Amazon Kindle Fire HD7 Tablet Review
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What is the Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7?This is a 7" HD tablet from Amazon, which they hope will put a dent into what is now a very crowded and competitive market. Samsung and Apple have been dominating the tablet world, pretty much since it started, and whilst there are alternatives such as Tesco's oddly named HUDL and a whole myriad of generic branded tablets, none seem to be from manufacturers with enough clout to offer a genuine alternative to the two big boys. Google are starting to have something to say about this with their Nexus range and so is the provider of the tablet for this review, Amazon.
The Kindle Fire took a very long to arrive on these shores back in September 2012, after a US release almost 10 months earlier in November 2011, despite the wait it has gone from strength to strength. It's still behind Apple, Samsung and ASUS in terms of sales but their range has developed to cover most budgets and uses. The budget end finds their 6" Fire HD6 for just £89, right up to the high specification 64GB Fire HDX 8.9" tablet at £439.00. Leading on to the subject of our review, the keenly priced third generation Fire HD7, coming in at just £129.99 (or £10 less if you can put up with 'Special Offers, personalised for you, and Sponsored Screensavers' ), offers a pretty decent specification for what is not much money at all. With a Quad Core (up to 1.5Ghz) CPU, 1280 x 800 display and 8GB storage (16GB is also available for just £20 more) will this budget tablet impress in the right areas? Read on to see how we get on....
Fire HD 7 - Design and ConnectivityThe HD7 at just £129.99 has a design that very much matches the price tag. It's a rather chunky thing with a very thick black bezel surrounding the 7" screen. The rear cover is all plastic with a very hard feel to it, this was white on our review sample, but is also available in black, cobalt, magenta and citron. Our initial and lasting impressions are that this is a tablet that would very much suit a Child. The build quality feels decent enough and with the thickset design it should survive a few bumps and drops that it might encounter with a minors use.
The budget feel continues with the connections and buttons. No physical home button on this tablet and the only buttons present are for the volume and power. Apart from the 3.5mm headphone jack the only other connection is the charging port which is a SlimPort enabled USB 2.0 (micro-B) port that allows you to connect the tablet to a monitor or HDTV for example, which as the HD7 doesn't offer the device mirroring seen in the HDX range, this is your only option of getting content onto your TV from the tablet. No SD card slots are present on any of Amazon's range of tablets.
The tablet comes with two speakers to the rear, along the top edge of the tablet. A much better position than other more expensive tablets such as the iPad where the speakers are at one end, so for viewing in landscape mode, which is the most likely, the sound just comes from one end. Here the sound is apportioned properly across the tablet, front facing speakers would have been better though if we were being picky. It's a hefty little thing for a 7" tablet weighing in at 336g which puts it far heavier than the iPad Mini or Samsung's 8" Note for example. Measurements overall are 190mm wide, 127mm high and 12mm thick. Whilst we weren't blown away here in the design and connectivity department, we have no real complaints for a tablet costing just £129.99.
Fire HD 7 - Specification and PerformanceThe HD7 specifications aren't going to set the world on fire, but for the money, they are better than expected. The tablet features a Quad Core Media-Tek MT8135 1.5Ghz CPU, an Imagination Technologies PowerVR series 6 GPU and 1GB RAM. A decent upgrade from the previous generation HD7 which just featured a dual core CPU. The WiFi is just single band 2.4Ghz 802.11b, g and n and Bluetooth is also present; there is no GPS on the HD7. The 2014 refresh of the HD7 comes equipped with a front VGA camera and a rear 2.0MP (1080P) HD camera which was missing from the previous model. The quality is very disappointing though with the front camera not really good for anything other than perhaps video calling and the rear camera suffering from particularly poor quality in anything but the brightest of surroundings.
The storage capacity is an area that could be an issue. Unlike most other Android tablets, the Fire HD7 (or in fact any of Amazon's tablets) has no SD card slot for expanding the storage. On top of that the £129.99 version only has 8GB of storage, of which only 4.5GB is available to the user. If you plan on having several games installed (Real Racing 3 for example takes up 785MB on its own) then that space will quickly disappear. Given that Tesco's identically priced Hudl2 includes 16GB of storage and an SD card slot for up to another 48GB, Amazon are starting to look pretty stingy here.
Whilst the HD7 has Amazon's own Fire OS 4 'Sangria', it is an Android tablet at heart and therefore has access to some (but not all by any stretch) of the apps available for Android tablets. Thankfully both the benchmarking apps we use were available. Using Passmark's Performance Test Mobile we have an average System score of 3220 which whilst expected based on the specifications does put it fairly well down the list on Passmark's Android rankings. Moving on to 3D Mark and here using the Ice Storm Unlimited test we get 10243, a similarly low score that puts it fairly down the list of performance in comparison to other tablets.
With the lower benchmark scores received above, we were eager to test with real world performance to see how this tablet performed. Unfortunately, as we have discovered in the past with other Android tablets, getting a tablet optimised app is not always easy. Here for example Simpsons Tapped Out ran perfectly, but was clearly the mobile phone app as it looked a little lower in the resolution department than we would have liked. Most of our usual test games such as Air Attack HD, Heroes Call and Dark Meadow were not available for this tablet. Real Racing 3 and Soulcraft were and these ran very well. No stuttering or frame rate reduction was noticeable. The HD7 is no slouch on the non gaming side too. Apps all installed reasonably quickly and everything we tried such as Netflix, Amazon Prime video, web browsing via the Silk browser - and more - all ran smoothly and as you would expect. Despite the reasonably entry level specification, the HD7 performs very well here.
Fire HD 7 - FeaturesWhilst being at its core an Android tablet, the HD7 runs Amazon's tailored Fire OS 4 which uses a bookshelf and carousel design that is very basic when compared to other Android tablets. The usual customisability that Android affords is being pretty much non-existent here. The layout is very clean and user friendly, though, if you are looking for a tablet that has everything you might need within easy reach then the HD7 certainly offers that.
Along the top you have a list of all the main categories, such as the all important Amazon Shop, Games, Apps, Books and more. The main screen shows your most recent apps, with a full list of installed apps found by swiping from the bottom up. Swiping down from the top will bring up the settings menu, wireless, brightness and the notification centre, as found on most Android tablets. With no physical home button, when in an app, swiping from the right of the screen will bring up a menu containing the home, back and search buttons.
The lack of customisation is present again in the common apps available on most other Android tablets that are unavailable on the HD7 such as Google's Chrome, Maps and even YouTube. We can understand Amazon wanting to restrict users to their Silk browser, but why restrict YouTube as there is no alternative provided by Amazon? There are several free YouTube players in the store thankfully, although not always bug free. But all is not completely lost here. Sideloading apps is very easy to accomplish and does not involve anything like rooting the device or other dodgy goings on that might invalidate your warranty. You simply change an option in the settings to allow apps from unknown sources, find an alternative Android store on the net and download the APK files for any app you fancy. We tried with several apps not available in the app store such as Firefox, Google Maps and Google Chrome and all worked perfectly. YouTube on the other hand would not work at all, it's almost like the tablet is hard coded to refuse YouTube, at all costs, although it does work fairly well within Google Chrome.
The major area where this tablet benefits over others is if you are a part of the Amazon family. By that we mean if you use their Cloud service for storing photos and documents , purchase music via Amazon and subscribe to their Amazon Prime streaming service. If you do then all this is readily accessible from the categories along the top of the screen. Clicking Photos will take you to all your photos stored on the Cloud, Docs does the same for your documents and clicking Videos takes you the streaming and download service. You do have to be slightly careful here as even if you are an Amazon Prime member, all the free Prime content is mixed up with paid movie and TV rentals and downloads. If you aren't a user of Amazon's Cloud service, you do still get free unlimited Cloud storage for all Amazon content and photos you take with the HD7.
As hinted at earlier, this tablet would be great for kids with the ability to create fully customisable profiles that a Parent can choose exactly which apps, games, videos and books they want to allow access too. The app status is also profile based, so for example one profile will not mess up your game of Candy Crush Saga as it has its own unique save status. Other kids features are the Fire for Kids Camera and Photo software with includes various fun photo editing tools.
Fire HD 7 - DisplayThe 7" LCD display has a resolution of 1280 x 800 with a PPI (pixels per inch) of 216. Not in the same league as the iPad Mini at 326PPI, or 359PPI seen on Samsung's Galaxy Tab S 8.4 tablet, but then those are significantly more expensive. It does fall far short though of the identically priced Hudl 2 from Tesco with a PPI of 273. Looking at the screen itself, the quality is much better than we had expected based on the technical specs. At this price range it doesn't have any fancy features like an adaptive display or other display modes, but the maximum brightness is just about enough and the colours are bold and bright with text on websites being very clear to read.
Fire HD 7 - AudioAn area that particularly impressed us with the HD7 was the audio. The two stereo speakers give a great account of themselves and are far better than some dismal efforts we've heard in the past on much more expensive tablets. At maximum volume it does start to breakdown ever so slightly with some distortion heard and the tablet vibrates heavily, but even at close to maximum the audio is clear and crisp. At about 50% volume which is more than loud enough for general use, the audio is excellent. For gaming, videos and music even from some of the more high pitched artists, the tablet's speakers perform very well. Other tablet manufacturers should take not as to how Amazon have managed to include good quality speakers at such a low price.
Fire HD 7 - Battery LifeThe HD7 has a Li-ion battery offering a claimed battery life up to 8 hours for general use and 9 hours for reading. Testing with Netflix and Gaming we managed just 5 hours 50 minutes from a 100% battery charge which is a fair chunk less than the 8 hours quoted. Using our standard YouTube video test with the screen set to 50% brightness and all the other standard features enabled, we managed to increase that to a none too shabby 6 hours 46 minutes. Still far off the 8 hours 'mixed' use they claim but not a bad result by any means. To recharge from a completely flat battery it took just over 3 hours and it does well in sleep mode too, remaining on 100% even after 13 hours of being off charge.
This new 4th Generation HD7 does include several features to maximise battery life. FirePower with SmartSuspend learns when to turn off the wireless connectivity for example which should help to extend the battery life. Amazon's cases available for the HD7 include a feature that will sleep the tablet when closed and immediately wake it when you open the case.
Fire HD 7 - Media IntegrationOut of the box the options are fairly limited with the HD7. Unlike the more expensive HDX models, you don't get the device mirroring option to mirror your screen to your TV. Via the SlimPort enabled USB port you can get an adaptor to connect via HDMI to your TV but using cables seems a bit backwards in this wireless age!
What you do get is Second Screen. Via a device such as Samsung TVs, Fire TV and the PS4 and 3, you can have the TV playing the video and that frees up the tablet to email, browse the web or use the X-Ray feature which instantly shows which actors are on screen and gives behind the scenes information on the scene you are watching. You can also plug a pair of headphones into the tablet and listen to the audio from there and watch it on the TV. A useful feature for late night viewing to save disturbing others in the house.
- High quality HD display
- Excellent stereo speakers
- Superb parental controls
- Great for kids
- Perfect if you are part of the Amazon 'Family'
- Very limited storage
- No SD Card slot
- Poor cameras
- Slightly cheap feel
Amazon Kindle Fire HD7 Tablet Review
Should I buy the Amazon Fire HD7?It certainly has plenty of positives. For just £129.99 (or £10 less if you can put up with adverts) you get a 7" tablet with a fairly decent specification for the money. It's a well built and chunky tablet that should cope with the most clumsy of users and has excellent and highly customisable parental controls and family profiles making this a great tablet for kids. If you are already a user of Amazon's services such as Prime, Cloud and Music then all your content is readily and very easily available, in fact the tablet really demands that you are to get the best out of it. The display is very good, the stereo speakers are excellent and certainly punch above their weight and the battery life is decent enough too.
There are several areas of concern though such as the restricted storage space, lack of the mirroring feature and the Mayday instant Customer Service feature seen on the HDX range with out of the box connectivity to a TV very limited, save for the Second Screen feature. The available apps, via Amazon's own app store, are also significantly less than on normal Android tablets. The worst being the lack of YouTube which Amazon do not provide an alternative for although the option of sideloading apps, from third party stores or via your PC, definitely helps here. The customisability that Android is known for is gone here with Amazon's Fire OS 4 and there isn't much at all you can do to change the layout and the look.
What alternatives are available?At this entry level end of the market, £129.99 for the HD7 looks initially to be a great value, but when you start to look at the alternatives, it does seem a little overpriced. The best alternative that springs to mind is Tesco's HUDL2, the same price but with a much higher resolution screen and far better storage options. There are also even cheaper alternatives such as LG's G Pad 7 offering the same resolution as the HD7, same 8GB storage and slightly lower CPU power but available now for just £73. If you are looking for a family friendly, easy to use tablet with excellent parental controls, then the Amazon Fire HD7 is one to consider - but it is in a very crowded market.
You can buy the Amazon Fire HD7 here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £129.99
Value For Money7
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