Amazon Fire HD 6 full review
If you like the form factor of a Kindle eReader, but want a fully-fledged tablet with a proper web browser, email, Skype and apps, Amazon can now oblige with the Fire HD 6.
Notice that Amazon has dropped the 'Kindle' from the name with its latest tablet range, possibly to help differentiate them from plain eReaders.
Amazon Fire HD 6 review: design and screen
What's important to note is that this isn't simply a Kindle with a colour LCD screen. We were surprised by how chunky and heavy the HD 6 was compared to the new 7th generation Kindle.
Because of its large bezels, the tablet is larger than many smartphones with 6in screens (phablets, we like to call them). It's also thick at 11mm, and seems unnecessarily heavy at almost 300g.
The extra 100g of weight makes the HD 6 considerably less comfortable to hold in one hand when reading a book, and will make it a two-handed tablet for some people. It's only a millimetre or so thicker, which you're unlikely to notice if 'upgrading' from an existing Kindle eReader, but you will definitely feel the extra width - there's 16mm more plastic to get your hand around, and it does make a difference. The angled edges - in keeping with all recent Fire tablets - don't exactly help with comfort either.
Since there are no page-turn buttons, it isn't really possible to swipe or tap to go to the next page of a book one-handed.
The headphone socket, microUSB port and sleep/wake button are on the top edge, along with the microphone, and volume controls are on the left. A single speaker sits at the bottom on the rear,
The bezels may be thinner than the original Kindle Fire tablet, which already looked dated when it launched, but the 6in screen still looks as if it could be bigger. The 1280x800 resolution is decent considering the sub-£80 price, though, and the fact that it's more than 250ppi makes everything look nice and sharp. Amazon doesn't state the technology used, but contrast is acceptable - as are viewing angles.
Disappointingly, there's no ambient light sensor, so you'll find yourself having to tap, swipe down to display the control centre, tap on brightness and adjust it for different environments or times of the day.
Something new - and perhaps following in the footsteps of other manufacturers - is that you don't have to have a black Fire HD 6. Now there's a choice of five colours including 'Citron', 'Cobalt' and 'Magenta'.
Amazon Fire HD 6 review: hardware and performance
As usual, there's no expandable storage so you're limited to the 8GB or 16GB of internal storage in the two models Amazon offers. We were sent the 8GB version for review, which had a total of just 5GB available for apps, photos, videos and other personal files. Even with Amazon's well-thought-out cloud storage system which means that pretty much all your content can be made available via Wi-Fi, there will still be files: music, videos and apps which you'll want to keep on the device, and 5GB really isn't enough.
That pushes the price to £99 for the 16GB version, and it's an extra £10 (as ever) if you don't want the lock-screen adverts.
Getting back to the hardware, it's good to see front and rear cameras (even if they're basic VGA and 2Mp affairs). If you're buying the HD 6 for a child, they will appreciate them, even though their quality is awful. Here's a photo taken in good light - this is the full, unedited image, so you can click it to enlarge or right-click and save it.
Here's a crop of the photo so you can see the full resolution without enlarging it:
The quad-core processor runs at "up to 1.5GHz" according to Amazon, and there's 1GB of RAM.
No-one is going to choose the HD 6 based on benchmark scores, but it managed 1366 in the multi-core section of Geekbench 3, and 776 for single-core.
In SunSpider, it completed the web browsing test in a decent 674ms, and this translated to real-world use: the HD 6 loads web pages extremely quickly.
Wi-Fi is as basic as the cameras, but the lack of dual-band support will be inconsequential to virtually all HD 6 owners.
You get Bluetooth Low Energy but no GPS - just in case you were planning on using the HD 6 as a dash-mounted satnav.
Amazon Fire HD 6 review: Fire OS
Amazon recently added FreeTime to its tablet range, and this feature makes the HD 6 a particularly good choice for kids. You can create up to four password-protected child profiles (in addition to two adult profiles), and limit the content each child can access.
One of the best features of FreeTime is that you can set different time limits for apps/games and books. The idea is that you can allow longer (or even unlimited) reading but restrict playing time.
There are a surprising number of updates in the latest version of Fire OS too. The HD 6 runs 'Sangria' or version 4.1.1. It's based on Android KitKat, and you can side-load Android apps by allowing installation from unknown sources.
There's a new weather app, and the email, contacts and calendar apps have been improved. Email, for example, works much like Mail on an iPhone or iPad.
Notifications now appear on the lock screen, and there are behind-the-scenes updates which help to make apps load quicker.
A handy addition is backup & restore which goes beyond merely storing your content in the cloud and saves device settings, Wi-Fi configuration and bookmarks. This all makes it a lot easier to get going with a new Fire tablet if yours gets lost or damaged.
On the HD 6's small screen some text is too small to read comfortably, but it's something Amazon can tweak in a future update.
It can also be confusing as you can't always bring up the multitasking pane by swiping up from the bottom of the screen - it depends whether you're in an app or on the home screen.
As this isn't an HDX model, you don't get Amazon's on-device Mayday help service.
Amazon Fire HD 6 review: Bottom line
It isn't perfect, but the HD 6 is really good value. Performance is well above the level you'd expect at this price, as is the quality of the screen. Some might find the 6in screen too small, though, so it's worth trying to track one down before buying.
The cameras are dismal, and it's a pain that it doesn't adjust screen brightness automatically. Plus, the measly 5GB of usable storage simply won't be enough for some people. For many, it will be well worth spending the extra £20 on the 16GB version, but at that point you start getting into 'proper' Android tablet territory.
It's at this point we have to say what we always say about Amazon tablets: there's no Google Play store, nor any Google apps.
Living in Amazon's world is fine for the most part, but the choice of apps is more limited than on an Android tablet. You have to watch YouTube videos via the web browser (or use a third-party app), and you won't be able to install the official Maps, Gmail or other Google apps.
If you're happy with the trade-off, then the HD 6 is a good buy, especially as it's so much cheaper than the HD 7.
Amazon Fire HD 6: Specs
- 6in tablet
- 1280x800 touchscreen, 252ppi
- quad-core 1.5GHz processor
- 1GB RAM
- 802.11n Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only)
- Bluetooth 4.0 LE
- Rear 2Mp camera, front VGA camera
- 8 or 16GB internal storage
- Dimensions: 169x103x10.7mm
- Weight: 290g