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Kindle Fire HD review: A better Kindle, but not a better tablet

Preston Gralla | Sept. 17, 2012
Amazon's newest Kindle, the 7-in. Kindle Fire HD, is a great buy if you're an Amazon customer, but it falls short as a general-purpose tablet.

I found X-Ray for Books to be quite useful, and it would be especially welcome when reading a sprawling novel with a sizable cast of characters that you're having trouble keeping track of. But as with X-Ray for Movies, it's a hit-or-miss affair. When it came to classics, I found it in Alice in Wonderland, but not in the monumental series of biographies of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro or in The Collected Works of Charles Dickens. (It would have been particularly welcome for Dickens' doorstop-size Bleak House, with its massive cast of characters and the convoluted legal case at its core.) Generally, though, I found it available on newer books.

Missing or unwanted features

I found several features that are -- surprisingly -- rather badly implemented on the Kindle Fire HD.

For example, the physical controls for turning the device on and off and for adjusting the volume are very difficult to find and use. They're small, black and flush with device's edge, and even when you know where they are, there's so little physical indication of their presence, you'll spend time locating them. The first Kindle Fire didn't have physical volume controls; it's almost as if these were put in as an afterthought.

At a Glance

Kindle Fire HD

AmazonPrice: $199 (16GB), $249 (32GB)Pros: Excellent integration with Amazon's content ecosystem; vivid, low-glare screen; high-quality stereo speakers; X-Ray for Movies and X-Ray for Books add valueCons: Limited app choice; occasionally sluggish performance; no GPS or wall charger; Amazon-customized interface not as good as Android 4.01 (Jelly Bean)

Even more annoying is the "Special Offers" advertising that greets you every time you turn on the device. One would expect that if you spend $199 for a piece of hardware you wouldn't have to deal with targeted ads. But that's exactly what happens every time you turn it on. Soon after announcing the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon decided to allow users to turn the ads off permanently -- for a $15 fee.

Curiously, there's no wall charger included with the device, just a USB cable. Worse yet, the Fire HD won't charge while it's in use. You can, if you want, pay extra for a wall charger: $10 if you buy it when you purchase the device, and $20 if you purchase it after that.

So that $199 purchase price is a bit misleading: If you want to avoid ads and charge your device from a wall socket, it can really cost up to $234.

The bottom line

The Kindle Fire HD is not a general-purpose tablet, despite Amazon's claims that it's "the best tablet at any price." It's not.


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