Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 review
- Build quality
- Excellent ebook selection
- Screen can be tiring for books
- No 3G option
- Slightly limited app selection
The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9" is the big brother to the Amazon Kindle Fire HD which eventually hit UK shores in 2012. The 8.9-inch version was released in the US last year, but we've had to wait until 2013 for it to make it across the pond to the UK.
While the original model went head to head with 7-inch tablets like the iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7 and the Nook HD, the larger version has more in common with the 9-inch Nook HD+, the 9.7-inch iPad 4 and the Google Nexus 10.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Size and build
The new Kindle weighs in at 567g and measures 8.8mm thick, making a very compact package, making it lighter and more svelte than the iPad 4. However, it's still a fair bit heavier than it the 7-inch version - we found that it wasn't that comfortable to hold as an ereader for too long.
The back of the tablet sports a relatively grippy brushed rubber finish, but the liklihood is that that you'll be rocking a case to protect your tablet from the cruel, harsh environment that is the inside of your bag.
On the right-hand edge you'll find a headphone socket along with the power button and volume rocker - both of which sit entirely flat against the tablet, resulting in a sleek finish but making them quite tricky to find without looking.
The underside of the tablet reveals micro HDMI and micro USB ports for charging and for hooking up to HD devices, while Bluetooth connectivity means that you can use compatible gadgets including headphones and keyboards.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Screen
The device's 8.9-inch display sports an impressive resolution of 1920x1200 pixels, resulting in a respectable 254ppi - the sharpest screen on a Kindle to date.
As with any backlit tablet, the HD 8.9 can be quite wearing on the eyes after a relatively short space of time, and certainly not as comfortable for lengthy bouts of reading as the Kindle 4 or the Kindle Paperwhite.
Amazon has kept the screen-surrounding bezel nice and thick - the theory being that there's plenty of room to hold. However, when we were reading an ebook on the tube we found ourselves accidentally flicked through forward several pages when we shifted our grip on the tablet.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: UI
The 8.9 sports the same carousel-style interface that the Fire HD has, but it's faster and smoother and generally very impressive indeed. However, despite the sharpness of the screen (and also, because of it) some app icons still look pixellated when blown up to fit the carousel, but you can always remove them from the home page view if it bothers you too much.
You'll find major links along the top of the homescreen, including Shop, Games, Books, Apps, Video and Photos, while the Search option at the very top of the screen enables you to search through your library, the store or on the web.
Tapping the top of the screen at any point will bring up the basic Home, Back and Search controls, while swiping down from the top of the screen fires up the settings menu.
While the UI is clear and easy to use, it's starting to look a little dated compared to the likes of iOS 6 and Android. For example, once you're searching in the Video stream, you can't simply switch to Apps - you'll need to go back to the Homescreen and start again.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Content
Amazon's real strength lies with it's Kindle store, which gives you access to 22 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, audiobooks and magazines with over 1.5 million Kindle books and over 800,000 books priced at £3.99 or less.
The Kindle Owners's Lending Library offers free access to books for Amazon Prime members - a great idea in theory, but the selection doesn't look amazing. According to Amazon, you can borrow all seven Harry Potter books, plus the top 100 bestsellers from the previous month.
We spotted Harry Potter but apart from that, the best book we found was an upcoming biography from country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus - that should give you an idea as to the quality of the rest of the titles, which appear to consist largely of unintentionally hilarious Mills and Boone-style bodice rippers as well as some slightly stronger stuff with some very dodgy titles.
Customers who are new to Prime get one free month of Amazon Prime when they purchase the Kindle Fire HD 8.9.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Video
If you're got a Lovefilm Instant subscription then you can watch content through the Video channel on the homescreen - all you need to do is sign in once. You can add videos to your watch list to look at later and browse or search for titles to watch.
Unlike Netflix, where mobile versions tend to have very similar UIs, the Kindle version of Lovefilm shows little resemblance to the desktop version, so you won't get a list of previously watch titles, unless you've watched them on your Kindle. Other than that, the picture-based menus of titles are pretty slick. If you're not already a Lovefilm subscriber, you'll be able to get a free 30-day trial.
Amazon's X-Ray for Movies features uses IMDb to instantly tell you which actors are in the particular scene you're watching - all you need to do is tap the screen. You can then tap on the links to go through to their IMDb profile.
Video looks pretty good on the screen, although it does struggle a little on darker scenes, and there's some visible light leak at the edge of the screen on the murkiest segments.
Stereo speakers located on the back of the device supporting Dolby Digital Plus audio. The sonics aren't Earth- shattering, but they're pretty good for a tablet.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Camera
You'll find a 1.3MP front-facing camera at the centre of the bezel on the top edge (if you're holding the tablet landscape, rather than portrait). The quality is fairly standard but it's fine for Skype calls.
The Photos tab on the homescreen enables you import your Facebook pictures, although you can't specify which ones - it's all or nothing. You can choose to sort them either alpabetically or by date.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Performance
The new Kindle runs on the latest generation Texas Instruments OMAP 4470 processor and Imagination SGX544 graphics engine, meaning that operation is a fair bit zippier than on its 7-inch sibling.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Battery
Amazon quotes battery life at 10 hours, which seemed to be about right during our tests. We managed a few days of reading and watching several films, plus lots of general exploration of apps and settings, before we needed to recharge.
A USB charging cable is supplied, although there doesn't appear to be a charger plug in the box. That means you'll have to either charge from your computer or use another USB-enabled charger plug.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Verdict
This is the best Kindle Fire yet so if you're already sold on the idea of an Amazon-tethered tablet and reading on a backlit screen doesn't bother you, then this is a great gadget.
In comparison, the Nook HD+ may beat the new Kindle on some specs, such as the screen, but Barnes & Noble bookstore is nowhere near as mature and comprehensive as Amazon's.
As well as the huge selection of content on offer from the Kindle store, we were impressed by the video playback (although it's not perfect) as well as the audio quality. The user interface is also nice and easy to use, although the appearance of the odd pixellated app log does spoil things a bit.
This probably isn't the best tablet in the world, but it's certainly the best Kindle yet. The 7-inch version may have its compact form factor on its side but the new model is far zippier. And the 16Gb version is only 30 quid more than the smaller Kindle Fire HD...
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 release date: Out now
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 price: £229 (16GB), £259 (32GB)