£119 for an Amazon tablet with these specs is an amazing deal, however, this is a tablet running a heavily customised version of Android with restricted access to the Google Play App store. Read our review of the Amazon Kindle Fire HD (2013) tablet to find out whether paying £119 for this tablet is such a good deal.
When Amazon launched the original Kindle Fire tablet, there wasn’t a great deal of competition. Now, though, the budget tablet market is awash with high-quality models including Tesco’s Hudl, Asus’ Memo Pad HD7 and Barnes & Noble’s Nook HD+. There's also the old Kindle Fire HD, which you can still buy.
The “all-new” Kindle Fire HD costs exactly the same as the Hudl, making the supermarket tablet the most direct rival. We’ll look at the differences in a minute, but it’s important to understand where Amazon is pitching the Fire HD.
First, nothing has changed in terms of the walled garden. Unlike regular Android tablets such as the Hudl, the Fire HD has a highly customised version which has one clear aim: to let you get at (read: purchase) Amazon’s digital content. That means your apps, books, videos, music and magazines come from Amazon rather than Google. There’s no access to the Google Play store, just as you would expect.
This is still primarily a content consumption device, although the new Fire OS 3.0 does bring email and web browsing into the foreground more than the earlier Fire tablets.
There are no cameras (the old model had a front-facing webcam), no cellular capabilities and a fixed amount of internal storage that can’t be expanded via microSD cards. The base model has just 8GB of storage - the Hudl has 16GB - and offers on the lock screen (you can choose to pay an extra £10 when ordering to remove these). Bearing in mind that the 8GB model has less than 5GB of usable storage, you might want to spend the extra £20 on the 16GB version.
Unlike the old model, the new Fire HD has no HDMI output, nor support for Miracast. There’s just a microUSB port for charging and synching.
The new, angular design matches the new Fire HDX models but the Fire HD doesn’t get the ‘X’ suffix as its screen has a 1280x800 resolution, rather than Full HD. It also lacks the 100 percent sRGB gamut, meaning colours aren’t quite as accurate.
Honestly, though, the screen is perfectly good for reading, watching videos, playing games and browsing the web. You barely miss the extra pixels offered by the Hudl: the Fire HD’s screen is brighter and colours are a touch more vibrant; viewing angles are excellent as you would expect from an IPS panel.
The stereo speakers are decent, too, and we like the new button positions on the rear. They’re much easier to find without looking.
Weight-wise, the Fire HD is 50g lighter than before, making it fractionally lighter than the Hudl. It isn’t that slim at 10.6mm but you don’t notice because of the tapered edges.
Kindle Fire HD (2013) review: Fire OS 3.0
It might look similar, but Amazon has made big strides forward with the new version of Fire OS, which is based on Android Jelly Bean. It will be instantly familiar to existing users, but both small and large changes make it much nicer to use.
The home screen is now scrollable. Your recent content remains on a carousel but swipe upwards and your apps come into view. In portrait mode a list of suggested content appears, related to whichever item in the carousel is selected. This is a clever way to tempt you to buy more content.
At the top are text links to the different types of content. As before each has two views: ‘Cloud’ and ‘On device’. The default view is Cloud and so displays everything that you’ve purchased or downloaded, as well as the stuff that’s stored locally. A single tap downloads anything currently in the cloud so, as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, it’s relatively quick to play a game or listen to some music on-demand.
The web browser is both faster and easier to use and has a handy reading view that strips pages of clutter so you can read a cleaner version of the article. The email app is better equipped for viewing attachments and sorting email threads. Plus, if you have a Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo! Or AOL account, you need only enter your username and password to get it working.
Twitter and Facebook are integrated so you can share photos and make posts easily enough. The Photos app has also been updated, and now includes your videos instead of having the separate (and confusing) Personal Videos app.
There are several ways to transfer photos to the Kindle Fire HD. One is to use Amazon’s Cloud Drive which gives you 5GB of online storage. You can also import photos from your Facebook account and use the Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app (for iOS and Android) to automatically upload photos you take on your smartphone. Finally, as with any Android tablet, you can drag and drop photos – and other content – via Windows explorer.
Swiping down from the top of the screen brings up the settings bar. There’s a lot on offer, including a new Quiet Time feature which is similar to Do Not Disturb in iOS. It mutes all sounds and pop-up notifications between times you specify or during certain activities.
Swipe in from the right and you’ll see a list of running apps so it’s easier to switch between them without returning to the home screen each time.
We were also happy to see that the confusing ‘back’ button has been removed when the keyboard is on-screen in landscape mode. Its placement meant it was easily mistaken for a Backspace key. Tap it and you lose what you just typed as you return to the previous page.
What you don’t get is the new Mayday button for customer support: that’s a feature exclusive to the two HDX tablets.
Since we initially reviewed the Fire HD, Amazon released an update which adds a new feature: FreeTime. this turns the Kindle into a great tablet for kids, allowing you to create separate user profiles and limit screen time. Usefully, you can set different limits for reading and everything else, so kids can't sit there playing games all day long.
You can choose which apps and other content is available in each profile, and customise the wallpaper. Text and icons are larger, helping kids to navigate around more easily.
Kindle Fire HD (2013) review: Performance
The screen may not have changed, but the new Fire HD has a beefier processor. Along with the updated operating system it makes Amazon’s tablet feel a bit speedier. Apps load faster and the annoying delay when loading and scrolling up and down web pages has gone.
The casual games we tried all played fine: there’s a decent boost in power compared to the old Fire HD. In GFXBench the Egypt HD test ran at 17fps, versus 8fps scored by the outgoing model.
The new Fire HD completed Sunspider 1.0.2 in 986ms, and scored 824 in Geekbench 3. In Geekbench 2 it produced 1376, which is only slightly ahead (not the 60 per cent Amazon claims) of the old tablet, which managed 1124.
Tesco’s Hudl, meanwhile, scored 1583 in the same test, and matched the Fire HD at 17fps in the 3D test.
Battery life, which is more important for most people, wasn’t quite as good as we were hoping. In our looping video test the new Fire HD lasted for 6 hours, 11 minutes. That’s worse than the old model which ran for an extra 90 minutes. Amazon says you can expect around 10 hours with mixed use.
Kindle Fire HD (2013) review: bottom line
Even with the clever storage optimisation which offloads little-used apps and content to the cloud, the 8GB Kindle Fire HD won’t have enough for most people. That leaves the 16GB model which, with the ‘offers’ removed will cost you £149.
Add to this the fact that Amazon’s Appstore still lacks many apps you’ll find on Google Play, particularly UK-specific ones such as ITV Player, 4oD and other TV catchup services (but also certain big names such as Dropbox), and the Fire HD is clearly not the best choice for everyone. Before you ask, no, you can’t watch programmes from ITV or Channel 4 through the web browser.
If, for some reason, you’re happy to be limited to using Amazon’s services for apps, games, books, music and videos, then you won’t be disappointed with the Fire HD.
For everyone else, it makes more sense to opt for the Tesco Hudl or Nook HD+. Those with a slightly bigger budget should look to the new Nexus 7.