- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Let’s stipulate, at the outset, that Amazon.com’s $199 Kindle Fire HD is not — I repeat, not — a “mini” version of Apple Inc.’s iPad. If you buy the new Amazon-produced tablet expecting an iPad, you are going to be disappointed, much as if you bought a Mazda expecting a Maserati.

The Kindle Fire HD, of which a “basic” model with 16 gigabytes of RAM arrived on the market last Friday, is the first of several more powerful Kindle Fire tablets from Amazon. A model with 32 GB of RAM will arrive in late October; on November 20, Kindle Fire HD tablets with an 8.9-inch (diagonal measure) screen are due to launch. All of these are Wi-Fi only, except for the $499 top-dollar Kindle Fire, which offers 4G LTE wireless service for an extra $50 a year. (There’s also a new “basic” Kindle Fire for $159, but spend a little more for the HD model. Trust me.)

Some early reviewers have doubted the “HD” aspect of the Kindle Fire HD’s display, but an Amazon.com spokeswoman insisted, via email, “This Kindle Fire HD has a 16:10 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels. This is actually more pixels than the 720p display (1280x720) that comes on many HD TVs.” While I haven’t compared the two, I can attest that the Kindle Fire HD’s display is quite sharp and clear, particularly when videos are streamed.

The Kindle Fire HD also boasts “dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi,” as Amazon calls it, and the company claims users get better reception than with a 2012-vintage iPad. I haven’t benchmarked it, but the Kindle Fire HD does appear to do better in Wi-Fi terms than the iPad in one relatively remote location of my home.

And unlike tablets with just one speaker (read: iPad, among others), the Kindle Fire HD comes with “Dolby audio and dual-driver stereo speakers,” according to Amazon, which the firm says delivers “immersive, virtual surround sound.” To my non-engineer’s ears, the sound is, in fact, the best I’ve heard on a tablet so far.

For me, the primary reason to buy a Kindle Fire HD — and I did buy one, with plans to keep it — was simple: I wanted something a bit more handy from which to read, generally before turning in for the night. (Yes, I know some studies suggest one shouldn’t do that, but I do, nonetheless.)

It’s easier to hold a Kindle Fire HD while reading in bed, and the size is just right for me. Using Marware.com’s $24.95 Vibe Kindle Fire HD 7” Case didn’t make the unit more difficult to hold; it just added protection and a built-in viewing stand.

The Kindle Fire HD operates much like any tablet, although Amazon has hidden the underlying Google Android operating system a bit. The Silk Web browser is faster than I recall from the first Kindle Fire iteration; an included email program is adequate for a quick check of messages.

Other apps are a bit iffy. There’s a Facebook application, and it’s OK, but the desktop Web viewing and/or iPad experiences are a bit better, in my view. The Kindle Fire HD comes preloaded with Skype, but I’ve not tested that just yet. (Also, there’s only a front-facing camera, so it would be difficult to use the Kindle Fire HD as a digital camera substitute.)

One area where I’ve had a challenge is with Bible-reading apps. Some work, but others, which are supposed to work with the new device, don’t. I’ve mentioned this issue before with various Kindle devices, and return to it not to scold, but because I really think a device such as the Kindle Fire HD would be ideal for a lot of people who tote a Bible to worship services and studies. It would be even better if a wider range of functioning Bible apps were available. (An Amazon spokeswoman was investigating my situation, but no answer was received at deadline.)

The great “draw” of the Kindle Fire HD is, however, the Amazon.com “ecosystem” of e-books, music, television shows and movies that are available, many of them free to Amazon’s “Prime” service members, of which I am one. And here is the real attraction for me: I get access to tons of material I can’t obtain with the various Kindle apps for desktop computers and i-devices, plus I get a very, very good Kindle reading experience.

Those factors make the Kindle Fire HD ideal for this user. Where I previously would put the iPad down after reading for a half-hour or so, one night I started, and finished, reading a book on the Kindle Fire HD, barely noticing three hours had passed. That tells me this device is a keeper.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com