Amazon Kindle Fire HD: First Impressions of New Tablet

PHOTO: Amazons X Ray for Movies shown on the Kindle Fire HD.
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Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, was not at a loss for words during his presentation this morning of the new Kindles. But one sentence stood out:

"We haven't built the best tablet at a certain price. We have built the best tablet at any price."

It's hard not to consider the great value of the new Kindle Fire HD tablets. For $199, the 7-inch tablet has a high-resolution display, a front-facing camera, 16GB of storage, a fast dual-core processor, and improved Wi-Fi. And for $299, you can upgrade to the 8.9-inch version, which has all those specs but a higher-resolution screen.

But are they, as Bezos says the best tablets on the market, regardless of price. Here are my first impressions.

It will take previous Kindle Fire users no time to see how much better these tablets are. Instead of the black boxy design of the first one, you now get an understated black exterior with round edges that make it much more comfortable to hold. The hardware is still clean and unassuming and the power button is still at the bottom of the device. The button is slightly bigger than the one on the first Fire.

But the biggest hardware upgrade is the new high-resolution, IPS displays. The resolution on the 8.9-inch screen is higher than the one on the 7-inch, but video still looked very crisp on the smaller device. Still, I wouldn't say the screen on the Fire HD blows away the screen on the Nexus 7 by any measure.

Hands down, the quality that will make want original Fire owners want to upgrade is speed. The tablets are much faster, and you see that as soon as you scroll across the carousel of apps on the home screen. Everything pops up more quickly, and scrolling the browser is smoother too.

Amazon is still using its own reskinned version of Android -- things have been tidied up and a new star button has been added to the home screen, which brings up your favorite apps. Amazon still uses its own App Store and while there are thousands of apps, Google's Play Store has a wider selection.

But where the Fire HD really shines is with a bunch of new preloaded app features. My favorite is the XRay feature for movies. If you are watching a movie you have bought from Amazon, a small box in the corner will pop up to show you the names of the characters in the movie or scene. And, of course, that's where Amazon really shines, with content. While Google Play has built up its content selection, Amazon still provides access to more TV shows and movie titles.

For $199, the Kindle Fire HD is looking like a great tablet. But it's also easy to start seeing where the competition might still beat it. The iPad, while double the price, boasts a much better selection of apps. And the Nexus 7 has more flexibility in terms of operating system customizations as well as access to Google's Play Store, which has more Android apps than Amazon's store.

We will have a full review soon that will better test some of the features, but I'll say this for now: Mr. Bezos, you have certainly built one of the best tablets at any price.

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