The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is Amazon's largest tablet to date, featuring an 8.9-inch display with 1920 x 1200 resolution, a 1.5 Ghz processor, Dolby stereo sound, a front-facing HD camera, Buetooth, and dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi wireless networking.
Prices start at $300 for the 16GB ad-supported version, and go up to $385 for the 32GB ad-free version.
Build & Design
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is similar in size to Apple's iPad, with the exception of being somewhat narrower. It measures 9.4-inches tall, 6.4-inches wide, and 0.35-inches thick, and weighs twenty ounces. The front is dominated by the 8.9-inch display, of course, and on the back you'll find a dark slate gray soft-touch finish and a metal band near the bottom that houses the speakers and features the Amazon Kindle Fire branding.
The tablet is sturdy and pleasantly thin and lightweight, but I'm not terribly impressed with the hardware. The edges on the front are angular, not rounded, so they dig into your palm and the tablet isn't very comfortable to hold for extended periods of time. The bezel is quite narrow as well, so if you're holding the tablet in one hand your thumb will rest on the glass bordering the display -- which means that you have to grip tightly in order to prevent the tablet from slipping out of your hand.
There are also a couple of visible seams where things don't line up quite right -- not enough to be considered a manufacturing defect, but more a sign of less-than-perfectly-polished design and construction. The Fire isn't poorly made by any means, but it isn't anywhere near as perfect as an iPad either.
The 8.9-inch display has a 1920 x 1200 resolution, and it looks fantastic. Text, photos, and video are all sharp and colors are vibrant. Video in particular looks great, with no ghosting or other issues to detract from the experience. The widescreen display also minimizes the letterboxing issue on video, which may not bother some folks, but is always a distraction for me.
The one problem wih the display is glare -- there's a lot of it. It isn't much of a problem if you're watching video, but it is when you're reading books. An anti-glare screen protector will significantly reduce the glare issue, and they are available in three-packs for less than four dollars.
There's no physical keyboard on the Kindle Fire HD, but the screen is plenty big enough for easy data entry on the virtual one. The keyboard response is a bit slow, however, so if you're doing much more than entering a search term for the Kindle store you'll need to slow down just a bit so the tablet can keep up with you, or else use a Bluetooth keyboard.
Other Buttons & Controls
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is rather minimal when it comes to buttons and controls. The headphone jack, power and volume buttons are located on the right side when the tablet is in landscape mode. The buttons are extremely low profile to the point of near invisibility; it will take some training in order to hit them without having to look. I handed the tablet to several colleagues at my office and only one of them was able to figure out how to turn it on.
The microUSB charging port is located on the bottom edge of the device, next to the micro-HDMI port. The only other physical feature of note is the HD camera that is centered above the display on the front of the tablet. There is no home button, which was a source of frustration for this reviewer.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 performs well, with no noticeable lag or delays, but that doesn't mean that it's lightning fast. While some improvements have been made, it's still based on a heavily customized version of Android and there are a few things that just aren't as easy as they should be. Having said that, the shopping experience is great -- Amazon makes it very easy to purchase new context for your Kindle or even shop for physical products right from your tablet.
That doesn't mean that everything is perfect, however. The lack of a home or menu button is particularly frustrating for me, as is the tiny active area at the top of the screen -- it's almost impossible to hit that settings icon. It's easier to drag down from the top bar to access the settings, or go to the Apps section. That home icon migrates too -- from the bottom left corner in portrait mode to the bottom right corner in landscape mode.
It should be noted that Amazon's Special Offers are on the Kindle Fire HD by default. You can pay an extra $15 to turn them off, but it's your call based on how annoying/distracting you consider the ads to be. They only appear on the lock screen, unless you seek them out under Offers on the home screen.
This tablet isn't a phone, so you won't be making any calls unless you use the Skype service. It doesn't come with any social networking apps either, so you'll be downloading the Facebook and Twitter clients yourself. They work well enough, but considering how important social networking is these days, I would have liked to see some deeper integration here beyond the ability to share book quotes with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
The email experience is relatively basic, but very good because it's fast and the controls are large enough to manipulate easily. I added my Gmail account and the email app included on the tablet has no problem at all with my myriad labels, some of them with nested labels underneath (I'm convinced that I get more email than anyone alive, and keep organized with LOTS of labels). While the interace is somewhat minimal, it works well and the speed is much appreciated.
The web browser isn't quite as good, however, and comes with a few frustrations. Surfing from site to site is fairly fast, though not incredibly so; I was expecting a bit more from Amazon's Silk technology. I do like the desktop-like browsing experience though; I didn't feel that I was having to make any compromises in the sites I visited or the experiences I had on them.
The widescreen view really shines here, because I didn't have to do much side to side scrolling at all. Tabbed browsing is supported, as well as a full-screen view that gets rid of the tabs at the top and the menu bar to the side of the display.
The words "Kindle" and "productivity" don't really go together, but this tablet might surprise you -- the Calendar and Contacts apps are fairly sophisticated. The Calendar and Contacts apps sync with a variety of services such as AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, Microsoft Exchange, and Yahoo, and they perform quite well. I was disappointed to see that my shared Google calendars didn't work at all, which is a major shortcoming since that's how we coordinate our office schedule.
If Microsoft Office documents are more your thing, you'll be glad to find that OfficeSuite 6 from Mobile Systems. If you're serious about productivity, you'll want to upgrade to OfficeSuite Pro, which adds cloud storage access and advanced features. But if all you need is the chance to read a spreadsheet or a business proposal now and then, you'll find that the included software is all you need.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is at its heart an entertainment device, and no matter your pleasure, it can definitely keep you entertained. The reading experience is a good one, with all of the features you'd expect if you've used a Kindle before -- dictionary definitions, notes and bookmarks, etc. X-Ray is supported, so you can get lots of helpful extra information about the characters, places, and terms in the book you're reading. Highlighting is a little tricky though, because you have to tap and hold on a word to start the highlight, then drag your finger down to the end of the highlight. More often than not the tablet would think I wanted to advance the page instead of highlighting a phrase, which was a little frustrating.
Video is a delight, when it works -- the experience with Amazon Video is fantastic, but I had quite a few problems with the Hulu app. Playback would start and stop, with plenty of "buffering" even when I bumped the video quality down to the lowest level. Since I didn't have the same problem with Amazon's own video service, the Hulu app itself might be the problem and a future update might offer a better experience.
This tablet has a front-facing camera, primarily for use with video chat services like Skype. It can still be used as a camera, however, if you have the right apps from Amazon's App Store. Paper Camera works perfectly, though the photos came out somewhat darker than they should have. Might be useful in a pinch, but the camera on this tablet is definitely not designed to replace your smartphone or a standalone digital camera.
I found the battery life to be somewhat less than expected. I was only able to watch two shows on Hulu, flip through the latest issue of TV Guide, and read about six (rather short) chapters in my current book before the charge got dangerously low.
It's good enough for general entertainment use around the house, but I wouldn't want to rely on the new Kindle Fire HD 8.9 for a cross-country flight, and would probably want a USB battery pack on an international flight. You'll definitely want to pack your charger, and might also be more concerned about battery preservation techniques as well -- turn off wireless when you're not using it, etc.
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is a nice tablet, but not a great one. As compared to the iPad, it's considerably less expensive and has better sound quality, but it isn't as polished overall as Apple's offering. It has a few shortcomings, but in general the positives outweigh the negatives.
If you're an Amazon loyalist with a Prime membership, it's a no-brainer, but if you're looking for a more general-purpose tablet that can entertain you and keep you productive on the go, you would be better served looking elsewhere if your budget allows. For the money, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 is a great option, but it isn't the perfect Android tablet either.