Amazon has stripped a few features out of the Kindle Fire HD in order to get the price at the right level, but it hasn’t scrimped too much on the screen. The Kindle Fire HD has a 7-inch 1,280 x 800 IPS display, matching the Google Nexus 7 exactly and giving the tablet higher pixel density than an iPad mini.
This is a mid-grade screen, with whites looking a little off – a little yellowish – but performance for the price is excellent. Colour reproduction is decent, contrast is good and while black levels aren’t perfect they’re on-par with most of the sub-£400 competition.
This is an excellent screen for such a low-cost device, and is a significant improvement upon the lower-resolution screen of the non-HD Kindle Fire. Most importantly, it is high-res enough to make text look sharp and videos appear detailed.
It can do justice to 720p streamed movies, and thanks to the excellent viewing angle capabilities of the IPS panel, a few people can crowd around the screen to watch a movie. It’s not how we’d choose to watch Das Boot, but in desperate times, desperate measures apply.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD Interface
The Kindle Fire HD runs Android but Amazon has completely changed the look and feel of the operating system with one of the most dramatic Android re-skins ever attempted. It’s largely the same as the interface seen in the original Kindle Fire.
There are no customisable homescreens and no widgets here. The Kindle Fire HD interface is based around a carousel of content, with a heavy focus on the various Amazon-owned portals – the Kindle book store, LoveFilm movie streaming and the Amazon MP3 store and cloud music service.
The Kindle Fire interface goes against the core thinking that has come to define what a mobile OS “should” be about. Both iOS and Android give you a virtual canvas that’s designed to get you to the app you need with as few taps as possible.
The Kindle Fire style is far more prescriptive, in a way that’s clearly intended to direct you towards the services Amazon wants you to use. It makes for an uncomfortable learning curve.
It also sidelines things that are core to any tablet experience. Email doesn’t get a prized place in the main menu, making you head into the apps menu to get your email fix. Also, when held in portrait, the link to the web browser isn’t even on the screen, requiring you to flick past the Music, Video and Newstand options.
The Kindle Fire interface is fairly intuitive, but it pays too much attention to how Amazon wants people to use the tablet, and not quite enough to how they actually will use it.
There are ways around the software’s pushiness, though. The default screen shows a carousel of your most recently-used apps and features, and you can setup a stash of Favourite apps that pop-up as a little drawer from the bottom of the screen when you tap a star icon in the persistent nav menu. This nav menu is designed to be used with your right thumb, pulled out with a swipe at the edge of the screen.
There’s also an Android-style pull-down menu for quick access to notifications and settings. All the basic bits are there, but the Kindle Fire UI lacks the cohesion of its more established rivals.
It looks the part, though. Menus have the slippy-slidey smoothness we expect in this appy age, and the basic visual coherence helps to mitigate the convoluted-ness of some of the menu layouts.
It needs a bit more time in the oven before it becomes the system it should be, though. We encountered a few bugs, including one that kept on making the Kindle Fire HD auto-rotate so it was constantly upside-down, like the trick of some pre-pubescent prankster. It’s also not as smooth or lag-free as Android Jelly Bean or iOS.
It lacks those systems’ speed and immediacy, possibly in part because it’s based on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, which isn’t as snappy as the later Jelly Bean edition.