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Eye on Demand | April 25, 2017

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Amazon Fire HD 7 for Media Services Review

Amazon Fire HD 7 for Media Services Review

Review Overview

Value For Money
7
User Interface
6.5
Availability And Quality Of Services
5
6.2

Great for Travelling

It can be a difficult decision not only to choose a tablet, but also what operating system to run behind it – especially when using it for streaming television. So how does the Amazon Fire HD stand up against the amazing iPad or other Android tablets for that matter. Actually, it has one seriously killer feature…

When it comes to tablets, there really is only one leader, the iPad. Android tablets, unlike Android phones are for the most part not to be taken too seriously due to a large proportion of streaming apps either missing or just ported directly from smart phone versions. Windows tablets? Have you ever met anyone who has ever had one? And then there’s the Kindle, or Amazon Fire Kindle HD or HDX to be more accurate. If the iPad leads the pack without any question, then what exactly has the Kindle got that makes me think twice? Could this be the perfect travel companion?

First of all, we’ve used an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7 (2014 4th gen) for this review, which hovers at around US$140, but check the buying tab below for more details. In our mind, this makes a great compromise between travelling size, weight and price which is one area where we think the Kindle tablet stands out against the competition.

Secondly, this review focuses on the tablet for media services. You can do a lot of things with this device, read emails, browse the web, listen to music, read an eBook etc, but our focus is on watching video and television from the myriad of streaming services that are currently available. For details on the Fire HD‘s other features, I recommend googling for additional reviews, but if you are also interested in how this device works to watch television as well as how to mix apps from around the world and unblock any geographic restrictions, then this is likely to be the most in-depth review for the Fire HD on that subject.

held

  • Physical

    As nice as the Kindle Fire HD tablet is, this is definitely no iPad. Gone is the polished metal and thin form factor of Apple’s tablet, to be replaced with cheap plastic and a bulky body – but you didn’t expect a Kindle at this price point to match Apple’s opulence did you?

    Still, at 337grams, it is hardly heavy and sits at around the same weight as an iPad mini.

    Inside the box, you should find a quick start guide, a 5W power adapter, and USB 2.0 cable.

    Dimensions

    Video resolution on the standard 7″ HD model is 1280×800, far from the new iPad mini’s 2048×1536 IPS screen, but as you go up to the higher end HDX Kindle, this increases to 1920×1200 for the 7″ model and greater as you increase the screen real-estate.

    Despite the lower resolution, video quality is still very good for watching movies. After all, 1280×800 is extremely good for such a small display, especially when you consider a 720p video itself is 1280×780, although a full 1080p HD stream would fall short of using all native pixels due to its 1920×1080 resolution.

    The best way to look at all the various specifications is to see exactly what Amazon have to say about it all. Click the image below to expand the details.

    Specs

     

    At the end of the day, I found video quality and touch-screen responsiveness to be very good, but not quite up to the excellent level found on the latest iPads. This should be expected though, considering this device goes for around half the price.

    Battery life is around the 8hour mark, but it can and will vary, especially if you are watching a lot of videos. Since a full charge can take up to 6 hours, it may be worth carrying around an external charging battery if you are planning to use this in a plane for any length of time (Although a lot of transport options these days do include USB power ports).

    The device also sports stereo speakers, a quad-core processor (MediaTek MTK8135), 1GB of RAM, rear and front cameras, Accelerometer, gyroscope and communication via 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi & Bluetooth 4.0 LE.

    Finally, there are two memory options, 8GB or 16GB. We highly recommend the 16GB model for the main reason that this device makes a fantastic travel companion. Granted, eBooks won’t take up a lot of space, but once you start downloading videos from Amazon Prime, the BBC and All 4 onto your device for that long flight or that week in a cabin in the woods, that 16GB will go very quickly.

    What you don’t get is a microSD card slot for expandable storage or HDMI output – in fact, there are very few ways at all to expand that 16GB of local storage, which is a real shame since offline downloading can and will take up quite a bit of space.

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device can be achieved by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19185″]

     

  • Amazon Prime

    You don’t expect to buy an Amazon Kindle without filling it at least with some with Amazon content. If there is one thing the Amazon tablet can do, it does a great job at focusing on itself.

    As far as video content goes, Amazon Instant Video and Prime is well represented on this device, as it should be. But then again, so is iTunes on the iPad and Google Play on Android tablets, so what sets this platform apart from the rest? Offline downloads for Prime!

    If there is one complete failure on Netflix’s part, it is their refusal to accept the importance of offline downloads.

    In a reality bubble that would put the late Steve Jobs to shame, Netflix’s stance is that WiFi and 4G is so amazingly good these days, who could possibly need offline downloads? The answer unfortunately is nearly everyone, because it isn’t.

    Travelling is a nightmare without offline downloads. Airport and Hotel WiFi is generally speaking terrible (or is too expensive to contemplate), Airplane WiFi is often heavily restricted, and travelling on the road or in trains, not to mention abroad where Netflix’s library changes or disappears entirely builds a very strong case for offline downloads.

    Amazon see things a little differently and provide offline downloads for both Prime and Instant Video titles, meaning there will never be a reason to not be able to access your favourite television show or movie – battery capacity aside.

    Despite suggesting that they may roll this feature out to other devices several months ago, Prime’s offline downloads still remain exclusive to Kindle Fire tablets. But what a killer feature this is, especially for UK owners who also have offline downloads via the BBC iPlayer and All 4 apps.

    Amazon Prime’s video quality on these devices is brilliant, offering 1080p streams averaging 6650kbps. Granted, this is hardly needed on such a small screen that is limited on the HD by 720p, but who really cares when it just looks so good.

    Amazon Prime Kindle HD 6615kbps

     

    And while this device lacks any form of AirPlay or Chromecast support, Amazon Prime at least will cast to an Amazon Fire TV as well as a few other devices such as the PlayStation 4. One nifty thing here, is that once playback begins on the main TV, the tablet is used as a second screen with their X-Ray feature at the forefront (Amazon’s X-Ray is a great way to find out more about a TV show or film, from actor bios to music that is currently playing).

    Amazon’s UI is as should be expected, excellent, although I never really feel comfortable seeing the mix of Prime and Instant Video titles together. It always makes me feel like I haven’t got a great deal with Prime, since so many titles are not available under the sub, but require renting or purchasing instead. This doesn’t mean that Amazon Prime doesn’t have a great library, but it does highlight the gaps more than Netflix which doesn’t offer a PAYG catalogue.

    If you want to try Amazon Prime, the great news is that there is a free trial for an entire month! This risk-free test of the service will give you complete access to all of Prime’s features, which not only includes the Movie and Television library, but also the music service (where available), free delivery on many items, the eBook lending library and more. Just remember that if you don’t want to continue Prime, you must cancel the free trial before the month is up. Otherwise head to Amazon US to Prime in America, Amazon UK for the British service, or Amazon DE if you live in Germany.

    Amazon Instant Video & Prime Pros:

    • Brilliant UI.
    • Directly accessible from Home screen.
    • Cross Platform Support
    • Watchlist and Resume.
    • Beautiful 1080p HD streams averaging 6500kbps*
    • Offline downloads for Prime and Instant Video!
    • Second Screen options.
    • Excellent Episode Management.

    Amazon Instant Video & Prime Cons:

    • No Netflix-style region switching via Smart DNS.

    Unblocking Amazon Prime on this device can be achieved by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19185″]

     

     

  • Streaming Apps

    At the end of the day, any device used for streaming television these days is only as good as the apps that can be installed on it. Unfortunately, the Kindle Fire HD sits third on the list of major supported streaming services behind Android tablets and the frontrunner, Apple’s iPad.

    That said, one huge advantage over Android is that all the apps are designed for the tablet format, unlike a good portion of Android apps that are nothing more than scaled mobile phone versions.

    Whilst the iPad doesn’t suffer from this problem at all, at this stage at least, only the Kindle Fire HD/HDX allows Amazon Prime content to be downloaded for offline access.

    There are of course the expected apps. Amazon’s UK store offers the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, Demand 5 and UKTV Play, along with TVPlayer, TVcatch-up FilmOn and Mediahhh. But sorely missing is Now TV, Wuaki.tv and BBC Sport.

    The US store has Hulu, HBO Now, A&E, Lifetime, History, PBS, Watch ABC, CBS, NBC Sports Live Extra, FOX Now, Watch ESPN, but missing was NBC, Showtime (the OTT version), Crackle and Sling TV.

    German users, have Zattoo, Das Erste, ARD Mediathek,, ZDF, MagineTV and Arte, but no Watchever or MaxDome – at least on the device we had access to.

    And this is where the problem is; although nowhere near as rampant and painful as Android fragmentation, there were a number of situations where I couldn’t install an app for my reference Kindle Fire HD 7″ (4th Generation), despite an app being available.

    Finally, Netflix and Plex were examples of global apps also available on this device, but generally speaking, unless you use the trick mentioned later in this review, you will only be able to install apps created for your own region. To replicate the home screen shown below, simply follow the steps as described in the Combining Regional Apps & Global Access tab.

    Apps

    What is important to point out, is that despite being an Android device, the Kindle restricts the number of apps to a curated bunch available on the Amazon app store (which means no access to Google Play apps). There is no doubt that this will be a restriction to some, but not to everyone.

    Unblocking selected apps on this device can be achieved by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19185″]

  •  

  • UI

    Under the hood, the device runs Fire OS 4 “Sangria,” which is basically a heavily modified version of Android 4.4 KitKat that hardly resembles anything a normal Android phone would have, which is why it seems so full of less-than-subtle Amazon links.

    Let’s be honest here. Kindle Fire tablets, as great as they are, are subsidised by Amazon. These devices are effectively a shopfront for Amazon. Granted Apple do this a bit with their own apps that can’t be deleted, and Android likes to push Google content, but neither as obvious as Amazon here.

    This is compounded by the two alternative ways to purchase, with ads, or without. Cunningly, Amazon call the ad-funded version “with special offers”, which makes it even sound more attractive. If you choose this, it will cost a slightly bit less than the ad-free version. These ads aren’t overbearing, and are only visible on the lock-screen and at the bottom of the home screen, but during our test, we only saw them on the lock-screen.

    The home screen itself has a menu at the very top of the screen offering a selection of options, from bringing up the shop, apps, music, books, videos etc, but the best feature are the giant recent apps or shows/games that were last used right at the front of the home screen. This makes it extremely quick to access your most used items.

    If for instance, you use Netflix and the BBC iPlayer the most, they will always be right at the front. Halfway through a television episode from Amazon Prime, that will also sit there at the recent items, allowing very quick access back to the show at hand. Users of the Amazon Fire TV will be very familiar with this great feature.

    Another good idea is the new profile option, that allows families to setup individual profiles for each person so the little bank drainers angels can customise their own home screen, email, social media accounts etc and keep pink ponies and Spongebox away from Sense8 and True Detective.

    Outside of that, the touch-screen is not as responsive as the iPad, but about the same as most high-end Android devices, which is still a pretty good level to be at.

     

  • Combining Regional Apps & Global Access

    One of the biggest problems with any device used for streaming television, is the general practice by broadcasters to restrict apps by country. Some set-top-boxes such as the Roku are notorious for their inability to install apps from anything over one country at a time, but tablets tend to be a little more forgiving.

    On the bad side, the Kindle Fire TV isn’t quite as easy to add global apps like the iPad, but it is not terribly difficult either. Essentially, you will have to switch your country in the Manage Your Content and Devices section of Amazon’s website, install the additional apps you want, then switch it back to normal again.

    Disclaimer: As far as I know, there are no major issues involved in switching Amazon regions back and forth. However, as a disclaimer, we take no responsibility if for any reason unknown to us, content is lost, settings are upset or any other complication or loss arise from making any changes described below. We highly recommend normalising your Amazon account afterwards by returning to your usual country, this can avoid issues in the future when ordering items off Amazon.

    The goal of this guide is to mix apps from various Amazon Prime regions onto the single Kindle Fire hub, so you can have services such as the BBC iPlayer & All 4 sit next to HBO Now, Hulu and ZDF or Zattoo.

    The trick is to switch your region to another country, install the required apps, then switch back to your normal country.

    Step 1

    Log into your Amazon account at the normal webpage for your country, and from the top/right hand side select Manage Your Content and Devices from the drop down menu.

    Step 1

     

    Step 2

    Click the Settings button, and then on Country Settings, click Change.

    .

    Step 2

     

    Step 3

    Enter the address of the new country you want to switch your account to. Although you need an actual address, unless you send something there, it will not receive any actual deliveries. Make sure you change the country field to the new region you want to switch your account to. Click Update when complete.

    Step 3

     

    Step 4

    Read the short info panel on what the changes will invoke, and if you are fine with this, click Update again. After this is done, you may be required to log into the new Amazon website in the new country. This should be your normal account and password, and I recommend checking the Manage Your Content and Devices page to ensure you are now in your new store.

    Step 4

     

    Step 5

    Reboot your Kindle Fire HD tablet, and head to the app store on the device. You should now be in the alternative country store. Simply search and download the apps from this regional store that you want to install.

    Step 5

     

    Step 6

    When you have all the apps installed, return back to step 1, and repeat everything to normalise your Amazon account back to how it was before (presuming you don’t want to permanently move to another county’s account).


     

    IMPORTANT: Installing apps from different countries will not guarantee that the apps actually work. Most streaming services geoblock their apps to only work in IP addresses found in their own region. In order to access content from other countries, either a good VPN or Smart DNS service is required.

    Smart DNS is by far the best option for accessing content from multiple countries, mainly because once it is set up, it can generally be forgotten. Unfortunately, not a lot of Smart DNS providers officially support the Kindle Fire HD Tablets, but that doesn’t mean that many apps won’t be geographically unblocked still.

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device has been achieved by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19173″]

     

    GOTCHAS: Like anything, there may be a few trip hazards along the way.

    • Make sure you have one-click purchasing set up, and to the correct regional store. This can be done in your Amazon account settings.
    • Some apps require a local credit card or alternative payment method even if they are free (This is another form of restricting to regions). If you don’t have a local credit card in the new region you are switching to, it is possible the app will not accept your existing credit card. The way around this is to buy the cheapest local Amazon Voucher from the new region (which is usually $1, 1€ or £1), remove the credit card, and then you will be able to download the apps.

     

     

     

  • Compared to

    iPad mini: Whilst the latest iPad Mini 3 with Retina Display would be best compared to the Kindle HDX, the iPad Mini 2 would be the closest match to the Kindle Fire HD 7″ 4th Gen, and even then it comes in at nearly double the price.

    There is a reason for this extra dosh, and most of it is associated with the higher manufacturing quality. The iPad oozes class and there is hardly any plastic in sight. It’s stainless steal body feels stronger and far more durable, and it’s screen still sports a retina display with double the resolution.

    But what sets the iPad apart from everything else is the phenomenal amount of apps available. Yes, Android technically has more apps overall, but iOS has more broadcasting apps and they often have additional features – the fact remains that for the most part, if a broadcasting television app exists, it will first be available for iOS, then Android and then the Kindle.

    the iPad 2 mini can be found at Amazon US here, Amazon UK here or Amazon DE here.

    iPadMini2

    Android tablets: There are just so many different Android tablets to mention here, all of which have their pros and cons, and this is the main problem with Android. Video and build quality varies so greatly, we would have to run individual reviews for each and every model, something that is currently not possible.

    Then, we have the infamous Android fragmentation that means you never really know what device will support which apps, a problem that becomes quite annoying when trying to install some of the various streaming apps from around the world.

    We’ve been testing apps on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4″, which is technically their flagship tablet model, meaning it can be even more expensive than the iPad mini 2. But, for the most part it does an adequate job and although I by far prefer the iPad (I would rather use an ageing 3 year old iPad than the latest Samsung), if Apple is a no-go in your home, this is a realistic option.

    Just like the iPad, there is no way to download Amazon Prime for offline consumption.

    The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4″ can be found at Amazon US here, Amazon UK here, or Amazon DE here.

    SamsungS

  • Where to Buy

    There may be better places in the world to buy an Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet than Amazon, so let us know what you’ve found out, but until then, we’re gonna recommend the horses mouth.

    Flag US SmallTo purchase from Amazon US, check out the latest deals here.

     

    Flag UK Small

    To purchase from Amazon UK, check out the latest deals here.

     

    German FlagTo purchase from Amazon DE, check out the latest deals here.

     

     

  • Conclusion

    The Amazon Kindle Fire HD is an extremely good value tablet for its size and quality, especially for UK owners (or those accessing UK content via Smart DNS or VPN).

    Why the Brits in particular? The UK’s two largest catch-up television apps, the BBC iPlayer and Channel 4’s All 4 also both feature offline downloads. Add the content from these two catch-up TV app’s massive libraries to Amazon Prime, and you have a phenomenal range of television shows and movies that can be downloaded for the big trip.

    Throw in a couple of eBooks as well, and you’ll be hard pressed to get board once you leave home.

    Of course, people outside of the UK can also add those two free catch-up services to their collection of apps, as long as they have a good Smart DNS or VPN service.

    The fact that apps from different countries can relatively easily be installed onto the single hub via an unofficial, though easy method also makes this device rather attractive, but at the end of the day it also comes down to its price.

    For what you get, the Amazon Kindle Fire HD is one of the best value tablets on the market – although it does this by subsidising the device as a shopping card for many of Amazon’s wares and services.

    Although the device will work perfectly without Amazon Prime, we feel it is by far of greater value when the user has an active Amazon Prime subscription, as this adds not only the large range of movie and television content, but also the new music service (in the US and UK) and the fantastic ability to download the Prime content for offline access – something not possible with an iPad or Android tablet.

    If you want to try Amazon Prime, the great news is that there is a free trial for an entire month! This risk-free test of the service will give you complete access to all of Prime’s features, which not only includes the Movie and Television library, but also the music service (where available), free delivery on many items, the eBook lending library and more. Just remember that if you don’t want to continue Prime, that you must cancel the free trial before the month is up, otherwise head to Amazon US to try the American service, Amazon UK for the British service, or Amazon DE if you live in Germany.

    Pros:

    • Great value for money.
    • Good build quality.
    • Offline downloads for Prime content.
    • Ability to mix apps from different countries (using unofficial method)
    • Light and plenty of accessories.
    • Ability to set up profiles.

    Cons:

    • Plastic body is not as nice as iPad.
    • 16GB max storage – not really enough in my mind.
    • No easy way to add additional local storage.
    • No HDMI out.
    • No MiniSD card.
    • Not as many apps as iOS or Android.
    • a bit on the bulky side.
    • No access to Google Play. (Amazon App store only)

    Log:

    11.08.2015: Review published: Score: 6.2 “Great for Travelling”

    Unblocking geographic restrictions on this device can be achieved by the following Smart DNS providers:

    [pro_ad_display_adzone id=”19178″]

     

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    (Note: Some selected photos used in this review are property of Amazon)

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