Kindle Fire HD: a closer look

7 Sep 2012

The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD

Amazon’s latest tablet family was unveiled yesterday and, since the initial presentation, we’ve taken a closer look at all that the new Kindle Fire HD has to offer, how Amazon will make money on its low-cost tablets, plus pricing and release information for European markets.

First of all, we’ve got some clarification of the varied specs across the three models. The low-cost 7-inch Kindle Fire HD comes with dual-antenna, dual-band Wi-Fi plus MIMO for greater connectivity; dual-stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus audio technology; 16GB of storage and a battery life of up to 11 hours.

The mid-range 8.9-inch device doesn’t offer the same lengthy battery life, but it does come with a 1,920 x 1,200 display with 254ppi, plus an OMAP4 4470 processor and Imagination SGX544 graphics engine.

The high-end Kindle Fire HD has the same size display, 8.9 inches, only this device comes with 32GB of storage and 4G LTE wireless powered by the latest-generation 4G chipset. No longer satisfied with competing in the low-cost tablet market – where the Kindle Fire has previously dominated – Amazon is now competing with the big boys, offering a high-end device with top-of-the-range specifications.

The introduction of a 4G LTE wireless model required some innovation from Amazon. In order to keep the device slim (it measures 8.8mm thick), Amazon designed a custom 2.2mm thick 4G wireless modem – which also supports 10 bands including 4G, so users won’t be left without connectivity if 4G isn’t available.

Advanced picture and sound quality

Overall, Amazon has focused on improving the hardware and technology in the Kindle Fire family to make the new HD devices desirable to more than just budget-conscious consumers.

Not only are the Kindle Fire HD displays made of tough Gorilla Glass, Amazon has also developed a way to reduce glare on these screens by 25pc (in comparison to the latest iPad). By laminating the touch sensor and LCD panel together into a single layer of glass, light is prevented from coming through the touch sensor and reflecting off the LCD, meaning the display is clearer even in overhead light. An Advanced True Wide polarising filter has also been applied to the LCD, to ensure that the picture looks the same from all angles.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD - X-Ray for Movies

For a tablet device focused on media consumption, a HD display is not enough, which is why Amazon’s partnership with Dolby is a very clever move. Dolby is famed for being a master of high-quality audio (we’re all familiar with its impressive pre-film aural demonstrations in the cinema) and this exclusive partnership could set the Kindle Fire HD apart from other devices when it comes to watching video content or listening to music.

What Dolby Digital Plus promises is crisp dialogue, volume consistency, custom tuning that enhances bass and treble while eliminating noise and minimising distortion, and an immersive surround-sound experience. If this technology delivers on all counts, the Kindle Fire HD will be a covetable device for those who absorb a lot of video content on the go.

New features, apps and content

Engadget received confirmation from an Amazon spokesperson that the new devices use Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is in line with many current tablets on the market as Jelly Bean is still scarce. Amazon has also teamed up with games developers to provide HD Android games for users of the Kindle Fire HD.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD - 8.9 Games

As well as adding features like Immersion Reading; FreeTime; X-Ray for Books, Movies and Textbooks; and Whispersync for audiobooks and games, Amazon has also updated its browser to deliver content faster. Amazon Silk now features an updated core rendering engine and has been re-engineered to provide faster page loads. Email has also been upgraded to sync new emails first for faster access, while a new calendar app lets users keep on top of their schedules.

Amazon’s own apps are available across a wide range of platforms and devices, and it also offers free storage in Amazon Cloud with device purchases, so users can access their apps, games, books, audiobooks and what-have-you almost anywhere.

How Amazon will make its money back

We all know Amazon bets on its customers by offering low-cost tablets in the hope that content purchases will compensate – and with more than 22m movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, audiobooks and magazines available from Amazon, it’s not that risky a bet.

However, while the assembled press crowd in LA were wowed by the low-cost retail prices announced for Amazon’s new tablets, it seems that the retail giant’s policy of making money back on content isn’t its only revenue generator for the Kindle Fire HD.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9

Amazon will also be selling advertising aimed at Kindle Fire HD users which will appear when the device screen is locked. This is already done with the cheapest Kindle e-book reader released last year, so it’s not unprecedented. Only in this case, there isn’t a pricier ad-free model available; users have to put up with the ads or forgo the Kindle Fire HD altogether.

The ads displayed will at least be relevant to Kindle Fire HD users, promoting special offers on content and deals where users can get free credit and gift cards for Amazon’s online marketplaces.

A new Kindle Fire and more markets for Amazon

Amazon has also announced an upgraded Kindle Fire with a faster processor, twice the memory and a longer battery life, plus some of the new features announced with the Kindle Fire HD, such as X-Ray for Movies, X-Ray for Books, Immersion Reading, Whispersync for Voice and FreeTime – all for a lower price than its predecessor at US$159.

What’s more, the suite of new devices will also reach the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain from 25 October, with pre-orders being taken now. The Amazon Appstore was recently introduced in these countries as Amazon begins spreading the Kindle Fire net beyond the US.

In the UK, the Kindle Fire HD starts at stg£159 for the cheapest of the three devices, while the updated Kindle Fire will retail at stg£129 and the new Kindle e-book reader is stg£69. The Eurozone countries are seeing prices of €159 for the new Kindle Fire, €199 for the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, and €79 for the new Kindle.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.