Kindle Fire HD: For a premium tablet experience

20th August 2013
Kindle Fire HD: For a premium tablet experience

When comparing tablet PCs, it is customary to draw up a comparative table of specifications and see which brand comes up tops in which category -- processor, OS, screen resolution,  Net access,  battery life, price etc. Indeed Online multi-brand sellers encourage buyers to   shortlist a few favourites  and then check to see how they  stack up before -- hopefully -- making a purchase decision.

As a reviewer -- this is 10th tablet  I have  got to   handle, and   over a fairly extended period -- this sort of spec-based comparison has worked reasonably well for me  -- but I realized,  fairly quickly that such a numbers game would do injustice to what Amazon's Kindle Fire HD tablet  has to offer.

It takes its time to get ready: fresh out of the box, it takes 4-6 hours to fully charge its batteries; but once primed,  it offers   a  superiority in experience that is  both obvious and intangible -- if that is not confusing.

The touch controls  -- from the first swipe to unlock the device, to  going past the  in-your-face opening screens  that  tempt you to buy e-books and mags from Amazon, to  detecting  a WiFi network and settling down to some serious surfing -- are smoother than anything I have hitherto experienced. I don't think users will be aware  about Amazon's explanation that  the touch sensors are directly laminated to the screen  without the air gap to be found in competitors to provide enhanced sensitivity -- they will just experience it ... and if this is the first tablet they are handling they may well conclude that this is how  touch always works. I have handled resistive and capacitive touch screens ranging from good to bad to ugly and  I could tell them otherwise.

Likewise with  setting up the wireless internet access.  Admittedly this is the only way to access the Net with Kindle: it does not offer the option of inserting a  data card dongle; nor does it  provide a slot to take a mobile SIM, omissions that I found somewhat surprising, considering that the Kindle Fire is a fairly late entrant in the tablet 'maidan'.  But it more than makes up in the  speed and efficiency with which it latches on to  the nearest  hotspot and then  remains connected for hours without the intermittent breaks that we are all too familiar with. Again, users  may not care to  know all about the dual antenna,  dual band WiFi access circuitry it deploys; but they will intuitively  sense that the connection seems  zippier, the web pages open faster  than other devices on their network.  I  used the Kindle Fire HD at  my home-office, where  I  have 2 WiFi  networks ( one as  a standby for the other) -- a 2GBPS and a 15 GBPS  and  while I  did not measure this, I felt I was   able to surf faster on the Kindle than on my  regular desktop and  netbook machines. Subjective, I agree; but  these are just the little things that  make for a long term, irritation- free tablet experience.

The 7 inch Kindle Fire comes with a  1280 by 800 pixel display, while the 8.9 inch model offers  1920 by 1200. I got to try out only the 7 inch version --  and got very good  movie picture quality and excellent sound even with  the entry level settings in a YouTube video.  I tried out  the  video of VuTech featured in our Tech Video spot at IndiaTechOnline  this week and the sound and picture quality were both excellent at full screen.  The Dolby dual  stereo speakers  on either side of the picture are a feature of both the 7 inch and the 8.9 inch.

The stark simplicity of the Kindle Fire can seem extreme:  The black  cardboard carton needs to be torn open  along a perforation... you can't repack and sell as new after opening and using once. The contents are minimal:  the Kindle; a  USB cable to charge the device ( through a USB port of PC or laptop only;   a mains charger is not provided)  and a single sheet of paper showing how to start the Kindle.  For everything else one has to go to the Kindle website.  The device features just five interfaces:  a power on button, a volume control and a headphone input on one side and a micro USB  port for charging ( only! and a HDMI port to connect the device to a TV or large display.   The box has a seal which says " Certified frustration free" -- and they  mean it.

If you recall that the DNA of the Kindle Fire  goes back to  the Kindle e-book reader, it  won't surprise you that   the 23 million-strong book, magazine, song, movie and game  Kindle store  is somewhat central to  the  tablet's USP. I am unrepentantly Indian in  not liking commerce thrust on me when  I pay hard money for  product ( Like most of us,  I'm Ok with people selling things when I get the basic product free or almost free). So I found the Kindle Fire's   hard sell in the way its tabs are organised, somewhat irritating.  I am somewhat consoled by the fact that owning the product  gives me unlimited cloud storage to keep my downloaded goodies -- as well the  documents I may have generated on my other devices.

Anyway I learned very quickly to navigate  away  rapidly to  the comforting biz-free  look and feel of my favourite browser options. I enjoyed   many of the free books you can find  -- and experienced the Kindle Fire's superior read experience, even in the intense glare of an Indian outdoors .

The 7 inch Kindle Fire HD is available in two versions: with 16 GB onboard storage ( Rs  15,999) or 32 GB ( Rs 18,999. The  respective prices for the 18.9 inch model are Rs 21,999 and Rs 25,999.

As I said in the very beginning of this review,  stacking up the specs of the Kindle Fire ( you will find them here)  will point to the obvious: that  the Amazon avatar of the tablet is pricier than many  similarly  spec'ed competitors.   But this is a luxe product and  there are I guess enough customers out there for whom the premium placed  on the Kindle Fire HD may seem perfectly justified. 
Anand Parthasarathy in Bangalore August 20 2013.