Amazon has been producing its Fire tablets for the past few years, and the devices have remained among the retailer's top selling items. For one reason, they are always good solid products, but for another, Amazon sells them at a good price and frequently discounts the devices. Now the company has released its latest iteration of the tablet, but what new features does it bring along?
In all honesty, there are not a lot of big changes, but many minor updates to both the operating system and the hardware have been made. The new tablet comes in both six and seven inch models, though there is also a new 8.9, which retains the HDX name used for last year's models of both 7 and 8.9 devices.
True to a tradition that has been part of this culture for the past three years, Amazon has moved the buttons around. The 2012 model featured flush buttons for power and volume located one above the other on one side. That design proved a bit difficult, as you sometimes had to look to find them. Last year's HDX improved on that, placing them on opposing sides and indenting them slightly, making it easy to locate by touch.
The new tablet comes with a 1280 x 800 resolution screen, quad core processor and both front and rear facing cameras. The company also promises up to 8 hours of battery life, depending on usage. In addition, you'll get Dolby sound from the two stereo speakers, along with a built-in microphone and a headphone jack.
As for the button movement, it doesn't seem a big deal. While different from last year's HDX, they are still easily located by touch - no need to turn the device sideways, as was the case two years ago.
The Fire HD bezel isn't especially thin, but also not huge. Unlike last year, the sides and back around it feels a bit more durable this time around. You can still buy a nice case for it though, if you're one to worry about your investment. The rear camera is also new. Previously you had to purchase the 8.9 version for that.
As previously stated, the Fire HD comes with version 4.0 of Amazon's flavour of Android. You'd be hard pressed to realise you were using Google's operating system, as it has been customised to death. That's not a bad thing, however. It works very well. But, if you're looking for Google apps or the Play store then you're in the wrong place.
There's a number of improvements in the latest build, though none are stunning. Still present is the easy pull down bar from the top, which gives access to settings, wireless, quiet time and more. A swipe up from the bottom gets you the Silk browser, camera, calendar, contacts and, of course, the ability to shop on Amazon. You can also access family accounts and limit access for younger children.
The menu across the top, which provides easy access to books, video and more, remains unchanged. The main interface also has not been altered - it's still an easy sideways swipe to find what you're looking for.
I've compared the new Fire HD 7 to last year's HDX 7, but it really doesn't compete with that. That one is still available, and currently discounted to $179. The new HD replaces last year's HD, though I never used that one, so base my observations on experience.
This tablet, while not vastly different, does boast improvements, including a rear camera. It also retains the stereo speakers that made the older model so good for watching Prime video and using Prime music service.
Since its arrival, the device has been updated to Fire OS 4.1.1, though no official word came from Amazon citing the differences, meaning it was likely bug fixes and performance enhancements.
So, is it worth the upgrade? That's a hard question to answer. It's very good and response time is quick. The button placement is different, but there isn't anything wrong with it in that regard.
Overall, it's an improvement, to be sure. Is it a major one? No, not really. Amazon seems to have pretty much perfected the platform and new models are now incremental ones. However, at $139 this is not a major expense, and if you need a tablet then you can't go wrong investing your money here. It helps if you are part of the Amazon ecosystem, as those who are will see the most benefit from this purchase.
In the end, the conclusion is that the Amazon Fire HD gets two thumbs up from me.