Monday, January 7, 2013

Kindle Fire HD 8.9" Tablet Reviews - Overview, Excerpts, Thoughts


The more-positive reviewer assessments:
"...the best media consumption tablet out there" -- CNET

"...may be a better value than the iPad 4" -- Examiner

I've waited before taking a good look at reviews because I've been trying out a replacement 8.9" Kindle Fire HD, as the first one had a lower-speaker-volume problem and the colors were not as saturated.  But slowly, the newer 8.9" has taken over here, and now I use the 7" mainly when I'm not home and need the smaller one.

  I'd felt the 7" was a really good size and loved using it -- it was more personal and 'large enough' but the 8.9" has turned out to be, for me, so effective for web-reading and magazines, at that middle area between 7" and 10", and so comfortable on 2-page Kindle book reading, that it's become the HD model I prefer when home.

 Although my 8.9" replacement is a definite improvement, the 7" Kindle Fire HD has stronger speakers, in volume and presence, and a few other reviews have noted this.  I probably wouldn't have noticed had I not used the 7" first.

  Most reviews do note the strength of the 8.9" speakers versus the speakers on other tablets though, when no comparison is made with the strangely muscular speakers on the smaller Kindle Fire HD model.

  Others reviewing tend to consider the 8.9" tablet-speaker system more impressive, overall, than speakers on the other leading tablets (iPad4, iPad mini, Google Nexus, Barnes and Noble Nook tablets) and definitely better for movies if you don't want to be tied to headphones or to external speakers.

  The display on both Kindle Fire HD models is beautiful, and although the 8.9" screen keeps impressing me because it's both larger and even clearer, the colors on the 8.9" model are mildly less-saturated than on the 7" but that is relative.   It's more like what Displaymate's Shootout between iPad mini, Google Nexus 7", and Kindle Fire 7" was looking at -- slight differences not always easily noticed.

  Magazines are terrific on both of the Kindle Fire HD models.  The 7" device isn't quite as effective as the 8.9" one on magazines because the eyes have to work more due to the smaller size of the screen and the smaller text.

  However, magazines still work well on the 7" (as well as on the larger model) for another reason -- you can double tap on the text of an article to see an optimized larger-font reading view of the text, with leading photos included.  This is an excellent feature, in that it's not just a narrow vertical strip of text but full-screen easily-readable text as an alternate view.

  If you prefer reading text while viewing the original article format, this is doable in that you can pinch-zoom the original layout version to get larger-size text while still seeing the photos in context -- in the placement that was used for the printed version.

  Printed versions can't match, these days, the slide-show backlit quality of these high-definition images that can be pinch-zoomed beyond the sizes presented on printed magazines, to get even more detail.

Sheet music and other PDFs are much more readable on the larger screen, and an advantage is that the 8.9" size is lighter to hold than any 10" tablet.  I like best the ezPDF app ($1.99 at 50% off currently) for its flexibility and excellent handling of margins and page-turns relative to the free Adobe Reader.

 The clarity of the screen is a real draw for me and is appreciated most with HD movies and tv show episodes, magazines, and small text on the web or in books.

 The image I used at the top, while not a striking one, is due to my new preference for the two-page book format feature on the 8.9" and the nibbles of text that somehow have me reading faster when the eyes don't have to move so much and there's no thought about how much more text I need to get through.

  The original screenshot is 1920x1200 pixels large and when needing to downsize it, compressing it to an average webpage size of 1024-width for display as a photo for the blog means a loss of clarity and an addition of artifacts.

  Sometimes a large page of text can be both distracting and mildly daunting.  The color of the book pages in the screenshot is due to my choice of 'Sepia' background as I prefer that to white when reading on a backlit LCD color device.  White on black is the 3rd option.  I've been using the 2-page format for the Kindle edition of my local newspaper too :-)

REVIEWS - a few excerpts.
CNET Editors - ...[Vs the iPad Mini and its many apps], the Fire HD 8.9’s lower pricing, superior streaming capability, and higher-resolution screen make it a better deal if you're looking for a media consumption device.  Especially if you're an Amazon Prime member...the Fire HD 8.9’s $299 entry price is a great deal... as the content and services Amazon provides are well worth the price...not as versatile as the iPad or top Android tablets...but it's ...the best media consumption tablet out there.

...The Kindle Fire line is still the strongest media consumption tablet line going, and this latest version is the best one yet." [See more at the very detailed CNET review page's Daryl Deino - "While the [iPad 4 may have better specs, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is easily a better value, especially if your primary purpose for buying a tablet is consuming multimedia."

  [He notes the $200+ difference in price between the two.]

"... Text and pictures really pop out.  The colors could use a little more saturation, but they are much better than on most devices, including the Google Nexus 10."

  [He feels the iPad 4  "may be the most beautiful screen we have seen on a tablet" but then mentions "the two dreaded black bars above and below your widescreen videos since the iPad 4 has a 4:3 screen ratio."

  "Even though the Amazon Appstore has many useful apps, several important ones are missing.  However, you can easily download the apk files of many popular programs and install them through the ES File Explorer."
[And there you have a rare tech-reviewer who realizes that Kindle Fire owners can get apps from 3rd party stores and they're not tied to Amazon, as so many write.
  He recommends getting the Beta version of VLDC Media Player because Amazon's video player is limited in the formats it will play, but I recommend BSPlayer (which is in the Amazon store and plays just about every type of video format on the Kindle Fire HDs.]
  "The Hulu Plus and Netflix apps worked very well on a connection that was only 600kbps.  On many Android devices, such as the Galaxy Note 2 and the Galaxy S3, movies take a long time to load.  This isn't the case with the Kindle Fire HD 8.9."

  "The best part about watching videos on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is the Dolby stereo sound, which is very lifelike.  It's safe to say that because of the high resolution, good color reproduction and fantastic sound, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is definitely the best portable video player on the market today."  [I agree.]

  [Re iPads]  "... It is quite a pain to convert every movie to an iPad format and then upload it through iTunes. The 9.7-inch screen will crop your HD movies, unless you zoom in -- however, this makes the video look increasingly blurry."

 "...At $200 to $230 less than the iPad 4, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is a far better value. ...Watching movies with the Dolby stereo sound is a portable experience which will blow you away. You can't have this experience on the iPad 4."

  [He mentions the iPad's access to tons more apps and its "slightly faster processor."]

  "However, if you don't mind easily side-loading some apps on the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and downloading others from the Amazon app store, you will have the best tablet money can buy."

  [Read more details, including battery life comparisons in the full review.]

MakeUseOf - "It’s a fantastic device and it comes with a very reasonable price tag when compared to the competition."

MobileTechReview's Lise Gade - " appealing budget tablet with better than budget features...with pleasing, accurate and rich colors."

  "...It's a member of the skinny tablet crowd...At 1.25 pounds it's relatively light for a large tablet and we didn't mind holding it when reading a book for a half hour."

  "...The micro HDMI output good quality audio and video in our tests with a Sony AV receiver, and we were able to watch Amazon Prime videos on the big screen using the tablet."

  "...The front camera delivers surprisingly sharp and bright video when using the included Skype for video chat.  It's one of the better mobile video chat cameras on the market, and the only thing that reduces quality is if you walk around while chatting (the camera has a hard time keeping up with quick background changes and sends out blocky video).  The mic picked up our voice and sent clear audio to our chat partner."

  "...The Kindle Fire HD models have remarkably good stereo speakers with Dolby audio...full and rich sounding with noticable channel separation.
  ... music is actually enjoyable through the speakers rather than sounding like the soft, hissy nastiness that we hear from most 7" tablets including the Nexus 7."

  "...It has solid though not cutting edge 3D performance.  It handily outperforms the Nvidia Tegra 2's GPU, but can't touch the quad core Tegra 3 with 12 core GeForce graphics."

  "...more than fast enough... from HD video playback to moderate gaming. Web browsing speeds are as good as on devices with much faster CPUs, and games on the Amazon App Store played perfectly. This isn't a tablet for cutting edge geeks who crave the fastest silicon in production... It's here to get a job done, and it does that job just fine."

  "...The Fire HD now has access to X-Ray for movies in addition to books, so you can get info about the movie and actors when watching an X-Ray compatible Amazon video (courtesy of IMDB, which Amazon owns)."

See a LOT more detail and points at Gade's very detailed, unusually thorough review

Engadget's Tim Stevens - "...The WiFi-only model includes the same MIMO wireless getup that we found to be quite impressive on the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, offering better range, reception and performance than other tablets and smartphones we tried."

TheVerge's David Pierce - "...Where the 8.9 really shines is in its color reproduction, viewing angles, and brightness. While whites have the slightest tinge of yellow...blacks are incredibly deep...and create great contrast, so even the darkest scenes in The Dark Knight are watchable...this is one of the best displays out there, especially for watching video."

  "...dual speakers blast sound out the back of the device, and are among the best tablet speakers I've used...Dolby Digital seems to do most of the work here:  with the setting enabled, sound immediately becomes louder and richer, and comes through in better stereo."

  [Their model was laggy, with keyboard and any navigation.  Not my own experience and they felt it a software problem.  There have been a couple of software updates since then.
  They like the iPads and Nexus 7 better for the access to more apps.]

  "If you get most of your content through Amazon (and that's totally possible), the Kindle Fire HD is the best way to get it – the Prime Video experience is better on this device than any other I've tested, and if you make use of the HDMI port the tablet becomes a great Amazonian set-top box for your TV as well."

  [But, for the rest, "...for the content omnivore, or a person who wants a good email experience or a better browser or a more powerful suite of apps, Apple and Google's tablets are a better bet."]

PC Magazine's Sascha Segan - "Amazon has built a killer budget media tablet in the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9 ... Nope, it's no iPad.  But at this price, more than $200 less (for the base Wi-Fi model) than Apple's competing tablet, it doesn't have to be."

Sacha Segan continues, on "Multimedia" - "The Kindle Fire played all of our audio files, and the two Dolby-enhanced speakers on the sides are the richest and clearest I've heard on a tablet yet...Amazon's streaming and downloadable video store is the best in the industry."

  "With the Editors' Choice fourth-gen Apple iPad, you get more, but you spend more, too.  The iPad 4 is faster, with an even better screen, no lag, and many more apps.  It's the best large tablet on the market. At $499-$829, though, it's a lot more expensive.  The $329-$659 iPad mini gets you those apps for less cash, but at the cost of a significantly smaller and lower-quality screen."

  "The Kindle Fire also competes with a slew of Android tablets, including the $399-$499 Nexus 10, the $499-$599 Asus TF700 and the $499-$549 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1."

  "The simplified Amazon interface makes the Kindle Fire easier to use than any of them, although the other Android tablets have a wider range of apps and media stores.  The Nexus 10 has the best specs, but the unit I tested was slow and buggy."

"...If you're counting your dollars, the Kindle Fire offers the most bang per buck so far."

Additional thoughts - If you want to use a tablet mainly as an e-reader, the 7" HD is likely to be your best bet, as it's easier to hold with one hand and costs less.   For watching movies, tv shows, Amazon Prime videos, Netflix or HuluPlus,  the 7" model is very good, but for impact and for magazine and easier reading of PDFs, the 8.9" screen is better.

An e-Ink reader is still the best for those just wanting a device for e-books, and the battery lasts a lot longer.

RELATED ARTICLES for the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" model
Adobe dropped support for mobile devices using Android 4.0.x and higher.  This has affected flash-viewing on the Google Nexus as well, and there are recommended solutions for both.
  . How to install Flash Player on the Kindle Fire (and Google Nexus)
  . Getting and installing non-Amazon apps

Check often: Temporarily-free recently published Kindle books
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers.  Liked-books under $1
UK-Only: recently published free books, bestsellers, or £5 Max ones
    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. Thank you for your wonderful review and comparison of the 8.9 vs. the 7" HD Fire. I have been debating over which one I want. I believe I will get the 8.9" next time it goes on sale for $249. I know I will love the 2 page view in landscape! I've never had a larger than 7" tablet so I know I will love it.

  2. Anne, yes, it's pretty much the same as the 7" but more spacious, which can help the eyes. Not as portable of course.

    The font I chose for the sample is big and sans-serif type and I normally like serif style but the "Helvetica" at size 7 has the most contrast and I like to view the display from not-too-close.

    They have the sale for college students through January, so it's possible there'll be a stray one for non-students someday.

    Some of the stores are running sporadic sales from time to time in that they give gift certificates but it's hard to keep track of them. If I notice one I'll drop a note in this area.

  3. I have a question about the Kindle Fire 8.9. I want to read magazines without having to expand page to make text bigger. I looked at 3 sample magazines in a Best Buy store on the 8.9. and to my disappointment, the magazine did not take up the entire 8.9 screen. IN fact, a whole inch at the bottom was left blank on all 3 magazines.

    This is a deal breaker for me if the magazines don't take full advantage of the bigger screen. I'll have to go with the ipad instead.

    Can you tell me if all magazines are like this on the new bigger kindle? Where the bottom inch is not used for the page?


    1. Mike, just a note here to say to others that we followed up on this at the Kindleworld Facebook page where you posted it as a question.

      That's a public page and should show up even for non-Facebook members, but if it doesn't show up for anyone, would you let me know? I can copy the conversation here and do the links for the linked examples if needed. Thanks!


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