When Amazon entered the tablet game with the original Kindle Fire, we all kind of chuckled at the idea of it being a reasonable entry into the market. With each iteration, though, those silly Fire tablets have gotten more and more powerful, and each edition of Fire OS has brought new features that proved to actually be useful. While Fire Phone may have been a flop, the Fire tablets are still very much alive, and the newest editions are better than ever.

For this review, we're doing something that we've done a few times in the past: a tag team review. Both Cameron and Ryan have Fire HD tablets – Cam the HD 6 and Ryan the HD 7 – and are going to share their thoughts on each device. The hardware sections will be different for each device (since they're different form factors), but we'll combine the two for the software section since it's essentially the same for each device.

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With that, let's get started.

Amazon Fire HD 6: Amazon Finally Made Me Love A Fire Tablet

Cameron: As many of you know, I've never been the biggest fan of Fire tablets. They've always been OK to me, but never anything more. I've used basically every Fire tablet made, and came away feeling meh after all of them...until now. I never expected to love a Fire HD Tablet, much less one with such a small form factor. But I finally get it – this is, in my opinion, the perfect size for a device like this. It's not going to be used for productivity, so a larger display isn't absolutely necessary. It's all about consumption and comfort, both of which the six-inch display is great for. It's large enough to actually enjoy watching a movie or reading on, but the overall footprint is small enough that you won't even notice it in your bag. It's great.

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That said, it's a little on the thick and heavy side for a device of this size. But for $99, you'd be hard pressed to find something better. In fact, that probably doesn't exist.

Pros

Cons

  • Great form factor for a Fire tablet.
  • Very good performance – consistently fast and responsive.
  • Fire OS is simple, yet powerful enough to be useful.
  • Good battery life.
  • All around solid little gadget for Prime members.
  • It's quite thick for such a small tablet.
  • Amazon's ecosystem is getting better, but it's still far from what Google Play offers.

Design, Build Quality, And Display

When it comes to design, the Fire tablets have never been anything to write home about. The HD 6 sticks to that tradition – that's not to say it's bland, per se, it's just kind of there. Nothing remarkable about it. The back of the unit is a smooth plastic, and the edges have a slight bevel to them, making it very comfortable to hold. The edge design also instills confidence when holding the unit with one had, as it allows the fingers to wrap around the edge, thanks to the inward angle. It feels good.

Otherwise, it's a basic layout: power, microUSB, and 3.5mm headphone jack are all on the top, the volume rocker is on the left side, and the others are blank. The speaker is on the back of the unit at the bottom, but it's sort of angled which makes it suck a little bit less. But still, it's on the back, which is never not annoying.

The HD 6 is available in five different colors: black, blue, yellow, white, and pink. My review unit is super bright yellow (why do I always get the bright yellow review units?), and it is definitely bright. I personally don't like this color in the slightest, as it just looks too juvenile to me. That said, those who like the color shouldn't be disappointed.

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The overall form factor of the HD 6 is great. I never imaged I would like using a six-inch tablet nearly as much as I do with this one. The very nature of the Fire tablets makes this size great, because it's all about consumption. That said, I wouldn't like it as much on a device that has more productivity options – a six-inch Nexus tablet wouldn't be nearly as appealing, for example. But for reading, watching movies, light surfing, social networking, and casual gaming, it's really nice. The only downside is the thickness – this is a thick tablet to be so small.

Where build is concerned, the HD 6 feels like a tiny little tank of a tablet. It's solid. It's a little on the heavy side, which makes it feel even more robust to my hands. The plastic backing feels nice and thick, not flimsy in the slightest. This seems like a tablet that can readily take a beating and keep on ticking. The buttons – power and volume – also have a satisfying *click* to them, and they don't rattle or wiggle at all. Like with other Fire tablets, the the quality is strong with this one.

Lastly, let's talk about the display. The HD 6 has a 1280x800 panel, and it looks quite good. Honestly, before looking up the specs, I just assumed it was higher res than it actually is – there are no visible pixels on this little guy. Text is smooth, videos look great, and playing games is a good experience; honestly, I'm blown away by how much I enjoy basically everything on the HD 6's six-inch display. It feels much larger than it is, which is nice.

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Michonne loved Ryan's book

Speaker, Camera, and Storage

I'm just going to keep the section short and sweet, because there really isn't a whole lot to say about each of the above. Bullet time!

  • Speaker: The speaker itself doesn't sound too bad, despite being quite small. It's full-bodied enough to watch movies/TV shows/video, and doesn't sound tinny at all. The main problem with the speaker is that it's on the back of the unit, so the annoying "handcup" technique is necessary in many situations. As thick as this tablet is, they could've at least found a way to put the speaker on the front.
  • Camera: Given the size, this is the first tablet that I wouldn't mind pulling out and grabbing a few pictures with...if the camera were worth using. I mean, it's not absolutely wretched, but there's about a 98 percent chance the phone in your pocket can do a better job.
  • Storage: There are two available storage options for the FHD6: 8GB and 16GB. Neither of those are really ideal, especially considering there are no options for expansion, but if you don't plan on filling it up with games and such, it's enough to get by on. If you do want to play a few games on it, however, get ready to rotate titles pretty often, especially if you want to save a few bucks and get the 8GB model.

Amazon Fire HD 7: Probably The Best $140 You Can Spend On A New Tablet

Ryan: The original Kindle Fire came out almost exactly three years ago. Like the new Fire HD, it came with a 7-inch screen and a modest price tag (for the time). However, in the intervening years, regular Android tablets have taken off with products like the Nexus 7 paving the way for Samsung and even HTC to get into the tablet market. Is there still space for a small tablet running Amazon's version of Android? When you consider the price, the HD 7 (and 6) might actually be the most worthwhile Fire tablets to ever be released.

Pros

Cons

  • Very good performance – consistently fast and responsive.
  • Surprisingly good screen for only 1280x800
  • Fire OS is simple, yet powerful enough to be useful.
  • Good battery life – especially in standby
  • All around solid little gadget for Prime members.
  • A little thick and wide for a 7-inch tablet.
  • The plastic shell feels a bit cheap.
  • Amazon's Appstore for Android is nowhere near as good as Google Play.

Design, Build Quality, And Display

The 7-inch screen dominates the front of the tablet, with about half an inch of bezel on each side. The resolution isn't going to compete with high-end tablets at just 1280x800, but it's actually a surprisingly solid display. It works out to 216 pixels per inch, which is okay for reading and watching video, provided you don't get your nose right up against the screen. The colors are accurate and there's no backlight bleed on my unit. The viewing angles are also pretty killer. I can get the tablet to nearly 90-degrees before colors start to wash out.

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As for brightness, it gets bright enough. You won't love using it outside, but it's workable. In a dark room, though, the Fire HD 7 gets very dim and comfortable to stare at. One annoyance here is the lack of an ambient light sensor. That means you're going to be going for the settings shortcut to tweak the brightness fairly often. I don't really think of the HD 7 as a tablet you'd carry around with you everywhere, so maybe you won't mess with the brightness that much if it just lives on your nightstand or in the living room.

The rest of the device is composed of a plastic surround that wraps from the back right up to the glass. It feels like a slightly textured ABS material, so premium it is not. You can tell this is a budget device when holding it, but it doesn't seem cheap. I'd say it's more... efficient. The plastic back comes in five different colors, black, white, magenta, citron, or cobalt. The device I have for review is white, and I actually think it's rather handsome.

I like 7-inch tablets because they're usually large enough to be more useful than phones, but still a good size to hold in one hand if need be. The 6-inch Fire HD is definitely a manageable size, though the HD 7 is maybe slightly questionable. It's not huge or anything, but it's wider than I expect a 7-inch tablet to be. The HD 7 is actually over half an inch wider than the 2013 Nexus 7, which is a mega-comfortable tablet. So the bezels are a little beefy and it's on the thick side (about 1cm), but this is a $140 tablet. It's still reasonably comfortable overall.

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One thing that Amazon got very right with the design is the prominent, clicky buttons. You can find the power button on the top very easily and it has great feedback. It's the same for the volume rocker on the left. Even premium tablets often miss the mark on this minor but important detail.

Speaker, Camera, and Storage

Again, this stuff is secondary to most tablets, and doubly so in the case of Amazon's Kindles. So let's just go over them really quick.

  • Speaker: The back is home to the stereo speakers, which are okay, but nothing special. Frankly, I feel like a device that's mainly geared toward consuming content like the Fire should have front-firing speakers. You can tell this device is built to be economical, though, and adding front speakers would require a more clever design than snapping a plastic back onto a glass front. That said, at least you get stereo speakers on the HD 7, which the 6 doesn't have.
  • Camera: I can confirm this tablet has a camera... but why? The images it takes are even worse than most other tablets. I suppose if you gave this tablet to a kid you might want them to be able to mess around with a camera, but otherwise it's a pass. Frankly, I'd prefer Amazon skipped the camera and knocked a few bucks off the price.
  • Storage: Like the HD 6, this tablet comes in either 8 or 16GB. You can definitely burn through 8GB easily, but maybe not as easily as with other tablets. The Fire is mainly a content consumption device, so if you're mostly streaming video, 8GB is an acceptable level. It's $20 more for the 16GB version.

Software

As noted above, the software on each tablet is basically identical, so we're just combining into one review here.

Well, it's FireOS. While Amazon has added several new features to FireOS over the last few years, the overall look, feel, and functionality has stayed roughly the same. The new Fire HDs are no different in this respect – they're exactly what you'd expect from a Fire device.

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Shameless Plug

For those who may not have used a Kindle Fire HD device before, the interface is designed to be very simple. Recent apps, books, music, movies, etc. are the primary focus on the homescreen, with the Carousel keeping recently-used content front and center. This also allows Amazon to pitch similar titles/apps/games to the user, which show up directly below the highlighted app. It's actually not as annoying as it sounds – the suggestions are small enough to stay out of the way.

The primary category navigation is at the top, just below the notification bar. This is where you'll access Amazon, games, apps, books, music, videos, newsstand, audiobooks, the web, photos, and docs – essentially everything FireOS has to offer, paginated for easy parsing. It's a little odd at first, but it doesn't take long to get acclimated to this layout.

Lastly, the app tray is at the bottom (off-screen), and accessing it is sort of counter-intuitive: you have to slide up from the bottom of the display. There's no button indicating that the full list of installed apps can be found below all the other content, making it sort of an unknown feature for many newcomers to the platform. Amazon should fix that.

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The most Android-like of all FireOS' features is the notification shade. It offers quick toggles to many oft-used features, like rotation controls, brightness, Wi-Fi, and settings, as well as a couple of Amazon-specific options, like Quiet Time and Help topics. Not surprisingly, the Fire HD 6/7 do not appear to have Mayday, Amazon's interactive support feature, as that seems to be reserved for its high-end devices.

The largest downside of the Fire tablets is easy to spot right away: Amazon's app ecosystem. The Appstore isn't exactly what I'd call terrible, but it's definitely not on par with Google Play. There are many apps not available in Amazon's store, and those that are often fall behind in version compared to their Play counterpart. This makes sense, because managing downloads in multiple app stores is just a pain for developers. Plus, I've heard that the approval process is generally much longer on Amazon than Google Play, giving developers even more of a reason to stay away. While I understand why Amazon wants to run its own Appstore on its branded tablets, I'd still like to see Google Play become an option on the Fire HD series one day.

Performance And Battery Life

Unsurprisingly, the Fire HD 6/7 both perform like a champ. I'm not sure what Amazon does to keep things running so smoothly on such limited hardware, but if there's one thing to say about FireOS, it's that it always runs like butter. Perhaps it's the simplistic nature of the system itself – there isn't even a quick, easy way to switch between recent apps – or something more that Amazon does under the hood, but I haven't used a Fire tablet that performed poorly yet.

That said, it's worth keeping in mind that the FHDs aren't really meant for anything outside of basic consumption-based tasks. You aren't really going to be doing anything that really taxes the processor on these little guys, so don't expect off-the-charts benchmarks scores if you're into semi-meaningless numbers.

The FHDs will most likely best most other tablets when it comes to battery life. Amazon's more limited version of Android doesn't eat up as much juice. In fact, the default setting is to deactivate WiFi when the device is asleep. You will get unreal standby times. How unreal? In the two weeks I've had the Fire HD 7, I've had to recharge it twice, and that's with fairly heavy use on a few days. The HD 6 gets similarly impressive battery life.

Conclusion

Amazon sells a variety of Kindle Fire devices these days, but it seems like the HD 7 and HD 6 are the sweet spot. They aren't as powerful as the HDX tablets, but FireOS doesn't really need that much horsepower. As noted above, Amazon's platform isn't doing a ton of stuff in the background and there aren't very many pixels to push. The HDX tablets seem like overkill by comparison, and the pricing is far too close to mainstream Android tablets.

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The price to performance ratio with the FHD tablets is great, and it's even better now that Google's Nexus line has moved to the more premium end of the spectrum. If you go into things knowing exactly what you're getting, these are great tablets. A Kindle Fire is perfect for consuming media of all sorts with Amazon's expansive catalog of video and books. Gaming and apps are okay, but you won't be using these tablets to get work done or manage email. For $99-140 Amazon's Fire HD tablets are awesome devices.