Amazon Fire HD 7 Tablet (2014) Review

Design & User Interface

Amazon isn't known for bundling extravagant extras with its tablet line, so when you tear into the box, don't expect to find a bunch of added extras. What you get is the tablet itself, a charging cable, power adapter, and a piece of paper that briefly outlines the Fire HD (such as where to find the power button, etc). It's a slim "bundle," if you want to use that word, though we're much more content with receiving the bare minimum considering the $139 price tag. Sure, we'd like a set of earphones tossed in, but like the much more expensive iPad Air 2, the lack of included accessories isn't all that egregious.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7

As the name implies, the Fire HD 7 sports a 7-inch display with a 1280x800 resolution (216 pixels per inch). That's a bit subdued by today's standards, as even smartphones are pushing resolutions in the range of 2560x1440, though a recurring theme here is going to be the price -- we're not being apologists, but for $139, it's hard to be overly critical of certain features, this being one of them.

There are no physical buttons on the front of the Fire HD. However, when you're inside an application, tapping the display brings up a row of touch-sensitive buttons that usually include the back arrow, home button, search button, and if applicable a pull-up menu with additional options like print, share, and so forth.

The display is quite good overall with plenty of brightness, generous viewing angles, bright whites, dark blacks, and nice color saturation. It's not the sharpest we've seen, and you can definitely notice a gap between the LCD and digitizer, but it's sufficient for watching videos or browsing through photos on a 7-inch screen. We were especially impressed with its comparative visibility in sunlight with the brightness cranked up. It's not ideal to use the Fire HD 7 outside on a clear summer day, but it's viewable, especially when you engage Reading View, which removes clutter from websites and presents content in an e-book like style.

Amazon Fire HD 7 Back

Though we like the hardware that's sitting underneath the hood, we're not as sold on the plastic design of the Fire HD's chassis. It just doesn't feel like a premium device, and though it isn't one at $139, the Fire HD's construction feels like a downgrade compared to previous models or devices like the Nexus 7 (which Google recently discontinued).

We'll give credit to Amazon for trying to mold the case into something fancier than it is with slightly chamfered edges on the underside, and it's nice to have distinct color options. But at the same time, the feel is a constant reminder that you went the budget route.

Amazon Fire HD 7 and Apple iPad Air 2

The chamfered bezel on the underside of the Fire HD 7 also serves to hide some of the device's thickness. However, when placed on its back and compared against the iPad Air 2, the Fire HD 7's polar opposite in the tablet world, you can see just how thick it is by comparison. Officially, Amazon measures the depth at 0.4 inches (10.6 millimeters), or nearly twice that of the iPad Air 2, which checks in at 0.24 inches (6.1 millimeters). Again, this speaks to the budget route and lack of a premium feel in the Fire HD 7's construction.

Amazon Fire Power Button
Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 Volume

Up on top of the Fire HD 7 is a power button, micro USB port for hooking up the charging cable and/or connecting to your PC, 3.5mm audio jack, and a built-in microphone. That's the extent of ports -- as before, there's no microSD card slot for expandable storage or HDMI output.

There is one thing that is new, however, and that's the physical volume rocker. It's a welcome addition to the Fire HD 7, and in addition to adjusting the volume, it also adjusts the zoom in and out functionality when taking pictures.

Amazon Fire HD 7 Speakers

The Fire HD 7 pumps audio out of a pair of dual-stereo speakers on the right-hand side, with support for Dolby Digital Plus, which includes things like a Dialogue Enhancer. Dolby Digital Plus should also deliver cleaner audio and virtual surround sound than unaltered raw audio.

By placing the speakers on the side, you'll get the best audio experience in landscape mode, which puts them at the top or bottom and equally balanced to the left and right. No matter how you hold it, the Fire HD delivers acceptable audio that doesn't sound strained or distorted at full blast. There's not enough volume to fill a room with party music, nor is there much bass to speak of, but for a tablet, the speakers do an above average job.

Amazon Fire HD 7 Case

Due to the popularity of the Fire HD 7 and Amazon's overall tablet line, accessories are easy to come by, both from third-parties and Amazon itself. Amazon included the Standing Protective Case with our review model, a $35 case that's available in black, cayenne, citron, cobalt, magenta, and purple.

It's a magnetic polyurethane enclosure that protects the front and back of the Fire HD 7 and also serves as a stand. There's a cutout for the rear-facing camera, though it gets covered up by the front flap when you fold it behind Fire HD 7. And if you don't, using the camera feels awkward.

The case doubles as a stand -- it can hold the Fire HD 7 up in either portrait or landscape mode for hands-free viewing.

Fire OS 4 (Sangria)

What truly separates the Fire HD 7 from other tablets is the software. This is a device that's intended to hook you into Amazon's ecosystem, and it does that through Fire OS 4 "Sangria," a custom version of Android 4.4 KitKat that's tuned for all things Amazon.

Amazon Fire HD 7 Screenshot
Amazon Fire HD 7 Screenshot
Amazon Fire HD 7 Screenshot

At a glance, there's hardly any trace of Android in the UI. Instead of a home screen with apps scattered about like a desktop, the main screen consists of a top row of links (Search, Shop, Games, Apps, Books, Music, Videos, Newsstand, Audiobooks, Web, Photos, and Docs), a content carousal in the middle containing recently opened apps, and a row of apps at the bottom. To view more apps, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Likewise, swiping down from the top opens up the notifications area and provides access to settings and other features.

One of the big new features in Fire OS 4 is Profiles. If you share your Fire HD 7 with other members of your family, you can setup individual profiles so that little Billy can customize his own home screen, email, social media accounts, and so on.

Amazon Fire HD 7 X-Ray Music Amazon Fire HD 7 Browser Amazon Fire HD 7 App Store

There are quite a few subtle touches to the Fire HD 7 experience, such as X-Ray for music. When you play a song, lyrics are displayed and scroll automatically line-by-line so you can sing right along. We also like that print support and Private Browsing have been added to the Silk browser.

Amazon's tight integration with its online services isn't without its downsides. The biggest is that you're limited to Amazon's App Store for Android apps. There's no going to Google Play to fetch Snapchat, Instagram, or Dropbox, to name some of the more notable omissions.

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