06
Sep
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I had a chance to spend some time with Amazon's new Kindle Fires today at the company's event in Los Angeles, so I'm going to share a few thoughts about Amazon's newest Android-based slates. Disclaimer: Yes, I only spent about an hour with this tablet today, but I'm going to give you a sense of where I think the Kindle Fire HD is headed, who it's targeted to, and whether or not you should be interested in buying it.

Kindle Fire HD 16GB (7-Inch) vs. Nexus 7 8GB

Wow. For $200, the Kindle Fire HD has set a bar. Granted, Amazon's had a year to refine its original cheap-slate and really hone down the whole concept. Your first question, no doubt, is: How does it stack up against the Nexus 7? First, check out this (very) brief hands-on:

Hardware

In terms of build quality, right out of the gate I'm giving it to the Fire HD. This thing feels solid. It even feels, dare I say, premium. For $200, that's not an easy feat. Even the power and volume buttons feel absolutely fantastic, better than what I've used on $500+ Android tablets. Aesthetically, I wouldn't call the Fire HD a thing of beauty or anything, but it's not ugly, and I think it looks a lot more serious than the Nexus 7. It looks like something that might be kind of expensive, is I guess what I'm saying. The giant bezel is a bit of a take-it-or-leave-it affair, but while I was puttering away on a demo unit, I didn't mind it at all.

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The display itself was pretty great. Better than the Nexus 7 in terms of glare (Amazon is using special glare-resistant layering on the HD), black levels, and contrast. It looks more saturated, too. But the displays on both devices are good enough that most people probably won't care enough to really notice the difference until they're side by side. The black levels, decreased glare, and improved contrast would probably make the Fire HD a decidedly better device for movies, though.

Amazon claims 11 hours of battery life for the 7-inch version, which is pretty damn good for a 7-inch device.

Internal storage is a decisive win for the Fire HD, which starts at 16GB, whereas the Nexus 7 starts at just 8GB. Oh, and the MIMO Wi-Fi thing, along with the dual antennas, is pretty effing awesome if it actually results in some noticeable, real-world speed / signal strength differences. Amazon's Wi-Fi at the event didn't exactly make such a test feasible, though. I do know that the Wi-Fi antenna on the Nexus 7 isn't the best one ever, and dual antennas plus MIMO could really make a difference when you're using something like a crappy public hotspot or are in a house with really thick walls.

The Fire HD's dual speakers put the Nexus 7's to shame. Again, this just leads us to the fact that Amazon really wants you to watch Instant Video on this thing, and play a lot of games. They are on the back of the tablet, but they're positioned such that, in landscape mode, your hands will form little sound "backstops" that reflect the audio back toward your face. Neato.

Software

The Fire HD ran very smoothly, much more smoothly than I was expecting. But some aspects of the OS did feel slow - particularly in ways that Google's Project Butter sorted out in the newest version of Android (4.1). Loading apps could be a bit laggy, and while the UI itself was very smooth, going from task to task was often accompanied by a noticeable pause in system responsiveness. This could be a pre-release software thing, but given how soon the Fire HD 7-inch is coming out (next week), I'm not so sure.

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As far as usability of the software goes, the Fire HD is all about putting things you can buy, stream, and play at the center of the user experience. It's not about productivity, connectivity, or displaying information: it's about consuming. The entire Kindle OS is about stuff you get from Amazon. Sure, you can use a lot of the apps you would on a normal Android tablet, but Amazon is clearly much more concerned about putting digital products in your face than it is in creating a beautiful, elegant OS. In terms of an overall tablet UX, the Nexus 7 runs away with it - it's not even close. The Nexus 7 is faster, more capable, more feature-rich, and simply more serious about making your tablet useful.

You get all kinds of stuff like Amazon's new X-Ray feature, Dolby sound enhancements, special Kindle app features, and various other Fire-exclusives. There's a whole parental control mode thing, too, because the Fire HD is very much marketed toward audiences of all ages. You can set time limits for use, go into a locked-down kids mode, and block certain content.

The Kindle Fire HD, in both sizes, also comes with Special Offers standard (there is no version without offers). Ew. So your lock screen is covered with a giant advertisement every time you turn on the display. It obviously keeps the price down, but it absolutely says "not a serious consumer computing device" to me.

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So, Which Should I Be Considering?

I think there's a problem with even making this comparison. While the Nexus 7 has, in a very general sense, set out to do what Amazon did with the original Kindle Fire - sell content, not hardware - Google still has a different target audience and end-goal with its tablet. Google really wants everybody to buy Nexus 7s. It wants your mom, your uncle, and techy people to get on board with the idea of falling in love with the Android experience in tandem with the Google Play content ecosystem. To convince everyone that Android tablets are cool, affordable, and fun.

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The Kindle, on the other hand, wants people who use Amazon to use Amazon even more. The Fire HD is built to serve this purpose. It's a narrower market. Even if the Kindle Fire (according to Jeff Bezos) made up 22% of all US tablet sales last year, it did that by aiming itself at a group of consumers that were predisposed to want it. People who love Amazon probably love the idea of the Kindle Fire. Those same people are simply less likely to be convinced that a "Google tablet" is what they want.

While Bezos himself made it very clear that Amazon is competing with Google's slate, he really only said it because he's out to convince Amazon customers that Amazon knows what's best for them. Amazon's not looking to make converts of the more tech-savvy individual who wants a real tablet computing experience, and it's not looking to tear Google diehards away from our beloved Google services. Bezos pitch was this: want to watch movies, play games, shop, read, and browse the web? We do it better than everyone else, and we do it at a price that's highly competitive.

I think to ask "which should I buy?" has almost nothing to do with the tablets themselves. It has to do with what you, as a consumer, want out of the tablet computing experience. If you want Amazon at your fingertips, with many popular games and apps from Android available to you, in addition to lots of exclusive value-added Amazon neatness, the Fire HD is probably the better tablet for you. Like Jeff Bezos said today: the Kindle Fire is a service, not a product.

If you want to dive into tablet computing, to really see what a cutting-edge company like Google is doing with software and user experience, and to live in the Google Services world - and do it all on the cheap - the Nexus 7 is the device you want, bar none. Forget about what everyone today is saying about specs. Forget about anti-glare technology, Wi-Fi speeds, and Dolby Stereo enhancements. Those are all very cool things. But none of them should actually be relevant to deciding which of these devices you want. Hell, having both probably wouldn't be redundant. I might get one just for the video service.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://resaberz.blogspot.com/ Rebornyama

    That thick bezel really creeps me out.

    • http://www.androidradar.de/ Leif

      True and it is 1,7cm wider than the Nexus 7. The Nexus 7 fit well into my jacket pocket, but the extra 1,7cm of the Fire 7 HD make it to big to fit in most pockets. Big problem. Even in the Hand most people will feel the notice. The Nexus 7 fits well into the palm but I doubt the Kindle will do.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Maybe they thought it's easier to hold and avoid touching the screen with a fatter bezel.

      • http://fnords.org/ Markoff Chaney

        You don't really need any bezel to hold a 7" tablet as your hand only touches the back and sides when using it. If anything, the extra width will make it harder to hold in one hand.

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          I disagree - think about reading in bed when lying on your back, for example. You don't always hold it by its back.

          • http://fnords.org/ Markoff Chaney

            Good point. I don't use mine like that but if I did I don't think I would need a bigger bezel than the Nexus 7 has.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

            Yeah, I find my N7's bezel perfectly adequate. And people slammed it at first when it came out.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Cameron Summerson

            I second this. I love the bezel on the N7.

        • Tony

          And then when a ipad mini comes out with no side bezel everyone will be like oh yeah I guess we don't need them to hold it. Seriously my nexus 7 is perfect for reading in bed with it's smaller bezel so shush :). I actually wish the nexus 7 had a smaller top/bottom bezel as well but eh whatever.

          • Nick

            The reasoning for bigger top and bottom as given by Matias Duarte was for better holding for games in landscape.

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        More likely, a wider bezel provides increased room for a larger battery. The thing has 11 hours of "normal use" battery life - that's more than an iPad, and a lot more than the Nexus 7.

    • http://twitter.com/psych2L Joseph Lee

      what do you expect when the CEO is called Bezos ;P

      • New_Guy

        Ahahahaha!

    • New_Guy

      Yeah, that thing is massive

      • onpoint G

        haha that's what the ladies tell me *sorry just wanted to say that booyah bitchess lol

        • New_Guy

          Hahahaha! Hilarious

  • pepillo

    I don't know, it feels ugly to me. Also, does it have market installed?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      No. It does not have the Play Store, as it is not a Google-approved device.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      Amazon Appstore, baby. Welcome to the world of Kindle Fire and Amazon.

      • Tony Allen

        *runs far, far away*

  • Aaron

    Forget all that.... I'm looking at the Fire HD to see if, how well, and how soon it will run AOSP jellybean and/or CM10. The hardware seems slightly superior to the nexus 7 if it does.

    • ericl5112

      I don't really understand this. If you are buying with the intent to flash it to JB, why not get a 7? It's available now, it will get updates ASAP (rather than 2 weeks for a buggy build, 2 months for a stable one), and there is no finagling to get it how you want it. Is the tiny edge in hardware worth the hassle?

      • http://www.facebook.com/lefty2717 Ronnie Friend

        Because that's the great thing about android. Because you can! Me personally I would get the nexus 7 and be satisfied but the android community has a large segment that wants to do what others say they can't do. It's fun when you see someone take something like a Kindle fire or ipad and do exactly what amazon or apple says it not allowed.

      • ari_free

        It's easier to update the software than the hardware. Google doesn't even offer a Nexus 7 with 32 gig and Amazon is talking 9" tabs with 64 gigs!

    • ericl5112

      Not to mention, these are forcibly ad supported. Seems amazon is straight up subsidizing this one. They probably put a little effort to protect that investment.

  • TechGuy

    Very fair and reasoned article.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/MMcCraryNJ Michael McCrary

    The Fire HD 7 inch doesn't have the 4470. Only the Fire HD 8.9 does. The 7 only has the 4460.

    Source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008GGCAVM/ref=kindle_dp_comp

    Bottom of page.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Whoops. Fixing that.

  • William Turner

    Nice camera but no microphone? Guess you can count VoIP out on the Fire HD.

  • Manuel

    If it has video output it might win the race for me: same price range, better storage, (slightly) better specs and display + video output wins it for me. There's always around the software stuff.

  • ari_free

    I care about specs. It shows Amazon is turning into a real hardware company as opposed to just flooding the market with cheap stuff. Android needs to be known for affordable high end tablets for developers to take it seriously.

  • jlan

    why amazon can use android to compete with google?
    should it get approval from google in the first place to use android?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      No. Anyone can use Android for free without any approvals. Android is free and open source. The approval is needed if you want to receive Google certifications and use Google apps including the Play Store, Gmail, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/physicalist09 Physicalist

      That's what open source is about. Heck, even Microsoft could swallow their pride and fork Android.

  • denbo68

    Maybe I missed it in the article but what version of Android is it running?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      4.0

      • denbo68

        Thanks that sounds good. Can't see buying it though because I'd lose all the apps I bought for my phone & existing tablet on google play.

      • selonmoi

        For certain? In the video, you said you just assumed in was ICS. Did someone from Amazon confirm it for you?

  • Wayne Randall

    Sounds like a great device to add to the market. Should be even better after root and 4.1 though. Still, I'll be buying a second N7.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=768522715 Doug Fiedor

    Actually, I am happy to see Amazon come out with new e-readers and tablets. My novels are on the Amazon system and this will help them sell. We own two Kindle readers here and they are well used.

    However, I ain't giving up my Nexus 7 for anything! Of course, I have the Kindle App on the Nexus 7 and use it daily. Like a cell phone, the Nexus 7 goes almost everywhere I go. If it could make phone calls, it would be the perfect mobile device for me.

    On other tablets, we also downloaded the "Amazon for Android" app which give us full run of the Amazon store. So anything available on the new Amazon devices is also (probably) available on our non-Amazon Android devices -- and also on our Windows laptops.

  • http://www.nerdshowandtell.com nerdshowandtell.com

    so no google+, no hangouts? no google maps? no project butter! already outdated.. would you android fans seriously buy a phone without the promise of jelly bean? you shouldnt even be looking at this paperweight ;-)

    • Greg Bissell

      Agreed, these fires are utter pieces of shit

  • http://btwnworlds.tumblr.com/ Lou G

    If I can't have my Android 4.1 straight..I might as well just move back to iOS

  • http://fnords.org/ Markoff Chaney

    I can't imagine anyone who bought a Nexus 7 having buyer's remorse after seeing this, but if you bought the Fire and then saw the Nexus you would feel pretty dumb.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002720972671 Christopher Heidt

      You're right on point: before I got my Nexus 7, I thought (albeit briefly), 'What IF Amazon DID come out with something better?' I now sit perfectly confident that I will be touting the praises of my device for years to come :)

  • Elias

    Hi, raw-processor-power geek here.
    So, what about raw processing power of each of them, both for CPU and GPU? (so yeah, my question is: Tegra 3 vs OMAP 4470, where each one of them excels?)
    For the record: I wouldn't even consider the Kindle if people can't root it + unlock bootloader. I want plain Android or Cyanogenmod.

    • Elias

      I'm not sure we can trust Amazon's claims of "ours is better than Tegra 3". Maybe it's better on memory bandwidth but worse in GPU/CPU power?

    • Elias

      Fixing my question: since the OMAP 4470 is on the 8.9" tablet, I guess it would be fair to compare Tegra 3 with the OMAP 4460, which is in the 7" (source: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008GGCAVM/ref=kindle_dp_comp )

    • ssj4Gogeta

      Wikipedia says T30L in Nexus7 has single-channel 1333MHz DDR3, while the OMAP4470 has dual-channel 446MHz LPDDR2. Bandwidth and latency should be better on the Nexus7.

      T30L clearly has more processing power in well-threaded applications. OMAP4470 might feel a little faster in single-threaded applications due to higher clocks. Not sure about graphics.

      • Elias

        Thanks a lot! But this slide from Amazon's presentation still confuses me. Would they be outright lying? http://www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/amazon-event-2012-_1386.jpg
        "At the heart of the Kindle HD is a Texas Instruments OMAP 4470, with 50% more memory bandwidth and FPU muscle than Nvidia’s Tegra 3"

        Now, if the OMAP 4470 really gets beaten by the Tegra 3, the 4460 (from the KFHD7) should get a even heavier beating. Not to mention the 4470 would have to output a higher resolution despite having less power, making it seem even slower.

        So, N7 has the edge on speed and also boasts GPS, gyro and NFC; but KFHD7 has better speakers, greater connectivity (micro hdmi, dual wifi antennas with mimo and 5ghz) and storage. If the Kindle gets rooted and receives a decent version of Android, this sounds like a tough choice.

        • ssj4Gogeta

          Could it be that the 446MHz mentioned in the Wikipedia article isn't DDR speed? In that case the DDR speed would be double that - 892MHz, which combined with it being dual-channel would beat the T30L.

          I don't see how the OMAP can have 50% more FPU power, though.

    • jibbub

      From dottech.org:
      "Although on paper a quad-core may seem to possess more processing power than a dual-core (especially one that is clocked higher), independent reviews have come to the conclusion that Tegra 3 and TI OMAP 4460 provide comparable processing performance. On the graphics end, SGX544 clearly outshines the ULP GeForce GPU. Memory? We can't say for sure but both tablets probably have the same amount of RAM. So, thanks to its GPU, it could be said the Kindle Fire has more processing power than the Nexus 7."

      • Elias

        I guess that's not quite right. OMAP 4460 uses SGX540, the same GPU as Galaxy Nexus (see wikipedia article for omap) and is obviously worse than Tegra3's GPU. OMAP 4470 (from the 8.9" kindle full hd) is the one using SGX544, which is better than ipad3's SGX543MP4 GPU.

  • AndreGSNE

    Well, straight out i'll say, impressive specs. However, i don't think the Kindle fire OS is impressive. I would say that the Nexus 7 is better overall, with a better processor and Jelly Bean, not to mention getting updates first.

  • http://twitter.com/acmilan77051 utsav roy

    ta ta bye bye kindle fire or water or earth whatever...u come nowhere near Nexus 7,maybe the screen or maybe not..but in other aspects? U r pathetic with ur UI...Hail Google and Nexus 7...

  • HellG

    what amazon did compared to Google
    sacrificed the processing power and got a cheap old CPU that only Project butter can make it feel fast (in the Gnexus) to get bigger internal storage
    sacrificed GPS antenna for another wifi antenna
    thickened the bezel
    and once more...ruined android to the point that it feels more like iOS than android and that alone deserves a F*** YOU AMAZON if we wanted iOS control experience we would have gone for apple, if there were no other 200$ GREATER tablets in the market i would have chosen the Kindle but seriously with Nexus 7 around its a no brainier to go for it

  • http://www.anivision.org/ Christopher Bailey (Xcom923)

    one thing that stops me from wanting the 8.9 KF is lack of bluetooth. all my headsets run through BT and it would also be good for gaming but I guess I gotta wait till everyone else makes something compriable to the KF like they did last year

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Errrm. They have Bluetooth. All of them do. I'm not sure where this information is coming from, it's clearly stated on the product page, and Bezos himself said it during the announcement.

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008GFRB9E/ref=kindle_dp_comp

      • http://www.anivision.org/ Christopher Bailey (Xcom923)

        there was never any mention of it and the previous ones didn't have it so I thought it was not there

  • crankerchick

    "The Kindle Fire HD, in both sizes, also comes with Special Offers standard (there is no version without offers)."

    Friend of mine: Should I buy this tablet?
    Me: No.

  • Robert Jakiel

    Nexus 7 would be my choice regardless for the moment for a 7" tablet. Although the Acer Iconia A110 looks to be the premier 7" tablet when it hits the market in a few weeks. Think Nexus 7 + HDMI out + MicroSD card support running Jellybean. If history repeats itself it will also be a VERY easy device to root and have an unlocked boot loader in which case you will see AOSP ROMs, kernels, etc... popping up for this thing at a frenetic pace.

  • http://twitter.com/vinceklein Vince Klein

    I´d go for the Nexus 7 because it suits my consumption/information patterns better.
    However. I am going to pass on the current iteration because there is no 3g which is kind of understandable but even worse no HDMI in any fashion, so no way to get digital audio/video out. DLNA apps might work for some content but spotify et al. won´t have any of it.

    I presume the 8.9incher will force Googles hand. If they can do a Nexus 9 at 349 with the Amazon Specs, I´d go for it.

  • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

    Front-facing only.

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