My thoughts on 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, 2012 edition

When last week, Amazon (s AMZN) announced a whole slew of new Kindle devices including a new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, I asked the Seattle-based company if they would send me a device. I normally don’t really review devices — that is what my colleague Kevin Tofel excels at — but this time I was a tad curious. I am sure Kevin is going to write his own impressions.

I use these new devices to learn about them, to compare them with some of the other devices that crowd my workspace and to form an educated opinion about them especially when writing about respective companies or platforms strategies. I will dispense with the requisite review stuff — packaging, features and details — and leave better experts to extol those virtues (or lack thereof.) Instead, here are some of my early impressions after using the seven-inch Kindle Fire HD for about three days.

First, what’s good about the Kindle Fire HD:

  • The new 7-inch Kindle Fire is simple, sleek and easy to hold, though it is a little bigger than Google’s 7-inch Nexus tablet made by Asus. They weigh almost the same and both of them are easy to hold and use. Kindle Fire feels more solid in my hands as well and, as Amazon promised, it boasts amazing WiFi connectivity — perhaps the best so far in any device I have either owned or tried.
  • How does it stack up against the first generation Kindle Fire? Think of the transformation of an ugly duckling with a limp to an elegant swan.
  • The most impressive thing about Kindle Fire is something I liked in its first iteration, too: It is not an iPad clone. Amazon has developed a good user interface and deserves credit for it.
  • When it comes to the screen, Kindle Fire feels a little less sharp than Google’s Nexus — but to be honest, I find both of them lacking. I am used to the Retina display on my iPad 3 and as a result expect a certain crispness from the screen that is just not there on Android-based tablets.
  • If this is Android(s goog), then you can’t really tell. It is buried under Amazon’s UI that is optimized almost entirely to showcase Amazon’s digital offerings — books, movies and music. Sure you can buy other things from Amazon too, but this device is made for “digital content.”
  • The iTunes Coverflow style navigation through latest pieces of content has become smoother and more fluid. It very quickly becomes a default behavior on the tablet.
  • Buying books is so simple. The one-click purchase meant that I have blown through about $30 on various Kindle Singles. To be honest, the book buying and reading experience is so seamless that it makes the shortcomings of the Kindle app on iPad quite glaring.
  • Being an Amazon Prime member means I get access to a lot of video content for free. It is easy to stream movies and television shows, but I found the quality of video not quite up to the mark. I have the Amazon Prime app on my iPad and when compared to Kindle Fire, it just is better. This is an area where Amazon can and should improve.
  • These days I don’t really buy music — I use Spotify for all my listening, so from that perspective I am not sure I would use Amazon’s music service. However, I have a Amazon Cloud Player account and accessed my older music on the Kindle Fire. It was a flawless experience, and thanks to a very robust home network, I enjoyed listening to music via my Bowers & Wilkins headphones without a problem. The experience, like the book store, is pretty seamless.
  • Frankly, I saw no problems with ads on the device. They are very tastefully done and the offers are actually useful and interesting. In a post-Groupon world, they feel a lot less commercial.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he wanted people to use his devices and that he wanted people to buy stuff on their devices. From that standpoint, Kindle Fire does deliver — especially when it comes to digital content. However, it is not all peaches and champagne. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD edition has some key shortcomings in my opinion.

  • Unlike Kevin Tofel, I am having a tough time getting used to browsing on the 7-inch screen.
  • The Silk browser might have added a few hundred horsepower since its birth, but it still doesn’t feel fluid enough to me.
  • The pesky Retina display has raised my expectations when it comes to web-surfing and I found the web browsing experience a let down.
  • The OS that powered the first version of Kindle Fire was as smooth as the skin on the feet of a long distance runner. The new Kindle Fire is a remarkable improvement, but I found it was a shade less fluid than the Google’s Nexus. I do think iOS powered iPad is the gold standard. A few more iterations and Amazon is going to get there.
  • While reading apps like Twitter and ESPN Center apps are good enough to use on this tablet, I wasn’t blown away by apps-on-Fire. Sure you can play games, but even in three days, I felt that there was something missing. You can feel, for the lack of a better word, “that five percent.”
  • Amazon made a big song-and-dance about its mail app – and let’s just say, it didn’t meet expectations. (Not that Apple’s email app is anything to write home about, either.)
  • The keyboard keys are not as sharp as one would expect and I had a tough time typing long email replies.
  • Amazon could spend some time making searching through its store for non-digital content easier — visual perhaps — and smoother.

So what is the bottom line?

Admittedly, I am biased towards iPad, having used it from the time it went on sale. I am used to its gestures. I know how to get the most out of it. It is perhaps one of the biggest challenges I have when using non-iPad devices. However, my three-day hands-on experience is enough to say that despite the shortcomings, Amazon has become an option.

If you are tied to the Amazon ecosystem — you know you buy books, movies and music from them — then this is a device that should find an easy room in your bag, especially if your other option was buying a standalone Kindle. And if you are one of those who has never owned a tablet and are on a tight budget, then Kindle Fire is worth a consideration — well, unless Apple announces a similar 7-inch device. I know what I would buy.