In the short history of tablets, one of the key figures has been the Kindle Fire. Before its launch, the market was basically the untouchable iPad vs. a bunch of geeked-up Android slates, collecting Best Buy dust. Then the Fire marched in with its familiar branding, Blackberry Playbook-inspired design, and – most importantly – rock-bottom price. Though sales eventually flattened, Amazon's tablet was a holiday sensation.
Here we are a year later, and its inevitable sequel is upon us. This year Amazon came with two brand new tablets (three if you count the pricier LTE version), and an improved version of the original Kindle Fire. The new 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD doesn't launch until November, but the two seven-inch devices - the Kindle Fire HD (7") and (upgraded) Kindle Fire are available now.
How do these two budget media devices stack up? Let's take a look:
The most notable physical change in the Kindle Fire HD is its width: it measures over 17 mm wider than its older sibling. Otherwise, we're looking at two similarly-proportioned tablets. The Kindle Fire HD is also a smidge longer and a hair thinner than its counterpart.
The Fire HD is a bit lighter than the Fire SD. However, this probably isn't a big enough difference to influence your buying decision.
This is the Kindle Fire HD's killer feature. Though it isn't on par with the display in Amazon's upcoming 8.9-inch version, it still adds some pixels over the standard Fire. Its 216 pixels per inch (ppi) will lead to sharper text and clearer images.
Both devices feature dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP chips, clocked at 1.2 GHz. The Fire HD features the newer OMAP4460, but there shouldn't be a dramatic difference in performance.
Both seven-inch Fires feature a full gigabyte of RAM. This is one category where the 2012 standard Kindle Fire was upgraded over its 2011 predecessor, which only carried 512 MB.
In addition to the improved display, this is another big upgrade for the Kindle Fire HD. It features 16 GB of internal flash memory, compared to a mere 8 GB in the standard Fire. For an extra US$50, Amazon will sell you a Fire HD with 32 GB of storage.
According to Amazon's estimates, the battery in the Kindle Fire HD will last 2.5 hours longer than that of the SD Fire. If you're apt to lengthy video-watching or game-playing sessions while on the go, the Fire HD could be worth the extra $40.
Both seven-inch slates are Wi-Fi-only affairs. If you want mobile data on your Kindle Fire, then you'll want to hold out for the $499 LTE-enabled version of the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD.
Here's another category where the Fire HD deviates from the cheaper model: it adds a front-facing camera for video chat. Neither slate has a rear-facing camera.
The sexiest feature in the seven-inch model is its display. Though its 216 ppi falls well short of the 3rd-gen iPad's 264 ppi, you won't see many other $200 tablets with resolution that high (the Nexus 7 is another). If you want a real eye-popping experience in your Kindle Fire, though, you'll want to wait for the 8.9-inch model.
Amazon released the 2012 SD Kindle Fire to hit an even lower price point. Customers who have avoided tablets thus far may look at its $159 price tag and take the plunge.
One "feature" that both tablets share is the presence of ads. Though they're mostly unobtrusive, Amazon is partially subsidizing these devices with its "special offers." If you want to remove the advertisements, you'll have to drop an extra $15 through the Manage Your Kindle menu.
Are either of these tablets game-changers? Not likely. They're both relatively minor upgrades over last year's Kindle Fire – bringing slightly better hardware to the budget segment of the tablet market. For $500 you can do much better, but if you're on a budget of $200 or less, your dollars go a bit farther than they did a year go.