Inside the tablet there have also been significant hardware additions, including a faster dual-core processor and more RAM. These upgrades make the tablet much faster; scrolling through the carousel of apps is swift and scrolling in the browser is smooth. But there were times when the operating system would exhibit lag. Some apps took longer than they should to open, and then within some apps, like Skype, there was noticeable delay after tapping on the screen.
Enhanced Software With an App Impediment
The software, which is based on Google's Android 4.0, is simple to use and Amazon has also refreshed core apps, like email and photos. My favorite new feature, however, is X-Ray for Movies. Don't know the name of the actress in a movie you are watching? If you tap the X-Ray button, a list of the actors in the scene will appear, including information about them from IMDB.com. Only select movies are X-Ray enabled now; Amazon denotes that on the rental screen. Amazon also added a kid mode that lets parents set usage time and a new reading feature called Immersion Reading that matches audio books to text.
But the biggest software issue facing Amazon is with apps. While there are some of the key ones you care about in the Amazon App Store -- Facebook, Pinterest, etc. -- other key Android apps, like Groupon and The New York Times, are not there. (Although, ABC News is!) The Google Play Store on the Nexus 7 and other Android tablets has more apps and you get Google's official apps like Gmail and YouTube. (You can access YouTube on the Fire via the web browser.) The iPad still has the best apps of any tablet. They were built especially for the bigger screen; they aren't just resized phone apps as you find on the Fire and the Nexus.
It's clear that what Amazon really wants you to do with the tablet is read books or magazines and watch movies or TV shows that you've bought from its store. And this tablet was well designed for all of that.
Great Content Pushed By Ads
The content selection is larger than what you'll find on the Nexus 7 (still no "Glee" or "Arrested Development" in Google's store) and because I am an Amazon Prime member (which costs $79 a year), it is much more affordable than buying content from Apple on the iPad.
But does Amazon go too far to make sure you buy that content? "We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our device," Bezos said. On the lock screen of every tablet Amazon's Special Offers appear, which are a series of ads for new movies like "The Lorax" or discounts in the Amazon store. On the home screen too, when you hover over a book or magazine in your collection, Amazon recommends other titles to buy. Amazon has decided to allow users to pay $15 to get rid of the ads, making the price of an ad-free Kindle Fire HD $214.
My review unit didn't have this option to disable the ads, but if it did I would handed over the $15 in a flash. I am a sucker for advertising and I simply don't need any additional temptation to spend even more money on magazines or TV episodes. I'd also prefer to have a photo of a peaceful beach scene on my screen than some ad.
When it comes to its closest $199 competitor -- the Nexus 7 -- the Fire has greater content, more storage space for the price (16GB vs. 8GB), and unique features, like better speakers, X-Ray for movies and Amazon's audible integration. But the Nexus 7 has better app selection, better performance, hardware buttons that don't frustrate, no ads littering the homescreen, and Google's full range of Android 4.0 features, like Google Now.
And then there is, of course, the iPad, which offers a better app quality and selection, top-notch performance, two cameras, and other features. (Apple is rumored to be releasing a smaller iPad in October.)
So, is this the best tablet at any price? No, but Amazon wouldn't be wrong if it said it was one of the best tablets at any price.