Kindle Fire HD Review: One of the Best Tablets, Not No. 1

Does Amazons' new Kindle Fire burn the competition?

ByABC News
September 11, 2012, 9:59 AM

Sept. 11, 2012 — -- Sometimes companies make small, flowery claims about their products -- makes the perfect gift! Stunning visuals! But in the case of the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, made a very big and bold claim:

"We haven't built the best tablet at a certain price. We have built the best tablet at any price," Bezos said on stage last week when he introduced the 7- and 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDs.

Bezos' bravado was understandable. Even though the new 7-inch Fire HD starts at just $199 it has substantially better specs than last years' $199 Kindle Fire and is comparable to higher-end tablets with its HD display, dual-core processor, stereo speakers, and improved Wi-Fi.

WATCH: Kindle Fire HD Review

But while it sounds good on paper and on its own, the competition is much more fierce than it was a year ago and it's not just a specs game. Google's Nexus 7 costs the same and has similar hardware features. And then there is Apple's iPad, which starts at $399 and has reigned as king of the tablets since its introduction. So, is Amazon's claim, well, just a claim?

Improved Hardware, Screen

It takes no more than a second to notice how much nicer the new Kindle Fire HD is in comparison to the older model. The all-black, rubberized back, the thinner design, and rounded edges all make the tablet more comfortable to hold, and it's a better looking device as well. However, Amazon did widen the tablet with a thicker screen bezel, which makes it a bit harder to hold than the Nexus 7. Also, the 13.9-ounce tablet is a tad heavier than the 12-ounce Nexus 7, though you'd only notice if you were holding them both side by side.

But my major nitpick with the hardware has to do with something as simple as the power and volume buttons. The black buttons are flush with the edge of the tablet, blending in a bit too well. I often found myself looking for the buttons for longer than I should have had to, and then confusing them with each other.

Amazon added HD to the name, which gives you an idea of just how much it is focusing on the new, 1280 x 800-resolution screen. I didn't find the Fire HD's display that much better than the Nexus 7's in my side-by-side comparisons, but I did notice a difference outdoors. The Fire's screen now has a special coating that makes it easier to see outside and reduces glare. It's not as good as the regular E Ink Kindle under direct sunlight, but with the hot California sun beating down, it was much easier to see text and images on the Fire HD's display than on the Nexus or iPad. (The $299 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD will have a higher-resolution display.)

Amazon also added a camera to the top of the tablet for video calling over Skype. Video and voice calls with the app were clear, but the app itself was slow at times. Still, the audio that came through the stereo speakers on the back of the tablet was crisp.