It's been a long time coming, but the Kindle Fire is available to buy in the UK. This is the Kindle Fire HD, which is very similar to the standard Kindle Fire (review) - both tablets have the same interface and 7in screen- but the HD, as you'd guess, has a higher resolution screen at 1280 x 800. You might also be interested in our Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review
The Fire HD also has a slightly more powerful processor, dual-band Wi-Fi (with two antennae) and a 10-point touchscreen as opposed to 2-point on the Fire. See also Group test: what's the best cheap tablet PC?
However, specifications rarely tell you whether a tablet is any good. More important is what it's like to use, and the Kindle Fire HD runs a highly customised version of Android 4.0. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it was running Android if it weren't for the occasional in-app advert for Android apps on the Google Play store.
Amazon would prefer you to think of the Fire HD as a touchscreen eReader with more capabilities, such as videos, music, games and apps. The fact is, though, that it's different from other tablets only in its interface. Admittedly, Amazon has done a great job of making a slick system which is both easy to use and intuitive.
Kindle Fire HD: interface
We like the Fire HD's lock screen, which displays a different wallpaper each time you turn it on. However, unless you pay an extra £10 when ordering it, you'll have to put up with 'special offers' - read adverts - on the lock screen.
The home screen (which works in portrait and landscape mode) has a menu for jumping to the various different types of media, with a carousel of recently used apps, books, websites and everything else.
Below this (in portrait mode) you get a 'related items' carousel which essentially shows contextual adverts for the item showing in the main carousel. For example, if that's a game, you'll see a list of games "Customers Also Bought" (more adverts). However, if it's a website, you get a "Trending Now" list, or shortcuts to creating a new email if the calendar, email or contacts app is highlighted above.
One niggle is that, when in landscape mode, the Android-style 'back' button is displayed to the right of the keyboard, exactly where you'd expect the Backspace key to be. We inadvertently tapped this each time we mistyped (instead of pressing the key marked Delete) and ended up returning to the previous screen. That's very frustrating if you're filling out an online form as you have to start again.
Tapping each menu item at the top of the screen displays the content stored on your device for that section. A toggle button at the top lets you switch to what's available in the cloud - i.e. everything you've purchased from Amazon, or content you've uploaded yourself.
Confusingly there are two separate cloud services: Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. The former provides 5GB of storage for your documents, such as PDFs, spreadsheets and Word files, as well as photos and videos. The latter is just for music and lets you access all the tracks you've bought through the Amazon MP3 store, as well as storing 250 of your own tracks. This is increased to 250,000 if you pay £22 per year for Cloud Player Premium. Similarly, you can upgrade your 5GB for file storage to 20GB for £6 per year, up to 500GB for £160 per year.
It's possible to drag and drop files to the Fire HD just as you would with USB flash drive, but we saw mixed results. Some photos, for example, appeared with the wrong aspect ratio. Some MP3s were picked up, while others weren't. There's 16GB of storage (or 32GB for £199) but you can't add more via a memory card. MP4 and MKV videos are supported, but you have to access them via the Personal Videos app - you can't simply tap Videos from the main menu.
Kindle Fire HD: books
One of the main reasons to buy a Kindle is to read books, and the interface on the Fire HD is almost identical to a traditional E-Ink Kindle. Of course, the experience is completely different as the Fire HD has an LCD screen.
It's not nearly as easy to read in bright light, and it's reflective just as with any other tablet. You get the option for a sepia look if black text on a white background is too dazzling, and there's a white on black mode as well.
Thanks to the fact that it's an IPS LCD screen, viewing angles are very good and the resolution is high enough to make characters sharp and words easy to read.
Naturally, there's the same excellent selection of eBooks to choose from, and if you pay for Amazon Prime (which entitles you to next-day delivery on all Amazon-fulfilled products) you can also borrow one eBook per month for free, from a limited selection.
Whispersync means you can carry on reading any title from where you left off, even if you pick up on a different device.
Kindle Fire HD: films
Amazon owns Lovefilm, which means you can access Lovefilm's library of on-demand movies from the Fire HD. The selection isn't all that impressive, though, especially if you're after the latest TV shows such as Homeland or Breaking Bad.
The range of films is better, but it's still a more limited selection than Lovefilm's DVD and Blu-ray collection. You can't watch Prometheus or The Hunger Games yet, for example.
More disappointing - and a deal-breaker for some - is that there's no offline viewing, so you can only watch videos when you're connected to Wi-Fi. (You can watch any personal videos offline, of course.)
At least movie soundtracks sound better than on most tablets thanks to a pair of rear speakers with dual drivers and Dolby virtual surround technology.
Kindle Fire HD: apps and browser
Amazon's Appstore has a lot of popular apps, but it's not packed as Google's Play store. You'll find top titles such as Angry Birds, Bad Piggies, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, iPlayer and more, but other apps (which are often advertised within free games) such as Google's Chrome browser are absent.
In fact, you won't find Google apps at all - no Maps, Gmail, Calendar or Contacts. There are alternative built-in apps for the last three, but nothing for mapping. There's no GPS receiver, but you can use Google Maps via the web browser as normal (although you can't get Street View).
The browser is based on Amazon's Silk technology and looks much like the standard Android browser.The default search engine is Microsoft's Bing, but if you delve into the Fire HD's settings you can change this to Google.
However, the browser doesn't support Flash so Flash-based websites (of which there are still many, particularly kids' sites) can't be displayed. It also means you can't watch some catch-up TV such as 4oD, ITV Player and Demand Five - and you won't find apps for these services in the Appstore either. You can watch YouTube videos via the YouTube website now it's been updated and doesn't exclusively use Flash any more. You can install a different browser with Flash support, but it's a hassle - you may as well buy a Nexus 7 if you're knowledgeable enough to this kind of thing.
Kindle Fire HD: hardware and performance
At just under 400g, the Fire HD is pretty heavy, and that's without one of Amazon's cases on it. It's very well put together though and feels like a solid slate with no creaking or bending. A micro HDMI output on the bottom means you can hook it up to a big-screen TV. On the right-hand side is a volume rocker, the power button and headphone socket.
A front-facing HD camera is primarily intended for Skype - there's no rear-facing camera.
In terms of performance, the Fire HD wasn't as fast as we'd have liked. It doesn't feel as snappy as an iPad mini or Nexus 7, especially when browsing the web or launching apps. Scrolling around web pages shows a white screen until the content is loaded. Amazon says this is a feature to speed up the browser, but it appears to do the opposite.
Kindle Fire HD: battery life
In our video playback test, which uses the default video player (the Personal Videos app) to continuously play video at full brightness with Wi-Fi enabled, the Kindle Fire HD lasted for 7 hours and 42 minutes. It's a pretty respectable result, although short of the 11 hours that Amazon claims.
Kindle Fire HD: bottom line
If it had been launched a year ago, the Fire HD would have been easy to recommend. However, with stiff competition from other 7in tablets - mainly Google's Nexus 7 - it faces an uphill battle.
The Nexus 7 is faster and more versatile, has a GPS receiver and is a significant 50g lighter. Plus, it supports Flash. Out of the box, the Kindle Fire HD doesn't and this will trip up some people. You should also bear in mind that the Fire HD - like traditional Kindles - doesn't come with a mains charger in the box.
However, if you're after something that's very easy to use, don't need GPS and don't want to stretch your budget to £200, the Fire HD is a good buy. It also has twice the storage capacity of the Nexus 7 for £159.