When Amazon announced last year that they were bringing out a tablet, I was very excited. I got my Kindle 2 years ago and I loved it so much that I really expected their tablet to be something special. So I was disappointed when initial reviews were lacklustre, to say the least.
This year, they seemed to have got it right. The reviews I read were good, the demonstration models in Tesco and Waterstones were very impressive. And when Beloved Husband gave me a Kindle Fire HD for my birthday on Sunday I was beyond excited!
Being Apple enthusiasts and using an iPad regularly, the Fire had quite a lot to live up to. After using it for a couple of days, I think it’s a real rival for at least the new iPad mini. The screen is beautiful with very sharp, clear text and graphics. You can scroll very quickly and there’s no lag on the graphics.
Typing is good, and one thing I really like about the keyboard is that you can press and hold a key for special characters, just like iOS, but also the top row of keys gives you numbers without needing to switch to a number keyboard, very handy if you just need 1 or 2 numbers in a sentence.
The web browser works quite nicely, though this is the one bit where I’ve noticed a few glitches and it had trouble loading a couple of pages. In general though very few problems, most pages load fine and pretty quickly. This blog post was typed entirely on the Kindle Fire HD, for example.
App-wise, yes the Amazon App Store is much less content than iTunes. Not surprising, really, it’s several years younger! All the major apps are here – twitter, Facebook, Skype, Pinterest, WordPress etc. And, of course, Angry Birds! Mail gets my gmail quickly and unobtrusively pings to let me know, bringing with it my google calendar and contacts. I think given time there will be more than enough apps for everyone!
Navigation is the most obvious difference to iOS. In the centre of the home screen is a carousel with large icons of everything on the device, the most recently used being first. Along the top of the screen is a category menu where you see all your apps/books/music etc by pressing on the category. Along the bottom are related items, depending on which icon is displayed in the centre of the Carousel. For example, if it’s an app, the bottom row will show other apps customers bought after buying the featured one. If the web is central, the bottom row shows trending web pages. If Mail is highlighted, the bottom row gives shortcuts to New Message, contacts and calendar. All of the category-view pages show either apps/books on the device or in the Amazon Cloud; when you register your device your books appear in the Cloud but it’s quick and easy to simply touch the book you want and it’s on the device in seconds. Similarly, buying an app is quick and easy. Too easy actually, it doesn’t by default ask for your password before purchasing so I’d recommend setting this up in Parental Controls! Again, quick and easy to do.
Something that keeps catching me out is the lack of physical home button. I’m not saying this is good or bad, it just takes some getting used to! To get to the home screen you need to click on the home button on-screen; sometimes you need to touch or swipe the side of bottom of the screen to get this menu, depending on which app you’re in. This menu also gives you a back button and sometimes an in-app menu and search button. On every screen there’s also a star button which takes you to apps which you have designated as favourites, very handy.
The build isn’t as posh as the iPad. Rather than the brushed metal, the Kindle Fire has the rubberised body of the Kindle. It doesn’t feel luxurious but it does feel solid and robust. I’m not going into tech specs, I wouldn’t know where to begin, but it has plenty of memory, works well and is a lovely experience. Better, I have to say, than I expected an Android tablet to be.
How about reading? It is a Kindle after all. The most obvious differences are the weight and the lit screen. The device is still light and small enough to be held in one hand, although I think the Kindle ereaders would be more comfortable for extended periods of readjng. The screen doesn’t glare too much and the brightness can be easily adjusted which is useful.
The one area I think Amazon have been a bit naughty in is the pricing structure. The HD is amazingly good value particularly given how good it is and I definitely recommend that people pay the extra £30 to get the HD rather than the Fire. BUT you then also get the option to pay £10 to remove sponsored adverts, and the only charger you get in the box is a USB to charge through your computer which takes about 10 hours longer than a regular plug. To get a plug you pay another £18 for the Fast Charge. So it’s not QUITE as cheap as it makes out but still, you do get a brilliant tablet at about a third of the cost of an iPad.
I absolutely love my Kindle Fire HD and I can see myself getting loads of use out of it for a long time!