The Kindle Fire HD is staggering on paper. In person, it's... pleasant. Which would be an equation for disappointment if you forgot for a second just how cheap this thing is.
Physically, the Fire HD is awesome. We only got to touch the 7-inch version, but the 8.9-inch is slim and beautiful too. The 7-inch is light, and much nicer to hold than the original Fire. The screen is gorgeous too, with a preposterously wide viewing angle. It's bright and crisp and looks exactly as it should. But.
But it's just not nearly as smooth as the Nexus 7 on Jelly Bean. The original Kindle Fire's OS was built on Gingerbread 2.3, and on the Fire HD we get a heavily modified version of 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. And after using Jelly Bean on the Nexus 7, it's just impossible to go back to ICS without it feeling horribly slow and laggy.
How bad is it? It's bad enough that when you tap an icon, you wonder if you did it wrong, if maybe you didn't tap firmly enough. The bimodal reading, for instance, hung for nearly 10 seconds as it loaded. X-Ray took about five. None had a visual indicator that something was wrong. We're told that we were using production models, so it's pretty disappointing. It's going to ship like this.
The X-Ray for Movies feature is actually really, really cool in person. But there's a sense that it will end up being a lot like the X-Ray, which no one ever actually used.
On the plus side, along with the wonderful screen, the speakers really do sound pretty good. Well, they sound at least. We were listening to them in a crowded airport hangar with a bunch of tech bloggers, so we were just sort of impressed they were audible at all. We'll know more once we hear them somewhere quieter.
That's not much to balance out the sluggishness, though. And honestly, it would be fine if Amazon could just bludgeon everyone else with price like it did with the original Fire. It can't anymore. Google's Nexus 7 is close enough—even at £159 for 16GB to the Fire's £159—that the value proposition of a tablet with considerable lag isn't worth the couple extra bucks. Compared to a £400 iPad? Sure. But the game's done changed for the little guys.