Hands On: Kindle Fire HD

Categories: Gadgetry
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Published on: December 5, 2012

The Kindle Fire would be a great tablet if users could separate it from the Amazon ecosystem.

Kindle Fire HD
“I’mma let you read, but first let me sell you something.”

Let me start by saying I like Amazon. I personally purchase all of my music through Amazon, almost all of my reading, and I purchase nutritional and weight lifting supplements through them regularly. I’m a Prime customer, I use the video service, and there’s a good chance my wife and I will do most—if not all—of our Christmas shopping through Amazon.

I like the screen. The stereo sound is a nice bonus. Navigating through books and apps is very responsive. The camera is on the long side of the device, prompting the user to hold the device in landscape mode for Skype, which actually makes sense given the video format. The battery life, even on standby, is quite good. I had no problems with wireless access. I did not test the HDMI out, but it’s nice to have it as an option.

After that, things get a little dicey, especially in an education setting.

First, while the $200 price point is equivalent to the Nexus 7 and sounds wonderful, expect to tack on another $15 per unit to get rid of advertising. Amazon makes no distinction as to whether the tablet is sold to a school or an individual, nor whether it’s being used by a child or an adult. While I’m sure Amazon will avoid racy ads, does an elementary student need a Discover Card? Do parents want schools effectively selling Men in Black 3 or Disney Epic Mickey to their children?

The device is also geared toward consumption over creation. No rear camera means no photography or video for students. The USB keyboards listed on Amazon go out of their way to say they’re not compatible with the Kindle Fire HD, but I did attach a Bluetooth keyboard with no trouble. However, without an app, there isn’t much point, and while the device does come with a QuickOffice app, there doesn’t appear to be a way to connect it to a Google Drive or Dropbox account without upgrading.

Which leads to the limited availability of apps. Aside from Amazon’s split from the Google Play store, I was not able to download any apps without having a credit card associated with the account, including free apps. Without the ability to push apps through Whispercast, the burden shifts to students to download apps they need, and will at least require obtaining gift cards for their Amazon accounts. Parents are going to have a problem with that.

Finally, the device is inflexible. If students or their parents are Barnes & Noble customers, they’re not going to get their Nook content on here. The interface is simple, but very different from other Android devices and smartphones, and there does not appear to be a way to customize screens or to use widgets. And while Dropbox and similar services are available, Google Drive is not, and the main apps are set up to go straight to Amazon’s Cloud Drive.

In the end, I just don’t need a device that is little more than a catalog for Amazon services. It’s great for someone who is looking for an e-reader that will also allow them to check email and keep up on Facebook, but it’s not quite a workhorse machine and I would not pursue it for 1:1 use. In a BYOT environment, at this point I would still recommend iPads or the Nexus over the Kindle.

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