Hands-On With The 7″ Kindle Fire HD: Excellent Display, Super Snappy, But New WiFi Is A Question Mark

Amazon just announced the Kindle Fire HD, and we heard all kinds of magical promises: a beautiful display, super duper fast WiFi, and a host of new features. On almost every count, Amazon delivered, and at a wonderful price point.

After getting up close and personal with the 7-inch Fire HD, the first thing you notice is the display. Yes, the rumors are true. It’s gorgeous. In fact, it’s on par with a Retina display iPad. All images (whether they’re within magazines, in video, on the web, or whatever) look crisp and clear. Zoom, and zoom again. You still won’t find a noticeable level of pixelation.

We also played around with a few new features, like FreeTime, and took a look at the revamped email, Facebook and Skype apps. Facebook is usually a truly terrible experience on mobile, but with better WiFi and the improved processor, the app seems to move relatively quickly. Though, logging in and firing up the app to begin with were a bit painful.

As far as responsiveness goes, the Fire HD is incredibly snappy. Scrolling through the carousel, pinching to zoom on a webpage, and flipping pages inside a magazine is a joyous experience. The words “instant gratification” come to mind, which is a bit of a contrast to most tablets (yes, even the iPad).

Unfortunately, the promise of supernaturally fast WiFi didn’t quite come to fruition. To be fair, there are about a billion reporters here clogging up the WiFi network, but loading the TechCrunch webpage and opening Facebook took a hot second. A cold second? It took longer than I expected.

The new system uses dual-band WiFi and has two different antennae, just in case your hand happens to block one. It also uses MIMO technology, which uses the echoes (caused by objects in the world) as opportunities to listen better, and thread together the original message.

I’m not saying that the new WiFi is slow by any means — I’m simply saying that it’s not as great as Bezos made it out to be. Of course, if you buy one, you won’t be enjoying the HD Fire on a crowded WiFi network, and so results may obviously vary.

The 8.9-inch model isn’t available for our playing pleasure right now, but the 7-inch model feels great in the hand. It’s got a soft-touch rubber-ish back panel that is comfortable and offers a solid grip, though it does soak up prints a bit. The corners are a bit more rounded than they were on the original Fire and it is noticeably thinner and lighter. The backside tapers to get ever-thinner toward the edge of the device, which offers a better handle on the 7-inch tablet. It’s a much smoother backside than the sharper first-gen Fire.

The dual-stereo speakers not only sound great, but add a nice design flare to the Fire HD. They lie on each side of the device, with a plastic strip running along the backside of the tab. Kindle is branded across the plastic.

All in all, I’m highly impressed. Aside from the semi-slow WiFi (which may be forgiven once I’m on my own network come review time), this is just about everything you could ask for from a tablet, and for an incredible price.