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The Kindle Fire HD delivers better ergonomics, a slight bump in performance, better audio quality, improved color fidelity/vividness, more consistent network connectivity, and the refinements introduced in Google's Ice Cream Sandwich release. In short, the Kindle Fire HD is perhaps the first tablet truly worthy of Amazon's established brand name.
I know it's way too easy to say something like this in retrospect, but this is what the first-gen Kindle Fire should have been, and it really makes the second-gen version of the non-HD tablet seem unnecessary. Amazon might have sped up its SoC and installed a new operating system, but the vanilla Fire still comes across as outdated. For $40 less than the Kindle Fire HD or Nexus 7, you only get half of the storage space. Plus, the second-gen Kindle Fire is significantly slower than Google's tablet.
As enthusiasts, performance is really where we get rubbed the wrong way. Amazon leverages a tried-and-true fourth-generation OMAP SoC. But it's already losing to more competitive Tegra 3-based tablets, which will be replaced by Tegra 4 early next year, we hear.
And our complaints extend beyond the CPU or graphics functionality. Amazon improves the Kindle Fire HD's Wi-Fi connectivity, but the second-gen model is still quite a bit slower than Google's Nexus 7. Further, the benefits enabled by Amazon's Silk browser haven't changed for the most part. In the end, you're better off disabling "accelerated page loading" under the browser's settings.
So, why not just buy a Nexus 7 and be done with it? After all, that was the first tablet we pinned an award to.
Well, content distribution is still a battleground. Buying a Nexus 7 locks you into Google's Play store and its movies, newspapers, magazines, and music. Amazon does the same thing with its Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, but this is arguably Amazon's home turf more than Google's. If you want to watch streaming Amazon Prime content on a Nexus 7, you have to install Flash and Firefox. And you can't access Google Play on one of Amazon's tablets unless you root them and load Google API programs.
The tablet business model is different now than it was last year. The major content distributors have seen the potential, and are jumping into the hardware game with gusto. They don't mind selling cheap tablets, so long as they make their money back on music, movies, books, and magazines. Unlike before, where you'd get locked into Apple's ecosystem, Google's (with any Android-based device), or HP's, now you have companies like Amazon carving out their own niche, locking you into a separate network, almost like a cellular provider. You'll have to be the one to decide if you're cool with that.
For us, our opinion of last year's Kindle Fire still holds true for today's Kindle Fire HD. If you are an Amazon content addict, this tablet is going to seem like a substantial upgrade over the older Kindle Fire; it actually might be worth upgrading. But if you don't make frequent purchases from Amazon, you're going to want to think about a more performance-oriented Android-based tablet from a manufacturer offering faster hardware and a less restrictive software environment.