Amazon Fire HD 7 full review
In truth, it isn't much different to last year's 7in Kindle Fire HD, but it does have front and rear cameras, which the outgoing model lacked. It seems Amazon realised that people want cameras on their tablet: it's just a shame that they're the same as the awful pair found on the much cheaper Fire HD 6.
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Amazon Fire HD 7 review: design and screen
Colours are also new and you have a choice of black, white, magenta, cobalt or citron. Our advice is to avoid the latter - it's almost the same shade as a yellow highlighter, and we received some less-than-impressed glances from fellow commuters during testing.
Oddly, Amazon has moved away from the rear-mounted buttons of last year's Fire HD. The sleep/wake button is on the top edge (with the headphone socket, microUSB port and microphone) and there's a volume rocker on the left-hand side.
Thick bezels around the screen make the HD 7 bigger than other 7in tablets, but it doesn't weigh a whole lot more than the HD 6 at 337g (versus 290g).
On the back the speakers are placed down the left-hand side, but when you're watching videos this becomes the top edge. They sound very good, considering their size and are more than loud enough. We'd prefer front-facing speakers, though.
The 7in IPS screen has the same 1280x800-pixel resolution as last year, but because it's also the same as the HD 6, it has a lower density of 216ppi. It's no cause for complaint, though, as everything still looks sharp from a normal viewing distance: photos, text and videos.
The backlight is fairly bright, but it's very annoying that brightness isn’t automatically adjusted for the ambient light conditions.
Amazon Fire HD 7 review: hardware and performance
Despite the extra price - a £40 premium for each equivalent model - you don't get any extra storage. The base model at £119 has 8GB (5GB usable) and you'll pay £139 for 16GB. As ever, if you don't want adverts on the lock screen it's an extra £10.
The rest of the internal hardware is identical to the HD 6, so it has the same speedy quad-core processor, single-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4 and no GPS receiver.
We saw virtually identical results in our benchmarks, and you'll have no complaints about the HD 7's performance for web browsing, launching apps, playing casual games etc.
Amazon Fire HD 7 review: software
The Fire HD 7 runs the same updated Fire OS 4 software as the HD 6. It's easy to use and Amazon has continued to add useful features which make it a perfectly decent alternative to Android, for undemanding users, that is.
For example, a feature which will be added in the near future is Family Library. You'll be able to link two Amazon accounts so you can share all your purchased content with, say, a wife or husband.
The Fire HD 7 obviously lacks any Google apps or the Google Play store, but Amazon's services are tightly integrated so it's easy to buy a new Kindle book, an app, game or MP3 album. The Prime Instant Video service has improved since last year with more titles on offer and the newfound ability to download certain movies and TV shows for watching offline (finally!). You get
Not all videos can be downloaded, but a good proportion can, so it's a bit frustrating when the one you've chosen to watch doesn't have the download button. Fortunately, if you tap the menu, you can view only those films or TV shows which can be downloaded.
It's also a little confusing that the search brings up TV shows and films which aren't included in an Instant Video subscription - i.e. those that you can buy outright - and we couldn't find an option to filter the search and show only items you can watch with your subscription (as you can in the iOS version of Prime Instant Video).
If you have a PS3, PS4, an Amazon Fire TV or a compatible Samsung TV you can use Second Screen to beam your videos to your TV. This then frees up your tablet for playback controls and Amazon's handy X-Ray feature. This works just like on a Kindle eReader, showing which actors are in the film and other information. You can also run other apps while the video plays.
The Second Screen feature also lets you connect headphones and listen to the audio from your tablet, just as you can with a Roku 3.
FreeTime is Amazon's kid-friendly mode which lets you set up different profiles and restrict the apps, games, videos and books available to each child. FreeTime 3.0 (which will be added in a future update) will add Teen Profiles for kids from 8-13.
As we mentioned at the start, the cameras are disappointing. The camera app may support panoramas, HDR photos and full HD video, but the actual quality of photos and video from the 2Mp rear camera is well below par for a tablet costing this much. In anything but excellent light, quality is appalling.
The front camera is good only for Skype chats - selfies aren't really good enough even for posting to Facebook. The fact that all these photos and videos are stored for free in Amazon's cloud isn't much of a consolation.
Amazon Fire HD 7 review: verdict
While it's relatively easy to recommend the HD 6 at £79 or £99, it's significantly harder to like the HD 7 at £119 or £139.
For £129, Tesco's larger Hudl 2 has 16GB of storage, and you can pop in a cheap microSD card for up to 32GB extra. The 8.3in screen has a full HD resolution (Amazon's 7in Fire HDX has this, but starts at a whopping £199). The Hudl 2 also has a GPS receiver, dual-band Wi-Fi and a micro-HDMI output.
Importantly, it runs Android and has the Google Play store plus all of Google's useful apps. It also has decent parental controls, allowing you to create multiple profiles and set time limits.
Really, the choice is obvious: you can get Amazon's Kindle app for Android and also Prime Instant Video if you want to use those services. You've then got the vast choice of apps in Google's store and you're not limited to making do without the official YouTube app.
Amazon Fire HD 7: Specs
- 7in tablet
- 1280x800 touchscreen, 216ppi
- 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: 191x1283x10.6mm
- Weight: 337g
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