Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD boasts a much more vibrant screen than the
original tablet that came out about a year ago. That makes buying movies
and TV shows to watch on the device a lot more appealing.
is such a major improvement that I can't see why you would purchase the
upgraded non-HD older model, even if it means saving $40. The new
offering brings the new Kindle Fire HD into closer competition with
Apple's market-leading iPad, which introduced a higher resolution screen
earlier this year.
By the numbers, the difference between screens
on the new and older model doesn't seem that big. The smaller Kindle
Fire HD, with a screen measuring 7 inches diagonally has a screen
resolution of 1280 x 800. Last year's 7-inch model, and the upgraded
version with better innards unveiled Thursday, has a screen with 1024 x
That doesn't come close to the latest iPad, which has a
resolution of 2048 x 1536. Nonetheless, this upgrade feels like a big
leap for Amazon. It means not seeing any of those annoying pixels, a
welcome relief that feels even better when you consider the price. At
$199, versus $499 for the latest iPad, I can see this being a popular
stocking stuffer this Christmas.
Amazon has also made a couple of
important design changes in its new HD models. For one, the speakers are
now on both sides of the device when held in landscape mode, meaning
you can watch movies in Dolby Digital Plus stereo sound without
headphones. The old Kindle Fire had stereo speakers off to one side when
held this way, and that hasn't changed with the upgraded version that
now costs $159.
Both the upgraded Kindle Fire and new HD 7-inch
models also come with a full suite of new features that are nifty but
Both devices will feature the "X-Ray" series of features that provide insights into the book or movie you're enjoying.
on-screen tap during a movie will list actors in the scene, with more
clicks, you can learn more about them from Amazon's movie information
service IMDb. In books, X-Ray has been a popular feature on the Kindle
Touch that now works on Kindle Fire. It gives you a bird's eye view of
where characters or ideas appear later on in a book.
Inc. has also upgraded its audio book offerings. "Immersion Reading"
allows you to read a book while hearing narration from a famous actor. I
find this feature to be a distraction, but some book lovers will
For parents, Amazon has added a system that can
control how much time a child can spend on various media. So, you could
limit how much your kids can watch video and play games, but let them
read as much as they want.
The 7-inch models ship Sept. 14. The
larger 8.9-inch screen Kindle Fire HD, which costs at least $299 and
comes with an even better 1920 x 1200 pixel screen, won't ship until
Some aspects about the Kindle Fire HD sounded great but
weren't testable in the short time that Amazon gave reporters to try out
the devices Thursday.
For instance, it was impossible to tell
whether Kindle Fire HD's two antennas made its performance in Wi-Fi
noticeably faster than the latest iPad or Google's Nexus 7. Or whether
its 11-hour battery life held up for real.
In handling the device,
though, I found that video played well and images looked sharp. But it
was not as responsive as I would have liked. It seemed to lag when
swiping through pictures or through the news feed on the custom-built
There was no app that independently controlled the
front-facing camera, which is new to the Kindle Fire HD. The Facebook
picture I took with the device turned out upside down, even though the
camera was clearly meant to be at the top of the device when held in
landscape mode. Amazon's representatives said the camera was mainly for
use with a Skype app made for the device.
If I were looking to buy a new tablet, I might be able overlook these minor annoyances because of the sharper screen.
the decision to buy a Kindle Fire HD could be determined by the array
of content that comes with the device if you join the $79 annual
free-shipping program known as Amazon Prime.
Amazon has made
plenty of big investments lately that make Prime a more compelling
offer. On Tuesday, it announced a deal with the Epix pay TV channel that
allows Prime members to watch 2,000 movies like "The Avengers" and "The
Hunger Games" for free, on top of some 23,000 movies and TV shows it
Prime members can also "borrow" books from the Kindle
Owners Lending Library, including all seven "Harry Potter" books, for
no extra charge.
Backstage at Thursday's news conference, CEO Jeff
Bezos said in an interview that the company has been investing hundreds
of millions of dollars in digital content for Amazon Prime.
"Licensing 'Harry Potter'? Not inexpensive," he said with a belly laugh.
that kind of investment in content, paired with a device that can show
video in HD, that I think could open a lot of wallets this holiday