Recently, Amazon made some quiet updates to the Kindle line, including two tiny HD tablets. There's no need to whisper about the Amazon Fire HD 6, though. This colorful little marvel is damned impressive. And at just $100, it's confusingly cheap. Yell it from a mountaintop!
The Fire HD 6 is exactly what it sounds like: a 6" Kindle Fire HD. (Amazon is also offering a 7" version called, you guessed it, the Fire HD 7.) By now the Kindle Fire line is an old standby, and the latest addition keeps all of the classic features. The Fire HD 6 boasts roughly the same specs as the original Fire HD, albeit in a smaller, cheaper package.
Note that technically, it only costs $100 if you buy the version with Special Offers — which displays ads on your lockscreen — but you can pay $114 for one without them.
Amazon is also offering a few new, family-friendly perks—namely the option to buy a Fire Kids Edition (a $50 premium) which comes with a drop-proof case and four-year warranty against all damage. Otherwise, this new generation of Fire tablets now boasts a more robust video-playing platform called ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction). This is supposed to prepare your favorite videos ahead of times so you don't have to wait for buffering, though I didn't notice any difference with Netflix so perhaps it's just for videos you stream from Amazon itself. The Fire HD 6 and friends also handle Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.
If you've always sort of wanted a tablet but never wanted to shell out $200 or more for a decent one, the Fire HD 6 is for you. Yes, it's small. The 6" screen is just half an inch bigger than the new iPhone 6 Plus ($750). But at just $100, it's less than a sixth of the price. It's obviously a little silly to compare a Wi-Fi-only Kindle Fire to the new iPhone, but it puts that $100 price tag into perspective. It's not the only $100 tablet on the market, but it's one of the few that can actually compete with tablets twice the price in terms of performance.
The Fire HD 6 is otherwise a great solution for someone who's looking for a lot of portability and doesn't mind sacrificing screen real estate as a result. The device is also super sturdy, as Kindle Fires have always been. That means it's great for kids and clumsy people. Of course, given that it's a Kindle, it also appeals to people looking for a reader that doubles as a tablet, perhaps the same kind of person that might be foolishly considering the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook. This is the tablet for penny-pinchers.
Amazon got a little creative with this generation of Kindles and decided to offer the HD 6 and HD 7 in five different colors: black, white, magenta, citron, and cobalt. The unit I tested was citron—it's a bright yellow that borders on neon—and the splash of color was a welcome departure from the plain old black Fire that I have at home. The size is also very pleasing, just small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and just big enough to watch movies on with straining your eyes.
The plastic body of the device is nothing special, but it does the job. Aesthetic perfectionists probably won't like the visible gap around the back of the tablet, where it meets the band of plastic around the outside, and Amazon clearly didn't put any effort into making the rear camera look slick. The bevelled edge is nice enough, though. And the bezel on the screen is minimal enough. All things told, the Fire HD 6 doesn't look like hyper-designed, but it doesn't look cheap, either. Amazon also offers a smart cover that makes it look even better.
This thing is delightful. Rock bottom price in mind, I went into using the Fire HD 6 expecting lags, stalls, and freezes. Guess what: none of the above.
The tablet's quad-core processor handles pretty much every task with grace. Flipping through apps on the homescreen is breezy. Surfing the web is just as snappy as it is on tablets twice this price, and scrolling down pages is smooth as you need it to be. Video plays surprisingly well—you can even scrub through movies on Netflix with ease. And as you might expect, downloading and reading books is basically effortless.
The Fire HD 6 isn't necessarily a performance powerhouse, but it doesn't need to be. The screen resolution can't compete with premium tablets like, say, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and its 2560 x 1600 resolution, but you can still use it outdoors. And of course, Amazon's top-of-the-line tablet also costs almost four times as much as its little sibling. The Fire HD 6 is nevertheless good enough to satisfy your basic tablet needs. In many ways, the HD 6 is better than good enough.
Did I mention how cheap the Fire HD 6 is? At roughly half the cost of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook, this is the reader-tablet crossover we've been waiting for. The Kindle Fire operating system is easy enough for a four-year-old to figure out, and the seamless integration of Amazon content makes it refreshingly simple to load up the device with content. I like using the Fire HD 6 because it didn't let me down when I expected it to. (So cheap!) That said, I'd bet a Buffalo head nickel that kids will like it even more thanks to the size of the device and the new Kids Edition. The bold color options certainly don't hurt.
Perhaps ironically, the simplicity of the Kindle Fire software does get to me. Living in Amazon's world becomes a little bit claustrophobic after a while. This is sort of a silly gripe, and it's certainly not specific to the Fire HD 6. Nevertheless, it's worth considering the software factor if you're deciding between this and a device that runs regular old Android, particularly if you want access to the full Google Play app store.(You can hack a Kindle Fire to run Android if you're feeling adventurous, by the way.)
From time-to-time, I was also reminded that the Fire HD 6 is indeed a cheap tablet. The design isn't quite as slick as, say, that new Nook tablet I keep talking about. The Fire HD 6 also a bit heavier than I'd like it to be—though it's not so heavy that I ever felt like my arm was going to fall off. For whatever reason, the tablet charges more slowly with a standard Micro USB charger than it does with the included charger. That makes the 8-hour battery life seem a little bit shorter. But again, these are all things I could accept for a tablet that costs less than a fancy dinner.
Do you want a small tablet? Are you on a budget? Then you should buy the Fire HD 6. Again, if you're okay with living in Amazon's world, this is one of the best tablet deals out there. It's a great starter tablet, if you've never owned one. It's also a terrific choice for a kid or a teen. I'll say it one more time: the Fire HD 6 is so cheap, it's hard to imagine how it's so cheap. But it is, and that's awesome.
• Networking: Wi-Fi
• Display: 6" display, 1280 x 800 pixels / 252 ppi (7" available with 216 ppi)
• Processor: Quad-Core (2 @ 1.5 Ghz + 2 @ 1.2 Ghz) MediaTek
• Memory: 1GB RAM
• Storage: 8GB (only 4.5GB available to user) or 16GB (11.6 available to user)
• OS: Fire OS 4 Sangria (built on Android 4.4 / KitKat)
• Camera: 2.0MP rear / VGA Front
• Dimensions: 6.7" x 4.1" x 0.4"
• Weight: 10.1 ounces
• Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
• Price: $100-$120
Photos by Nick Stango