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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 13, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Review: Amazon Fire HD 6 tablet

Amazon’s Fire tablets keep getting better and cheaper.

Amazon.com image of the Fire HD 6, right, and HD 7

Amazon.com image of the Fire HD 6, right, and HD 7

At the low end is the new Fire HD 6 tablet, which the company is selling for $99, or $114 for a version that doesn’t display ads on its lock screen.

With a 6-inch diagonal screen, quad-core processor and a polished interface that Amazon built on top of Android, the HD 6 might be a nice option for people who use Amazon.com services and want a pocket-size tablet.

The Wi-Fi-only tablets do the basics just fine — browsing, email, video playback, e-book reading and mobile gaming — but low prices are their big selling point.

With the HD 6 and its big brother — the 7-inch HD 7, which starts at $139 or $154 without ads — Amazon is offering a refined device for the same price as the off-brand, underpowered Android tablets gathering dust at discount stores.

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Fire HD 6 on an iPad

You could think of the HD 6 as a baby iPad, kind of cute, a little chubby and not as capable as the bigger kids it emulates. But this little guy has an uncertain future.

That’s because a flood of new tablets will go on sale over the next few months, including some priced the same, but with more capabilities and fewer restrictions than the “closed garden” Fire tablets.

Tablet prices are falling across the board as sales slow and the market becomes saturated.

Last holiday season, entry-level tablets cost about $150 and nicer ones were $300 and up. This year the entry level is under $100, and primo hardware is in the $200 range.

When this dawns on people, Amazon may have a harder time making its low-end Fire tablets stand out.

At the higher end, Apple is expected to announce a new line of iPads this Thursday, including models with larger screens. It could also lower the price of its smallest tablet, the 8-inch mini, below $299.

I’m intrigued by an 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet that Hewlett-Packard will begin selling next month for $149. Taking a page from Amazon’s early Kindle playbook, HP is giving buyers free 4G wireless service — up to 200 megabits per month for the life of the device.

Samsung has already dropped the price of its lighter, sleeker 7-inch Android tablet to $180. The Galaxy Tab 4 has a better camera, a slot to add a memory card and runs all sorts of apps, not just those vetted by Amazon.

There are so many options it’s hard to keep them straight, and Amazon isn’t helping. On its Fire HD 6 Web page, the company provides a misleading comparison with the Galaxy Tab 3 Lite, a stripped-down version of Samsung’s 2013 model. If anything, it should make a comparison to Samsung’s current Galaxy Tab 4, as it does on the page for the HD 7.

fire3

The Fire HD 6 in white

Then there’s the rise of phones with 6-inch screens that may overshadow the HD 6. These jumbo phones are taking off overseas and may soon account for half of all smartphone sales. But for now Americans see them as an amusing oddity, as compact cars were in the 1960s.

This struck me when I put down an iPhone 6 Plus and picked up a Fire HD 6. Their screens are close in size — a half-inch difference — but the HD 6 is thicker, heavier and more plasticky. You can also bend the 6.5-inch by 4-inch HD 6, but it flexes back into shape.

It’s a little silly to compare them; one costs seven times more than the other.

But the HD 6 might be considered by people trying figure out whether to buy a tablet “and/or” a big phone.

If you’re buying a jumbo phone, you probably won’t need a similarly sized tablet. Amazon apps, including the Kindle reader and media libraries offered with the $99 per year Prime service bundle, run on either device.

Some may opt to continue with a smaller phone and have a tablet for browsing and media consumption. In that case I’d choose a bigger tablet, closer to the size of a magazine, instead of one the size of a small paperback like the HD 6.

Maybe I’m off-base here. Perhaps the HD 6 should be thought of not as a primary or secondary device, but something extra.

People in wired households have a growing variety of devices on hand, keeping their media, messaging and the Web at their fingertips. For $99, the price of a nice clock radio, they can have an extra tablet in the glove box, spare bedroom, powder room or kitchen junk drawer.

It’s an embarrassing first-world problem, but even if you’re surrounded by tiny tablets, you’ll still end up wanting a different device sometimes. This happened recently when I was stumped by my daughter’s math homework. The HD 6 was at hand so I turned to the online Khan Academy for help, but the screen was too small to see the lesson details.

But the HD 6 works pretty well on the couch, as an auxiliary display. You can select and start a movie on the tablet and then “fling” it to a TV for big-screen playback if you have a compatible set-top box. Then the tablet works as a remote and displays details from IMDB about the film and actors.

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This worked like a charm with a Sony PlayStation 4. But the movie buffered and paused when I connected to a Fire TV device — the same movie, at the same time and place. Perhaps it was updating itself.

Battery life on the HD 6 is billed as 8 hours. I found it ran for several days when used sporadically, including sessions with the Kindle reading app, movie playback, gaming and browsing.

It is remarkable that you can get such a nice handheld computer for $99. If prices keep falling, Amazon will be giving these away to Prime subscribers a year from now.

Here are the HD 6 specs as provided by Amazon:

Display 6″ high definition touchscreen; 1280×800 resolution at 252 ppi, video playback up to 720p, with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and advanced polarizing filter
Size 6.7″ x 4.1″ x 0.4″ (169 mm x 103 mm x 10.7 mm)
Weight 10.1 ounces (290 grams)
Actual size and weight may vary by configuration and manufacturing process
CPU & RAM Quad-Core: 2 @ 1.5 Ghz + 2 @ 1.2 GHz , with 1 GB of RAM
Storage 8 GB (4.5 GB available to user) or 16 GB (11.6 GB available to user) of internal storage
Battery Life Up to 8 hours of reading, surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, and listening to music. Battery life will vary based on device settings, usage, and other factors such as web browsing and downloading content. Actual results may vary
Charge Time Fully charges in under 6 hours using the micro-USB power adapter included in the box, or slightly longer with other micro-USB power adapters that you may already have
Wi-Fi Connectivity Single-antenna Wi-Fi. Supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use the 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n standard with support for WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks
4G Connectivity N/A
Ports SlimPort enabled USB 2.0 (micro-B connector) port to connect to an HDTV or VGA monitor with an adapter or to a PC/Macintosh computer, or to charge your device with the included power adapter
Audio 3.5 mm stereo jack and integrated speaker with Dolby Digital Plus
Content Formats Supported Kindle (AZW), KF8, TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible Enhanced format (AAX), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, PCM/WAVE, OGG, WAV, M4V, MP4, AAC LC/LTP, HE-AACv1, HE-AACv2, MKV, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, HTML5, CSS3, 3GP, VP8 (WEBM)
Sensors Accelerometer, gyroscope
Camera Specs VGA Front-facing Camera. 2.0 MP rear-facing HD camera
Location Services Location-based services via Wi-Fi
Available Colors Black, White, Cobalt, Magenta, Citron
Additional Features External volume controls, built-in Bluetooth with support for A2DP compatible stereo headphones, speakers, microphone, and LE accessories support
Accessibility Features Screen Reader, Explore by Touch, and Screen Magnifier, enabling access to the vast majority of Fire tablet features. Screen Reader features IVONA’s award-winning natural language text-to-speech voice. Also includes adjustable font sizes/color, and built-in Oxford dictionary.
System Requirements Fire HD 6 is ready to use right out of the box—no setup, no software to install, no computer required to download content (Brier note: but WiFi connection is required to download content)
Warranty and Service 1-year limited warranty included.
Included in the Box Fire HD 6 tablet, USB 2.0 cable, 5W power adapter, and Quick Start Guide

Comments | Topics: Amazon.com, Apple, fire hd 6

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