Amazon released its first tablet in September 2011 following the huge success of its Kindle range of e-readers, and since then it’s sold millions of tablets via its online store.
Amazon has two tablet ranges - the high-end Fire HDX and the Fire HD. Amazon recently expanded it for 2014, including an entry-level device with low price point new to the retail giant – the Fire HD. It’s now releasing two versions of the Fire HD, the Fire HD7 and the Fire HD6, which we are looking at here.
At £69, the Fire HD6 is one of the cheapest tablets. We took a look at it to find out if it’s worth your hard-earned cash.
Design and build
Measuring 10.7 mm deep, the HD6 is chunky, yet smaller than a paperback book. Made from plastic with a thick coloured edge in a choice of black, white, cobalt, magenta or citron yellow, you couldn’t describe this tablet as elegant and it isn’t as comfortable to hold nor does it feel as secure in the hand as the rubber-backed Tesco Hudl 2.
There’s a volume rocker on the top, while headphone jack, micro USB and power buttons are on the side.
The Fire HD’s six-inch screen uses scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass – good news if you are planning on giving this tablet to your child. It has an HD resolution of 1280x800 and 252 pixels per inch (ppi), which is above average at this price point. Text is sharp and easy to read, while movies look good with natural colours and excellent off-angle viewing.
Unfortunately there’s no microSD storage slot for adding extra storage, which if you opt for the smaller 8GB version you really need to consider, because there’s only 5GB usable storage. We downloaded two albums, five games and two books and, when you add in Amazon’s pre-installed system applications, we had filled 3GB.
There is extra offline storage in the shape of Amazon’s own cloud offering. You get 5GB cloud storage, which you can use for books, music and to automatically upload videos and movies.
If you intend using the HD6 for movies, music and games and won’t have access to the web we advise opting for the larger 16GB version.
Operating system and apps
Amazon’s Fire range uses Google’s Android OS, but if you’ve used an Android tablet like the Nexus 7 or Samsung Galaxy Tab, you won’t recognise the interface. That’s because Amazon has created its own operating system called Fire.
Instead of having multiple home screens you customise with apps and widgets, there’s just one screen where all items you’ve used recently (be they apps, songs and books) are displayed as large icons in the centre of the screen.
Navigation is fairly simple. Features including Games, Apps, Books, Music, Video, Newsstand, Audiobook, Web, Photos and Docs are all accessible from a list across the top.
One of the most useful features is the ability to set up profiles for up to two adults and four children. This means each person logs into their own account to access personal features such as individual email accounts and books. Adults can also set time restrictions on how long children can use the tablet.
Another significant difference between the Fire HD6 and a conventional Android device is that you can’t buy apps through the Google Play Store. Instead you have to buy apps, books, movies and music from Amazon’s online shops, which has 33 million items. The Amazon App Store has 240,000 apps, which is far fewer than Google’s offering, but all the most popular apps are there and you do get a free app each day.
Performance and multimedia
The Fire HD6 packs a 1.5GHz quad-core processor. We had no issues with sluggishness during our testing, it swapped easily between applications and there were no problems with stuttering when streaming video over wi-fi (there’s no SIM card slot).
Amazon isn’t aiming this tablet at hardcore gamers, but it can easily handle games like Temple Run, although we noticed occasional lines in the graphics when playing Sonic Dash.
Although there’s only one speaker, it’s loud enough to fill a small room, while Dolby Digital Plus Audio is pretty effective at adding audio depth.
You get a free one-month subscription to Amazon’s Instant Video streaming service, and Fire HD owners can also download movies to watch offline.
The Fire HD6 has two cameras, neither of which are very good. The front-facing two-megapixel camera takes pictures blighted by noise (particularly indoors), there’s no flash and HDR mode requires you keep the tablet very steady to take an acceptable shot. It is fine for off-the-cuff snapshots though and includes a decent selection of editing options and filters.
Amazon Fire HD 6: Verdict
We like the Fire HD 6. It’s easy to use, well built with a decent screen, good battery life and a fast processor. In fact, camera aside, there’s very little to complain about.
Features like the detailed Help guide make the Fire HD 6 a good choice for someone unfamiliar with technology who perhaps wants a tablet to browse the internet, check email, use apps and watch the odd movie. Alternatively the solid build and good safety features will suit a parent looking for a tablet they can trust their children with.
If you listen to lots of music, play games or videos and want to download them to the device, we strongly suggest opting for the 16GB version of the HD5, which costs £99. Yes, you can take advantage of Amazon’s cloud storage, but you will need an internet connection to access and download your content.
Buy the Kindle Fire and you’ll be forced to use Amazon’s services for all apps, movies, music and books. The convenience and simplicity of a single Amazon login (the one you also use for shopping) will appeal to some, but if in the future you want to swap to a non-Amazon Android tablet, you’ll have to pay for your apps all over again.
Of the budget tablets we’ve looked at recently we prefer the screen, camera and storage options of Tesco Hudl 2, but it’s almost £50 more than the HD6, so if price is the determining factor this tablet is well worth a look. But if you hate adverts we’d advise paying £79 to get the advert-free version.