Showing posts with label Amazon Fire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amazon Fire. Show all posts

Monday, 27 November 2017

Fire HD 8 or Fire HD 10?

First, the Fire 7 is not a viable option. The Fire 7 works well as a secondary tablet, something to take on a commute/travel or a child's tablet. For a primary tablet it is just too slow and its paltry 1 GB RAM makes multi-tasking frustrating. This means, as a primary tablet, choice is restricted to either the HD 8 or HD 10.

In my view, while the Fire HD 10 is clearly the better overall tablet and the one to choose, the answer also depends on the needs and preference of the end-user. If preference is for a compact and lighter tablet then the HD 8 is the better option. The Fire HD 10 is a large and relatively heavy tablet (the issue isn’t just the screen size – large top and bottom bezels make the device awkward to hold). The HD8’s screen is a downgrade, in comparison to the HD 10, but that doesn’t mean it is a poor one. Also, the tablet is zippy and the 1.5GB RAM manages multi-tasking well.

If size/cost is a non-issue then the Fire HD 10 is the tablet to choose (it is faster, comes with more RAM and the screen is far better). The Fire HD 10, for its size, is not the heaviest large tablet (the device weighs 500G). In comparison, the Samsung Tab A 10.1 weighs 565G and the 9.7 inch Apple iPad weighs 469G. In other words, if the end-user prefers a larger tablet or doesn’t need something more compact then the Fire HD 10’s weight shouldn’t be a major issue – its weight falls within the category average of larger tablets. Yes, its form-factor makes it awkward to hold but this is a minor issue.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Fire HD 10 review: A tablet defined by its screen

Overall, the Fire HD 10 is the best tablet Amazon released since taking the budget route. Take away the cameras, many vendors match Amazon's specifications, at a similar price, but few, if any, offer similar screen quality and 32GB storage in its base configuration.

Display & Storage

Based on the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update (late 2016), I was expecting a lacklustre screen with the Fire HD 10 2017, to keep the cost low, and still offer a full HD resolution (the 6th generation Fire HD 8 came with a downgraded screen and cameras). Instead, I was surprised with the Fire HD 10's display - the colours are vibrant and contrast is very good. However, similar to the 6th generation Fire HD 8 update, there is a downgrade in build quality, drastic downgrade in camera quality and added weight to the device. The downgrades are worthwhile, as you get a better screen, better battery life, more RAM, faster processor and twice the entry level storage. To compare, the 16 GB 5th generation Fire HD 10 (released late 2015) cost £170 and this generation's 32 GB costs £150. 

The extra storage options is part of Amazon's Fire tablet strategy: a family-centric medium to access Amazon's services and Prime content. As these tablets are targeted as family devices then the extra storage is meant for offline content for multiple users. For example, the 7th generation Fire HD 8 is near identical to the previous generation but offers extra expandable SD Card storage (the tablet supports up to 256GB expandable storage).

Build Quality, Performance & Battery Life

The device's design and build quality, keeping with the general ethos of Fire tablets, is utilitarian. The plastic back-casing feels solid in the hand and the tablet does not feel flimsy. Unfortunately, similar to the Fire HD 8, the Fire HD 10 is no light tablet. The weight is close to 500 Grams and the heft is clearly felt. Further, added to the weight, this is no compact device with large bezels at the top and bottom. 

Performance is good: the Fire HD 10 opens applications instantly, there is hardly any lag and multi-tasking is handled comfortably. Battery life is advertised as 'up to 10 hours' and from consistent use that seems to be the best-case scenario (low brightness and non-intensive tasks e.g. e-reading); in reality, with mixed use, expect closer to eight hours. The Fire HD 10 is the fastest performing Fire tablet but the Fire HD 8's battery life lasts longer. 

Fire OS

I like Fire OS 5.6; it is a heavily modified version of Android 5 Lollipop that doesn't come with Android's large footprint. Thus, more storage space is available 'out-of-the-box' with less bloat and space taken with built-in system applications that push Google services. The down-side is that the Fire OS doesn't come with Google Play. Amazon's app store does offer a good range of applications but is inferior to Google Play's catalogue. Further, many key applications are missing, including Google's suite of applications. However, it is possible, even for the novice user, to install Google Play on the tablet (the process doesn't take more than ten minutes).

At the moment, the Fire HD 10 is the only Amazon tablet that supports Alexa hands free. This means Alexa can be activated by voice alone. Pair the tablet to a Bluetooh speaker and the device offers the functionality of an Echo device. 

The Negatives

As is the case with Amazon's tablets there are corners cut to keep the cost low. The Fire HD 10 is no different and the biggest downgrade in this iteration, other than build materials and weight, is the Fire HD 10's cameras. There is a back 2MP camera and front-facing VGA camera; the VGA camera is just about serviceable for Skype calls and the back camera is better not used at all. I tried to photo scan a printed document, in good conditions, and the result was barely legible.

Despite the negatives, I think Amazon, once again, cut the right corners and produced a very good value tablet. Sacrificing camera quality in a tablet makes sense and this meant Amazon were able to release a tablet with a screen that is above its price category.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Kindle special offers

Amazon sell their e-readers and Fire tablets with and without special offers. Special offers, in the case of Fire tablets, are not intrusive. Tablets are multi-functional devices and the special offers that appear on the lock-screen do not intrude on the user accessing their applications. Kindle e-readers, in contrast, are single purpose devices and turning on the device means returning to an e-book (the device shouldn't get in the way of its single purpose i.e. reading). Special offers appearing on the sleep screen means the user needs to turn on the device and then swipe to bypass the advertisement to then return to an e-book. Even worse Amazon imposes an advertisement banner at the bottom of the screen when navigating the Kindle. With the restricted screen estate of a 6 - 7 inch Kindle e-reader this is a nuisance.  Special offers displayed on e-readers, in my view, are an imposition and should be removed altogether. A possible alternative might be to place a designated permanent icon to access special offers in the top tool bar (similar to the GoodReads icon).

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Amazon cuts the right corners again with the updated Fire HD 10

Amazon announced the release of their Fire HD 10 and, again, they've cut the right corners. The Fire HD 10 2017 gets a similar 'upgrade/downgrade' and slash in cost as the 2016 Fire HD 8 update. Yes, there is a higher resolution, better battery, more RAM/storage and faster processor. However, at the same time, the back camera has been significantly downgraded and the overall weight of the tablet increased. I would also speculate, judging from the 2016 Fire HD 8 update, that the 2017 HD 10's screen quality is downgraded compared to the previous generation (screen quality is just as important as resolution). Overall, Amazon are cutting the right corners again, as they did with the 2016 Fire HD 8. The latest iteration, on paper, is the the best value large tablet.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Fire 7 is still a good secondary or child friendly device

The Fire 7 gets the basics right - a capable device for streaming video content, checking email, reading e-books, listening to audio books etc. In other words, it is an affordable and compact medium to access Prime content and more. Below is a short review of the updated Fire 7 in comparison to the previous generation (released late 2015):
  • Performance is adequate but can be frustrating when multi-tasking, switching between applications and loading content (the device comes with only 1GB RAM); once content is loaded then the Fire 7 generally runs smoothly.
  • Amazon advertise the updated Fire 7 with "higher contrast and sharper text" and this is no marketing gimmick. The screen on the 2017 Fire 7 is better than the previous generation. The resolution is the same but contrast levels and colour saturation are increased.
  • Battery life is slightly better and gets a full day of mixed use. If it is used for reading e-books or listening to e-books then it lasts longer.
  • The device is light-weight, compact and makes a good travel companion.
  • For the same price, the updated Fire 7 gets you more tablet; with this being said, since Amazon slashed the price of the Fire HD 8 late 2016 and again mid-2017, the pricing between the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 makes the latter the better value and choice. The difference between the Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 is now only £30 (it is even less when discounted) and for that you get a better processor, larger HD screen, stereo speaker output, longer battery life, more RAM and twice the storage. It is not surprising, considering the Fire HD 8's overall better value, that the tablet is a best seller on Amazon.com. 
  • Yes, the Fire HD 8 is the better overall option but the Fire 7 has its use-cases. For example, it is the better option for children or a useful secondary light-weight device to take when commuting or travelling.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thoughts on Amazon's refresh of the Fire 7 & Fire HD 8

Amazon announced an incremental update to their Fire tablets. The Fire 7, released in Autumn 2015, gets an expected update. Amazon keeps the resolution the same (1024 X 600) but with an improved IPS screen that comes with better contrast and clarity. Other upgrades include a decrease in tablet weight and a bump in battery life to 'up to 8 hours'. Surprisingly there was no Fire 10 HD update, despite the HD 10 being released at the same time as the original Fire 7. The 10 HD also features less prominently on Amazon.com and this might mean it will be gradually discontinued. The Fire 10 HD is priced closer to a mid-range tablet and with more attractive alternative, from other vendors, Amazon may now exclusively target the budget end of the tablet market.

The surprise was in a supposed 'update' of the Fire HD 8, considering the Fire HD 8 was only updated late 2016. Despite Amazon's claim of an 'all new' Fire HD 8, there is no upgrade here and the near identical HD 8 2017 only brings the possibility to use a microSD slot for up to 256 GB of expandable storage. While Alexa comes with the 2017 HD 8, it will also gradually roll-out to the previous generation of Fire 7 and HD 8. In other words, this is a marketing gimmick to attract more users to Amazon Prime, rather than an attempt to convince owners of the previous generation to 'upgrade' their hardware (it may be argued that Amazon does not aim to convince users to purchase their hardware updates since the release of the Fire 7 and focusing on the budget end of the tablet market).

The goal, in this marketed refresh, it appears, is to make the Fire HD 8 even more attractive to first time users by further discounting the price of the tablet. The difference between the entry Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 is now £30 but this gets the user a larger screen, higher resolution, twice the storage (16 GB in contrast to the entry 8 GB with the Fire 7), more RAM, dual Dolby Atmos speakers and significantly better battery life. If the 2016 release was a success, I predict the Fire HD 8 to do even better and attract more users to Amazon's services.

There is no turning back to the more premium HDX line of tablets. The goal now is to get users - in a family-centric approach - to subscribe to Amazon Prime via different hardware mediums. For example, Prime Video is not available, at the moment in the Google Play store, and needs to be side-loaded to be installed. I think this is an intentional strategy to encourage users to access Amazon content via Fire tablets that are meant to offer a user-friendly 'out of the box' integration of the Amazon eco-system.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Exporting Kindle notes and highlights

In the past the best option to access annotations and highlights was to transfer a locally stored ‘my clippings’ file when connecting a Kindle to a PC. To further organise the output of the file, according to e-book and location in an e-book, there were options to upload the 'my clippings' file to clippings.io or to utilise a Calibre plug-in. Thankfully things have moved on since then and Amazon released an update that allows greater flexibility and options to externally store a user’s notebook. On a Kindle device the possibility of exporting a notebook to an external email is possible through first selecting reading settings and then notes (from notes there is an option to then email the notebook). Unfortunately, the ability to email notes and highlights applies to Amazon books and not personal e-books.

However, it is still possible to email and share a personal e-book's notebook to external accounts - e.g. Evernote and Onenote - via the Kindle application or Fire tablet. This is possible, as notes and highlights of e-books are stored in the Amazon cloud and automatically synced over different devices. Thus, a personal e-book's notebook would be available to export in the Kindle application when synced from, for example, a Kindle Paperwhite. The process of exporting the document is very easy and applies to both Fire tablets (Fire OS) and Kindle application - first tap on reading settings and then choose export a notebook; after choosing to export, it is then possible to send the notebook to external applications e.g. E-mail, Onenote, Evernote etc. A further useful feature is the ability to export utilising different citation styles (APA, Chicago Style, MLA or none).  

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Review of the Fire HD 8: The stand-out Fire tablet

I’ve been using the Fire HD 8 (late 2016 release) for a few months and, overall, it is the best tablet in the Amazon Fire range; I would also recommend the tablet as a stand-out budget choice. Below are some reasons for making this a very good tablet in its category:
  • The 1.5GB RAM makes a significant difference compared to the 1GB version released late 2015. The performance is snappy and doesn’t freeze or slow-down when multi-tasking e.g. downloading an e-book, updating an application and streaming video content. 
  • Despite the same 1280 X 800 resolution, the display quality is slightly downgraded compared to the previous generation. This generation of the Fire HD 8 doesn’t match the colour vibrancy and contrast levels of the previous generation. However, the display is good for its price, compared to similar tablets released by other vendors, and well worth the compromise for an increase in RAM and battery life (both major draw-backs with the previous generation of the Fire HD 8).
  • Fire OS 5 is based on Android 5 Lollipop. This is a good thing, as applications not found in the Amazon app store may be externally side-loaded as an APK. The Amazon app store itself contains most popular applications and is far ahead of the Microsoft Store. This being said, you do miss the Google services and other applications tied into the Google Play store. Amazon released a tablets tightly integrated into its ecosystem and Prime services and for that purpose it works well. 
  • Amazon excels at syncing between devices tied to its ecosystem. The affordable Fire TV Stick, Echo Dot and Kindle all work seamlessly with the Fire HD 8. 
  • Compared to other Android tablets – in this price category – the Fire HD 8 generally offers more for less, with extra RAM and good battery life making the difference. However, Lenovo’s Tab range of tablets, offering a near stock Android experience, are comparable and sometimes better. The Lenovo Tab 4 8 has just been released and is priced similar to the Fire HD 8 but with 2GB RAM. The Tab 3 8, which I will review soon, is well worth considering, as it discounted and so priced slightly lower than Fire HD 8; the Tab 3 8 comes with both a better display, despite the same resolution, and 2 GB RAM. What makes the Fire HD 8 stand-out, compared to Lenovo’s Tab range, is its superior battery life. 
 Overall Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Alexa support for Fire tablets outside the US

Visiting the Fire tablet section on Amazon.com shows the Alexa support to be 'coming soon'. Recently Amazon announced a software update in the US that adds Alexa support to its current batch of Fire tablets (2015 and 2016 releases). Unfortunately, so far, there is no 'coming soon' notice or immediate software update for Fire tablets outside the US.  Eventually the feature might be released outside US but I don't think we will see it anytime soon.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Amazon Fire HD 8 is now the choice Amazon budget tablet

Amazon updated the Fire HD 8 and judging from the changes, it seems we have acknowledgement that they got it wrong with the previous iteration of the device. Below is a summary of the changes:
  • First, Amazon got the pricing wrong with the 2015 Fire HD 8, with most vendors offering tablets with similar specifications at a lower price. The price of the Fire HD 8 has been slashed from £129.99 to £89.99. I think the lower price with the specifications offered now makes the Fire HD 8 a more attractive budget tablet than the Fire 7. 
  • The anaemic battery of the previous generation (advertised as ‘up to 8 hours’ but in real world use it was significantly less) is upgraded to an estimated ‘up to 12 hours’. 
  • The glossy back (a finger print magnet) is now replaced with a matte finish, similar to the Fire 7. 
  • The back camera has been reduced from 5MP to 2MP. This is a good compromise, considering many users don’t use their tablet’s camera. 
  • The processor is slightly bumped down but RAM is increased to 1.5 GB. The previous generation, while not unusable, did suffer from lags and delays when multi-tasking or opening new files or applications. The extra RAM should help with performance.  
  • The entry level storage is doubled from 8GB to 16GB. I found 8GB to be manageable on Amazon devices, as they are not bloated with Google apps and services that comes with standard Android (Fire OS is based on Android).
  • Amazon is further moving forward in the integration of its services (in my opinion, Amazon is well ahead in service integration across devices), with Fire HD 8 advertised to soon receive Alexa support. This move makes sense in the context of Amazon releasing for the first time, outside the US, updated models of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Will the third generation of Fire HDX tablets get Fire OS 5?

Recently Amazon sent a letter to owners of the third generation of HDX tablets, confirming an upgrade to Fire OS 5 in the coming weeks. Amazon later emailed that this letter was an error, with apologies for any confusion. I primarily use the third generation Fire HDX 8.9 and having also used Fire OS 5, with the Fire 7, I was pleased to read the mistaken letter of an upcoming upgrade (Fire OS 5 is an extensive update to Fire OS 4.5.5 that is currently used with third and fourth generation devices). Disappointedly, further feedback from Amazon indicated third generation devices would not receive the upgrade. I contacted Amazon, querying if indeed there will be an eventual upgrade for third generation devices and the answer was in the affirmative:
I'm sorry to learn about the trouble with the message you received regarding the Fire OS 5. Unfortunately, this message was sent to your device in error. I’m very sorry for any confusion caused. Your tablet ( 3rd generation) will be updated to Fire OS 5 soon. We are not able to provide a specific date right now. Once our Engineer's make Fire OS 5 available for 3rd generation devices, you'll be sent an update via email
It may be speculated that the confusion might be due to the process of porting Fire OS 5 still being in the developmental stage, at the moment, with engineers working on the update for the fourth-generation devices, let alone third generation ones. If the third generation devices are not receiving the upgrade then it might be due the cost of testing and development. I do not think it is an issue of pushing users to purchase current Fire tablets, as Amazon is focused on selling content and it is also not likely many users will downgrade to inferior hardware with the current generation.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Using Amazon's newstand can be confusing

Newstand, featured in Fire tablets, is one aspect in which Amazon lags behind other providers. In comparison, Barnes & Noble excels with their newspapers and magazines e-store, offering consistency and good features. Not only is there a good selection but also many magazines and newspapers offer the feature to strip magazine pages to just their text and images, with further options to change fonts, margins and line spacing, as with an e-book. Also, the same stripped down version of a magazine syncs to your Nook e-reader, making them accessible on an e-ink screen. Amazon lags behind due to confusion with the manner they present their content and how it is then managed. The main problem is that many subscriptions are not handled direct via Amazon; this means to obtain a magazine or newspaper, the user needs to install an external application. Needless to say, external applications and their related publications are not available on a Kindle e-reader.

This results in confusion, as you get different ways of interacting and managing content. Amazon has two ways to manage subscriptions - if the magazine downloads direct via Amazon, then it is available through 'Newsstand Subscription Settings' that you will find under managing your content and devices in your Amazon account. If, on the other hand, the publication downloads through an external app, then it can be found in 'Your Apps and Devices'. Other than confusion with managing subscriptions, many external magazine/newspaper apps are near uniform, in which magazines only appear in image format; in these applications there is no option to turn a magazine page in landscape, pinch to zoom is restricted and turning pages is cumbersome. On the other hand, magazines that download direct through Amazon onto a Fire tablet, without requiring an external app, work better with the availability of landscape mode, flexible pinch to zoom and easier page turning; there is also the option for text friendly presentation of content (if you double tap an article you then get a text friendly version, in which you can change text size, font, margins, line spacing and background colour). Most publications offered direct from Amazon also sync to a Kindle e-reader, due to this availability of stripped down text versions of articles. Further, there is also the problem of some magazines, possibly by accident, being offered direct via Amazon and also as an external application.

To solve these problems, Amazons needs to introduce uniformity across newstand. A possible option would be to remove all publications offered via third party applications and then offer these same publications as a direct download, similar to an e-book. In the meantime these publications should be exclusively offered in the app store, in a specifically designated category, where they belong.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Amazon goes budget friendly

Amazon has released three new Fire tablets and it appears, from the official website, these are not just further choice to the existing tablet range but may become the default offering. The HDX tablets, with far better resolution and specifications, are no longer advertised on the front page of Amazon.com. Also, judging from the aspect ratio of the devices, these are, foremost, for media consumption to complement an Amazon Prime subscription.

I think, other than the $50 7 inch tablet (1), the other devices are over-priced compared to tablets from other manufacturers. For example, in UK pricing, the Fire HD 10 sells for £170, while the Nexus 9, which is vastly superior, can be found for £200 (there is also the Lenovo Tab 2 A10 that beats the Fire 10 HD in both specifications and price). While resolution may not matter for multimedia content, it might with clear pixelation for e-reading (the Fire 10 HD comes with 149 ppi). The $50 Fire 7, however, is the best of the lot. This may seem strange, considering the specifications, but the compromises made were just right. Skimping with resolution was balanced with an IPS screen, that even at 1024 x 600, offers 171 ppi (the Fire 7 is not advertised as HD, so it is not clear what this entails? Is there no high definition rendering? Or is anything under 1280 x 720, regardless of screen size, officially non-HD?); the device also does not compromise in either processing power or memory. Then there is the ingenious offer to buy six Fire tablets and get one free! I can see the device doing really well as a gift, other than offering a budget friendly entry point to Amazon products e.g. Amazon Prime and Amazon Kindle Unlimited etc. Amazon might, in the future, discount the tablet with an annual Prime membership.

In all, considering the trajectory of tablet sales, it is understandable Amazon would go for a more budget offering, compared to the HDX range. However, relative to other available tablets, both the Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 offers less for the price. The Fire 7, on the other hand, is a great idea and one that might get more users into the Amazon eco-system to off-set the device's low price.

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(1) In the UK the Fire 7 sells for £50 and in Europe for 60 Euros. The different pricing might be due to the device coming with 90 days warranty in the US, to keep the price low, compared to one year in the UK and Europe.