Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 full review
Launched in the US back in November 2012, the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" tablet has now arrived this side of the pond. It's the biggest Kindle Fire to date, being the big brother of the 7in Amazon Kindle Fire HD. (For more, see: Amazon Kindle Fire vs Kindle Fire HD comparison review and Kindle Fire HD vs Kindle Fire HD 8.9 review.)
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: design and build
The 8.9in Fire HD really is the big brother of the 7in version as it shares an identical design, albeit larger due to the bigger screen. This means it has all the same ports and buttons in the same places, the same soft-touch rear and stereo speakers.
The Kindle Fire HD 8.9" is undoubtedly designed to be used in a landscape orientation. The webcam is situated centrally above the screen – like a laptop's – and the speakers are on the left and right towards the bottom of the rear. Depending on how you hold it, your hands act as a kind of reflector to direct audio forwards, or cover the speakers and muffle the sound. We'd still have preferred front-firing speakers as with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1.
On the bottom edge are micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports for synch/charge and TV output respectively. They earn Amazon bonus points for avoiding proprietary cables and adapters.
However, as we noted in our Kindle Fire HD review, the volume and power buttons on the right-hand side sit flush with the body, and are hard to locate without looking – power especially. A headphone jack sits near the top.
Build quality is impressive, but at 567g it's on the heavy side. If you were after a compromise between a 7- and 10-inch tablet, the Fire HD 8.9" might be heavier than you were hoping for. Indeed, with Amazon's admittedly well-designed case attached, the device weighs 785g.
The thick black borders around the screen make the Fire HD 8.9" bigger than it might otherwise be: the iPad mini, which doesn't cost all that much more, is noticeably smaller and lighter.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: full HD display
One of the highlights of the new Kindle Fire is its excellent full HD screen. The 1920x1080 resolution makes everything nice and sharp: it has a pixel density of 254ppi.
Like the 7in Fire HD, the 8.9in version has a 10-point multitouch capacitive screen which uses an IPS LCD panel. For the price, it's a superb screen. Viewing angles are wide, colours are deep and contrast is good.
Although we expect a revised iPad mini with a Retina screen later this year, the Fire HD 8.9" beats the existing model for resolution. HD video looks wonderful, as do photos and ebooks: one of the main reasons to buy a Kindle, of course.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: software
That brings us to the Fire HD's software. Unsurprisingly, it's the same OS as the other two Kindle Fires, which is to say that it's slick and very easy to use. The snag is that, although based on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, it's pretty locked down. There's no access to the Google Play store; instead Amazon wants you to buy apps, games, magazines, videos and ebooks from its own store.
That's understandable given the subsidised nature of the Kindle Fire, but it's certainly something to bear in mind. Unlike the Barnes & Noble Nook HD, though, you can choose to install third-party apps. If you know what you're doing, it's possible to run Android apps that aren't available in Amazon's app store.
When we first reviewed the Kindle Fire HD, there was no BBC iPlayer app, but there is now. However, you still won't find other catch-up apps such as ITV Player and 4oD.
When it comes to movies, Amazon uses Lovefilm Instant. You'll need to pay a monthly subscription to access it, but there are movies and TV shows, some of which are in HD and look great on the Fire HD's screen. You can't download them for offline viewing, so you'll need an internet connection.
If you'd prefer, simply install the free Netflix app from Amazon's App Store.
In the web browser, Amazon's new 'experimental' Flash player allows you to watch embedded Flash videos on sites such as the BBC's. There's no general support for Flash, though.
Reading ebooks is a pleasure on the big screen, but if you're moving from a traditional Kindle, you'll definitely notice the extra weight.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: connectivity and storage
Kindles are designed for consuming content so you don't get GPS or NFC as you do with Google's Nexus 7. There's Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which should be sufficient for most people.
If you opt for the 16GB model, there's 12.7GB available for storage. Make sure that's enough, since you can't add more via a memory card. With the 32GB model, which costs £259, you get 27.1GB of usable storage.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: performance
The Fire HD 8.9" has a faster dual-core processor than the 7in Fire HD. However, this didn't make it feel noticeably zippier in general use. It's not slow by any means, but not as fast as the Nexus 7 feels.
There's also the same niggle with the keyboard where the back button in the status bar sometimes sits to the right of the keyboard and you instinctively tap it to delete, instead of using the Delete key on the keyboard itself.
In our benchmarks, the Fire HD 8.9" virtually matched the Nexus 7. It scored an average of 1398 in Geekbench 2, and managed 12fps in the Egypt HD test from GLBenchmark.
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: battery life
Amazon claims that you will get over 10 hours of continuous use out of the Fire HD 8.9", but in our tests it didn't quite measure up. However, lasting 7 hours and 15 minutes playing back video at full brightness (with Wi-Fi) switched on is still a good result, especially considering the big screen.
As the screen isn't amazingly bright, you won't be able to reduce brightness significantly to extend battery life, but you might squeeze 8 to 8.5 hours out of the Kindle if you also disable Wi-Fi.
The 7in Kindle Fire HD lasted 7 hours and 42 minutes in the same test, but if battery life is really important to you, the Nexus 7 lasted 9 hours and 40 minutes. Even the iPad mini couldn't match that (at maximum brightness), lasting just six minutes longer than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9".
Kindle Fire HD 8.9" review: bottom line
If you already own a Kindle or have bought ebooks using the Kindle app on another platform, making the switch to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9" will be very easy.
Since the software is the same as the previous Kindle Fires, our verdict is largely the same as for them. They are for people who don't want or need the freedom of a plain Android device: the people who don't demand the latest Android apps or to be able to buy content from wherever they like.
Note that you don't get a mains charger in the box, and the Fire HD 8.9" will take a foot-tapping 14-odd hours to charge via your laptop or PC's USB port. That drops to around four hours with the optional Kindle charger – it's well worth budgeting for that when you buy if you don't already have a USB charger.
One final note: the prices we've quoted are with 'special offers', so you'll see these when you turn your Kindle on each time. Pay £10 more when you purchase and you can avoid these adverts and instead see a random lock screen image. See also: Group test: what's the best Android tablet? and what's the best tablet?
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9: Specs
- TI OMAP 4470 1.5GHz dual-core CPU
- Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich
- 8.9in IPS touchscreen LCD (capacitive: 10-touch point), 1920x1080 pixels
- 770MB RAM
- 16GB storage (12.7GB usable)
- 802.11 b/g/n dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- 1.3Mp front camera
- micro HDMI out
- micro USB 2.0 port
- accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor