Whew! Reading over tech tweets and headlines this morning, I damn-near became convinced that Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets are game-changing, Nexus-slaying devices.
It's amazing how good companies are getting at eliciting that kind of reaction. Like with any launch, though, it's important to look beyond the hype to get the full picture before reaching any conclusions. And in the case of Amazon's new Kindle Fire devices, it turns out there are some significant caveats to consider.
Amazon Kindle Fire HD: The background
First, a quick primer, in case you've been hibernating these past 24 hours: Amazon announced a series of new second-gen Kindle Fire devices at a media event on Thursday. The tablets offer improved hardware and software over last year's Kindle Fire, which seemed to sell well but got dinged by users and reviewers alike for its clunky form, subpar screen, and less than admirable performance.
The new Kindle Fire HD devices attempt to address those weak points with slimmed down designs, improved displays, and more powerful processors. Amazon claims the devices provide Wi-Fi downloads that are 40 percent faster than competing tablets. The new models also boast dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus optimization as well as a handful of unique software features, such as "X-Ray," which lets you easily pull up contextual information about books and movies, and "FreeTime," which allows parents to set time and content restrictions for kids.
The prices are impressive: Amazon will sell its 16GB 7-inch Kindle Fire HD for $200 and its 16GB 8.9-inch model for $300. It'll also offer a 4G-capable 32GB 8.9 version for $500 (with that model, you get the option to buy a special 250MB/month data plan through AT&T -- which includes 20GB of cloud storage and a $10 Amazon app store credit -- for $50 a year).
But specs aside, what kind of experience are you actually getting for those prices? That's where you have to look past the press release to find the full story.
Some important counterpoints:
Despite the hardware improvements, many early hands-on reports suggest Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets still aren't up to snuff.
- NBC News said: "Perhaps our expectations were too high or perhaps we'd been spoiled by the Nexus 7 and iPad, but the Kindle Fire HD seemed downright sluggish at times, lagging at odd moments."
- The gang from Gizmodo said: "It's just not nearly as smooth as the Nexus 7 on Jelly Bean. ... It's bad enough that when you tap an icon, you wonder if you did it wrong, if maybe you didn't tap firmly enough."
- And the good folks at Droid Life noted: "The UI itself is almost identical to the original Fire, including the consistent presence of lag from the home screen. Jumping between sections like Books or Videos takes a few seconds, making the overall experience feel cheap."
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