel constrained by the limitations placed on them by Amazon’s delicately walled garden but the average e-reader customer won’t notice and in fact will probably consume more Amazon content.” He argues “it’s hard to recommend the Fire HD to a savvy user who may want to ‘hack’ his or her tablet and use it more like a laptop than a media device. However, if you are primarily looking for a very simple, very compelling, and very well-built e-reader with a few interesting extras, the Kindle Fire HD is well worth the price.”

This story, "Kindle Fire HD reviews are in: Better, but not the best tablet at any price" was originally published by TechHive.

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