It’s your friendly KF on KND Editor April Hamilton here, ready to give you the scoop on the new, 5th generation line of Fire tablets. So much has changed since the 4th generation, one post isn’t enough space to share everything. So today I’m kicking off a series of articles, one to run each day this week, describing all the changes in the new Fire tablet line. My observations are based on testing a Fire HD 8 (the one pictured above left), but the new operating system is the same across all the new models and where there are hardware differences, I’ll point them out.
Hardware Updates & Upgrades
I could spit out all the specs for the new Fires here, but they probably wouldn’t mean much unless you have a basis of comparison. So here’s Amazon’s own table listing the specs for all currently-available Fire tablet models, including the 4th generation HD6 (second column from left). When looking at details for the new models (all labeled “new” in the table), comparison to the HD6 will give you a good idea of what’s been upgraded. In particular, notice how close the specs are between the new Fire HD and last year’s HD6.
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As you can see in the table, the most significant hardware changes are in the cameras (now higher resolution), Dolby audio system, and the addition of microSD card slots in all the new models. Also, the Fire HD 8 is available in four color choices and the HD 10 is available in black or white.
Hardware: My Observations
The first thing I noticed in terms of the hardware is the far superior sound quality. The HD6 only has one speaker and mono sound (as opposed to stereo), and it always frustrated me that the upper volume limit seemed much too low when playing anything through that speaker. The HD6 seemed to come with an assumption the user would always use headphones when watching videos or listening to audio content, but a lot of the time I wanted to use the speaker. The HD 8’s speakers blow the HD6’s sound quality and volume level right out of the water, and the sound is nothing short of amazing when you plug in a quality set of stereo headphones.
The display is noticeably crisper, too. This will seem counter-intuitive, because if you compare the Pixels Per Inch (ppi) stats on the new models to those for last year’s models, the current model ppi values are significantly lower. This is because the relationship between resolution (e.g., HD vs. SD) isn’t simply a matter of higher ppi = higher resolution. If you want to get into the nitty gritty on it, see this article on Know Your Mobile. Otherwise, you can just take my word for it: the HD 8’s display is fantastic.
The other big news here is the MicroSD card slot, which enables you to download much more content than in the past, store more videos and photos of your own, or (where supported by the app) install apps directly to the card / store app save files to the card. Note that when you insert a card, the Fire will notify you that all photo, video and supported app content will be saved to the card by default, but that you can change this in the Settings area.
Bellini Operating System
As in the past, the new Fire line’s operating system is an Amazon-customized version of Android. Bellini is based on Android Lollipop, and it’s a LOT different than any Fire operating system that’s come before. It’s going to take some getting used to, and you should expect a learning curve.
I’ll be digging into Bellini more deeply later this week, in posts that address each different content type menu. For now, let’s just look at the big picture.
Bellini is a lot more like a smartphone operating system than previous Fire operating systems. The unlock screen that displays when you first turn the tablet on is like the one on a smartphone: there’s a very small menu ribbon at the bottom of the lock screen with a padlock icon you have to swipe upward on to unlock the screen. Once unlocked, there’s also the same kind of 3-icon main menu at the bottom of the screen that you’d typically find on a smartphone (the bottom icon menu is shown on the Fires in the image above: triangle=back, circle=home, square=recent).
The main menu screens look very much like those on a smartphone: you see a grid of icons on the Home screen, and you swipe left or right to move between content menu screens (see the first screen shot at the top of this post, which shows the Home screen: the image shown immediately above is of a content menu screen, and content screens don’t have the icon grid). Small dots in the margin of the main menu screens indicate when additional screens are available, and you swipe up or down to move between them.
Again, I’ll go into much more detail later in the series but for now, I’ll just say that when you’re in doubt as to how to do something on a new Fire, just ask yourself how you’d do that thing on an Android smartphone.
Bellini is not exactly like a smartphone operating system. Amazon has incorporated the content menu ribbon Fire owners are used to (Recent, Home, Books, Games, Apps, Videos, etc.), and the end result is kind of a smartphone/Fire hybrid. This means that while a lot of what you’d do on an Android smartphone works the same way on the new Fires, not everything does. For example, on a smartphone you’d have to tap an icon to launch Kindle Reader, Amazon Video, Amazon Music or Audible, but these are built right into the operating system on the new Fires and are accessed the same way as in previous generations of Fire tablets: via the content menu ribbon at the top.
The new screen memory feature: you’ll love it or hate it.
In previous generation Fires, after you exited a given screen the Fire would “forget” how far you’d drilled down into that type of content, and when you returned to that screen later you’d be shown the Home screen for that type of content. For example, if you went to Books > Library > Cloud, and while viewing a certain book in your cloud library tapped the Store icon to view a related book on the Amazon site, then closed the Fire, then came back later and tapped “Books” on the main menu ribbon, you’d be taken to the main (or “home”) screen for Books. In the new system, the Fire remembers that the last time you used the Books menu you ended up on a product page for a specific book on the Amazon site, and that’s where it takes you when you tap the Books menu ribbon link. You have to repeatedly tap the ‘back’ triangle in the bottom icon menu to get back to the Books home page. Apparently this is something a lot of other customers have been asking for, but I hate it.
Collections are no longer supported for apps and games. This one is a major disappointment to me, because I own HUNDREDS of apps and have spent a lot of time grouping them into collections. In Bellini, you can sort alphabetically or by recent, and that’s it. Collections are still there for books and audiobooks, however.
Your video library can now be sorted alphabetically. For people who own a LOT of digital videos, this is a HUGE improvement over previous Fires, which would only display your video library in order of date purchased. I very much hope this same sort will be available in the new Fire TV operating system.
That’s all for now. Be sure to tune in each day this week, same time and place, for more in-depth articles about each of the different Fire content menus and how they’ve changed.