TORONTO - Thursday marks the official shipping date for Amazon's Kindle Fire HD in Canada and while it's no iPad killer, it does have one big advantage over Apple's competing tablet: it's about half the price.
In terms of technical specifications and performance, there's not a whole lot that makes the Kindle Fire HD really stand out in the increasingly crowded tablet market. It feels fine to use and does most of what users expect from a tablet, it just doesn't feel cutting edge.
And that's because it isn't. Consumers in the U.S. have had access to the Kindle Fire HD since last fall.
Amazon is just now rolling out its latest tablet to Canada and many other markets around the world, hoping consumers will overlook the delay and consider the two versions of the Kindle Fire HD bargains.
An 8.9-inch model with 16 gigabytes of storage sells for $284, or there's 32 gigabytes for $314. Those prices are $215 and $285 cheaper than similar-sized iPads with the same amount of storage space.
A seven-inch Kindle Fire HD starts at $214, which is $115 less than an iPad mini, but a little more than other competing tablets of the same size.
So why has Amazon priced its tablets so aggressively? The company makes less money on its hardware hoping to make it up on the sales of ebooks and other content in its Appstore, which has more than 1 million items to choose from. Notably missing in Canada are: Amazon's Netflix-like video streaming service that's part of its Prime loyalty program, a store to buy digital copies of movies and music, a newsstand of magazines and newspapers, and some U.S.-only apps.
The Kindle Fire HD runs a modified version of Google's Android operating system and the apps are taken from a streamlined version of the Google Play marketplace. The selection isn't as good as what's found in Apple's App Store but many popular games and apps are available. For example, while the current hit Candy Crush can't be downloaded, others like Angry Birds, Bejeweled 2, Fruit Ninja, Plants vs. Zombies and Temple Run 2 are.
When comparing the specs of the Kindle Fire HD to the iPad and other tablets it stacks up well.
The 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HD is a few tenths of an inch smaller than the iPad and its screen resolution is just a little short of the dots per inch found on Apple's tablet. Amazon says it gets about 11 hours of battery life compared to Apple's claims of 10 hours. While the iPad has two cameras, the Kindle Fire HD only has one for video conferencing (it can also take photos, although poorly).
Amazon claims the WiFi capabilities of the Kindle Fire HD are laptop-quality and top of class for tablets. But in my testing, I encountered a few connectivity bugs. On one evening, the two demo units I had in my home refused to connect to either of my WiFi networks, even though my laptop, three other smartphones and a device connected to my TV had no problems getting online. After an hour of troubleshooting I gave up. The next morning, they mysteriously began working again without intervention and the problem never resurfaced.
The only other issue I encountered was a touch of occasional lag while using the device. It doesn't feel as slick to use as the iPad or some other higher-end devices, but first-time tablet users probably wouldn't notice.
Users who have had their hands on a variety of tablets by now would probably find the Kindle Fire HD feels familiar to use and capable of most tasks — but not particularly impressive. The best thing about it is the price, which will no doubt appeal to many buyers who have always wanted a tablet but still found them a little too expensive. Current tablet owners may consider a Kindle Fire HD as a cheap second device for around the house.