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Kindle Fire HD 8.9
11 December, 2013
The Kindle Fire HD has a strong plastic chassis with an all matte-finish exterior. The front is a large multi-touch LCD display panel with just a front camera that is placed in the centre and on the top when the tablet is held in landscape position. The sides are flattened and the corners are rounded. The rear panel has a rubberised surface which is slightly slip-resistant and helps with a better grip.
The rear panel also sports two stereo Dolby speakers on each side of the tablet. The frame is built firm and cannot be opened for any accessory or expansions. What we mean here is that there are absolutely no slots for SIM cards or memory cards for storage expansion. There are only two interfaces or ports available at the bottom of the Fire HD—one for the PC, which is a microUSB interface for charging and connecting the tablet to a PC for data transfers, and the other is a microHDMI video output. In between both the ports, there is a small microphone provided for voice chats and Internet calls. On the right side is a power/standby switch, a volume rocker and a 3.5 mm jack for headphones. The tablet measures 239 x 163 x 9 mm and weighs about 567 grams. The Fire HD is definitely on the heavier side and you will need both hands to support it when using it.
The display is a large 8.9-inch capacitive 10-point multi-touch IPS LCD panel sporting a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels. Amazon claims this to be a retina quality display as it has a pixel density of 254 ppi as compared to the iPad third generation, which has a pixel density of 264 ppi. The display panel featured has the technology similar to the 7-inch Fire HD version, which helps reduce glare and improves colour saturation when viewed from any angle. This is done by reducing the gap between the main display panel and the touch sensor and laminating them both into a single layer of glass. This also makes the display easier to view even in overhead light. The IPS panel also features an Advanced True Wide polarising filter, which is applied directly to the LCD panel and helps reduce display viewing angle problems even at extreme angles.
The Kindle is available in two variants—16GB and 32GB. The one we received was a 16GB version and the available storage for the user stands at 12.7GB, while the 32GB version gives you free storage of around 27.1GB. Additionally, once you register the tablet with Amazon, you get around 5GB of cloud storage for free; you can purchase even up to 1TB of cloud storage. Sadly, there are no expansion slots to add/install a microSD card and get additional storage. The tablet also does not feature USB OTG options, wherein one can connect a USB pen drive for additional data expansion. The only option you might have is by using a wireless storage or a network share while at home or office. Using a personal NAS on the web could also help.
Moving on, the Fire HD features only Wi-Fi as a connectivity option for using the Internet. The Wi-Fi is a dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz), which incorporates two antennas instead of one (as used in the iPad) for better bandwidth. Amazon claims that the Kindle has a throughput speed of a whopping 33MB/s as compared to the iPad, which stands at 23MB/s and other Google tablets with single-band with speeds of 20MB/s. Amazon claims that the Kindle Fire HD is the first tablet to feature dual Wi-Fi antennas and Multiple In/Multiple Out (MIMO) technology for powerful, HD-ready Wi-Fi. This allows reception or transmission over both antennas simultaneously to increase capacity and reliability. This converts to fewer dropped connections and almost 40 percent faster media streaming, enabling you to go further from your wireless hotspot than with other conventional tablets.
The dual-band Wi-Fi also enhances data traffic by using the 5GHz Wi-Fi frequency, which has the least interference by other devices operating in the 2.4GHz range such as Bluetooth, standard Wi-Fi routers, microwave ovens, wireless telephones and few others. The tablet also relies on wireless networks for location-based services. Other features include Bluetooth with A2DP support for headphones and speakers, ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope and a front 1.3MP camera for video chats.
Lastly, the Kindle Fire HD is powered by a 6000 mAh battery, which is bound to give you continuous usage of up to 10 hours as per Amazon’s claim. The tablet does not bundle along a power charger as it is an optional accessory you might need to buy separately. The charger from Amazon is a fast charger and helps charge the device in about 5 hours. Using conventional chargers from other smartphone will not help fast charge. Charging the device from your PC or laptop will be even slower and could take you almost 14 hours. So basically, we recommend charging the tablet with a good 2A charger (like the ones with an iPad) for faster charging. The tablet only ships with a 5-feet microUSB cable for PC use and charging.
As I mentioned earlier, the Fire HD 8.9 is no alien in the Android Tablet world. Except for the customised user interface, the Fire HD has used the Android ICS v4.0 operating system platform. Based on the TI OMAP 4470 chipset with a dual-core processor, the tablet does feel smooth and nice owing to the customisation and tweaks within. To gauge the actual performance, we ran our usual benchmarking apps on the tablet. Since the Amazon store does not feature most of the benchmarking tools, we had to enable ADB support on the tablet and sideload the apps using a third party utility from the PC. AnTuTu scored 9499, Quadrant scored 2845 and NenaMark2 scored 28.6 fps. Linpack scored 58.8 MFLOPS and 93.6 MFLOPS in the single-thread and multi-thread tests respectively. Considering the scores, the tablet performs a little better than conventional dual-core tablets in the market.
The tablet has no home launcher like those seen on regular Android tablets and smartphones. The homescreen comprises a simple recent apps carousal, a top category label bar and a notification panel. To start with, the tablet can be used in any position by freeing the rotation lock. The tablet is meant to be used with the camera towards the top in landscape mode or towards the left in portrait mode. These positions make it convenient to use the tablet with the power and volume buttons on the right side and top respectively. Towards the left top is the notification bar, which is accessible by scrolling down from the top. Icon toggle switches such as rotation lock, volume, brightness, wireless, sync and more are available here.
While most are self explanatory, touching the sync button synchronises the apps you have purchased from the Amazon store while on the PC. Apps purchased from the online store don’t automatically get downloaded to the tablet like the way it does on regular Android tablets and smartphones. You can also purchase apps from the store on the tablet itself. All that is needed is the tablet to be registered with the Amazon website and details of your credit card entered there. The process is similar to the Apple App Store where free apps can be downloaded and paid apps will ask for your credentials, if necessary.
Hitting the "More" icon on the notification bar will take you to the Android (tablet’s) settings page where the rest of the settings for the device are available. These include accounts, applications, parental controls, sound and display, wireless and Bluetooth, device info, keyboard, security and a few others. There is a permanent, auto-hiding black bar always available at the bottom of the screen (whether used in landscape or portrait modes). This bar features important interface buttons, such as Home, Back, Favorites, Search, that are relevant and useful according to the app being used. The buttons bar can be pulled up (if hidden) by a single tap anywhere on the screen. Moving back to the homescreen, the top bar features quick categories such as search, shop, apps, books, videos, newsstand, audiobooks, web, photos and docs. Most of these are self explanatory, as hitting each category will pull up the respective files and apps in the category.
The good part is that the apps and files are automatically categorised by the user interface and placed in the respective zones, which makes using the Kindle even easier by eliminating hunting for the apps you need. Every category here has two sub categories. One is Cloud where your purchases made are available and the other is Device where your apps and documents stored on the device itself are seen. In each section, long pressing on the app or document pulls up a menu where you can choose to remove it from the device or from the favorites section. Each document or app can be tagged as your favourite so they can be accessed faster. You can also choose to place the apps or documents by order (in every category)—by recent use, title or favourites. Lastly, the main homescreen displays the most recently used applications in a carousal format. The icons are very large and swiftly move when flicked around.
I found a few areas of concern, which I would like to highlight. If one would want to switch on any tablet or phone, he or she would have to press and hold the power button for a few seconds to power on the device. In the case of the Kindle, a single press on the power button powers on the device and boots it. This is a bit of a concern because if you are placing the tablet in a bag in power-off mode, the tablet would consume precious power for no reason. Another point of concern is the charging mode—when in power-off mode, if you connect a charger, the device automatically boots up. So you cannot charge the device in power-off mode.
On the application front, apps from the Google Play store can be used on the Kindle with great ease. You cannot download apps directly from the Google Play Store like you would with any Android device, because it does not feature the Google Play Store app. Installing regular apps can be done by simply transferring the .apk files to the internal storage and installing it from any file explorer app. Most apps from the Play Store will work, but there are quite a few that won’t due to compatibility issues. A simple case scenario is where we tried installing the famous game Subway Surfers using the .apk file from the Google Play Store. The Kindle-compatible variant is available only on the Amazon store from where you would need to install it.
As mentioned earlier, the display is an advanced IPS LCD panel which can be viewed from almost any possible angle, and this is true. We did not notice any flaw with the display, such as colour changing or inverted display etc. The display being full HD resolution is crisp, vibrant and bright. Black levels are good, but you can still see a hint of grey in it. Watching videos is very pleasant on the screen and together with the Dolby audio engine (and dual stereo speakers on the rear), the experience is even better. The audio quality from the stereo speakers is nice and loud with a good balance of mids and highs. You can also feel a dash of bass in the sound, which enhances the audio and video entertainment. The speakers are placed on the edges with a curved surface, which also helps unblock the sound when placing the tablet on a flat surface or against something flat.
The Kindle supports a range of file formats in all zones. These include Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, PCM/WAVE, OGG, WAV, MP4, AAC LC/LTP, HE-AACv1, HE-AACv2, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, HTML5, CSS3, MP4, 3GP, VP8(.webm), Audible Enhanced format (AAX) through the Audible app (available in the Amazon Appstore). We did check out most commonly used documents such as text, word, excel, PDF and a few others and they work as one would expect. We also tried a few HD 720p and full HD 1080p videos on the Kindle to check the video entertainment aspect. Videos up to full HD did not stutter or fail anywhere. The tablet does spell out to be a good candidate for entertainment, productivity, web surfing and e-book reading when on the move.
To gauge the power consumption of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9, I did battery tests on the built-in 6000 mAh battery. The manufacturer claims the battery will last you almost 10 hours of continuous usage, but the usage was not explained. In order to check the entertainment aspect, we ran a full HD animation movie over and over again till the battery died. The tablet lasted us for a full 5 hours and 30 minutes. We also ran a battery test on the tablet when in complete gaming and complete web browsing mode. This time the battery gave us results of 8 hours and 13 hours respectively. To average it out, the tablet can give you a decent 8.5 hours on average.
The Kindle Fire HD is available from June 27, 2013 in the Indian market and can be purchased on www.amazon.in. The tablet is available in two variants—16GB and 32GB versions, which are priced at Rs 21,999 and Rs 25,999 respectively. After using the Kindle for a few days, I have to admit that the tablet is definitely a good buy considering the performance, usability and battery life. The tablet might seem a bit high-priced for some, as you can definitely get a similar-sized budget Android tablet with a better performance (with a quad-core processor) for almost Rs 8,000 cheaper. But what defends the Kindle is the build quality, the easy and swift user interface, above average performance, full HD IPS display and good battery life. What can go against the Kindle is the absence of USB OTG for 3G dongles, the non-expandable storage option and optional charger that has to be additionally paid for.
Presently, this is the only premium, dual-core 9-inch tablet available in the market at this price. For almost the same price, you can opt for an iPad 2 or the iPad mini, but you will have sacrifice on the display resolution. Or you can opt for an iPad 3 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 at a higher price. For enthusiasts, here is a bit of news—the tablet can be rooted and custom Android ROMs installed, but you could void the warranty while doing that. If your budget is around Rs 22,000 and you are looking for a premium tablet with a large display, I would recommend the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 any day.
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