Amazon announced the Kindle Fire HD 6 back in September and released them about two weeks later. The HD 6 was announced alongside updated versions of the Fire HDX 8.9 and the Fire HD 7. The Fire HD 6 is new to the Kindle lineup. It’s a mid-range tablet with a low-end price. It’s only $99 and comes with 8GB of internal storage, 1GB of RAM, and a 6-inch IPS LCD display. Now that the HD 6 has been out for a month or so, we took a deeper dive into what Amazon has to offer with their entry-level tablet.
The hardware on the HD 6 is pretty straightforward. It’s powered by an ARM Cortex-A15 quad-core processor clocked at 1.21GHz, 1GB of RAM, and comes with either 8GB or 16GB of internal storage. The tablet has a 2-megapixel camera on the back, although it’s not good for much. The IPS LCD display has a 1280 x 800 resolution, with a 252 ppi pixel density. The display isn’t bad, but it’s not great. It’s packing 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer. The HD 6 comes in five colors: Black, White, Cobalt, Magenta, and Citron. Everything with the HD 6 is about value. For $99, these specs are not too shabby.
With low-end specs, how does the Amazon Fire HD 6 perform? Surprisingly well. I had no issues downloading and watching movies, surfing the internet using Amazon’s Silk browser, reading books, and using Twitter. For day-to-day use, the HD 6 is perfectly fine. Switching between apps was smooth. I didn’t notice very many hiccups at all. The display resolution is just a little higher than 720p, so watching HD video was clear and sharp. On a 6-inch device, the difference between 720p and 1080p is not very noticeable, especially when you’re streaming video from Amazon Instant Video or Netflix. The screen is easy on the eyes, too. Reading for long periods of time was not a problem. The HD 6 does not have an ambient light sensor, though. This is a cost-cutting measure, but it leaves you as the user to adjust the brightness level manually. That’s not a difficult thing to do because Amazon puts the Brightness setting easy-to-hand in the pull-down Notification area. It’s just an extra step to adjust the brightness because the tablet won’t do it automatically.
The touchscreen worked the way it should. There is a tiny but noticeable gap between the touchscreen and the display itself. Newer processing methods have almost gotten rid of this gap completely. The cost-saving methods used in manufacturing the display for the HD 6 means that this gap is still noticeable. It doesn’t impede use at all, but it’s interesting to note the difference between this screen and one on a high-end device like the OnePlus One that I use as my daily driver.
Internal storage was an issue with the 8GB variant that I tested. After the OS and pre-loaded apps, you’re left with around 5GB of usable storage space. It doesn’t take long to fill that up. A few movies, a couple of games, and some books and apps, and that storage space is gone. Amazon is banking on you using cloud storage to keep your movies and photos off of the tablet. If you don’t opt for the 16GB of the Fire HD 6, expect to run out in short order.
The HD 6 has a 2-megapixel rear-facing camera and a VGA front-facing camera. The old saying that the best camera is the one you have doesn’t really apply here. You shouldn’t expect to get much in the way of quality shots from either camera. There are some options in the camera app to focus manually, but overall photos come out noisy and dull. Colors are ok, but unless you are just sharing a quick photo to social media, these cameras won’t do much for you. But why are you taking pictures with your tablet? Stop that.
The battery on the HD 6 was really solid. The battery is rated for 8 hours of use and I had no problems getting that much out of it, and maybe a little more. In daily use, the tablet was in my hand for several hours and sitting on my nightstand or coffee table for the rest of the day. I usually went three days between charging the tablet. I kept the brightness on full in most situations, and this tablet got me through. I took it on a short, three-day vacation with my wife and children and didn’t need to charge it. The HD 6 may be lacking in some areas, but battery life is not one of them.
The Fire HD 6 is a flat black slab. Ok, it comes in 5 different colors, but there’s nothing that really stands out about the tablet. It’s not slim or light, weighing in at over half a pound. The power button is on the top next to the microUSB charging port. The headset jack is also on the top, set on the other side from the charging port and power button. The volume rocker is on the left side of the device and a little higher than I liked. I was able to adjust the volume with one hand but I had to slide my hand up the side of the tablet. The volume buttons are just too high. The microphone is also placed on top, right next to the headset jack. There’s a single mono speaker on the back of the HD 6, towards the bottom. I am not a fan of speakers on the back of devices, but at least the speaker on the HD 6 is angled and not flat on the back. The overall feel of the tablet is plastic-y, although it’s solid and doesn’t feel completely cheap.
The Fire HD 6 ships with Amazon’s Fire OS 4.1.1 Sangria. This is Amazon’s fork of Android, updated with their most recent feature set. Most of the features on Amazon’s higher-end HDX tablets are here, with the exception of their Mayday instant customer-service. That particular service is not offered on the HD 6. Amazon has added some new power-saving features into their Fire OS. Called SmartSuspend, this feature turns off connectivity like Wi-Fi when the tablet is asleep. It saves a ton on battery life when the tablet is in stand-by mode. You can manually adjust the scheduling for when SmartSuspend should be turned on, but there’s also an automatic mode that lets the tablet handle things itself.
Amazon devices don’t ship with the Google Play Store. This is probably the biggest weakness of any Amazon branded device. The Amazon Appstore has most of the apps you’ll want, but there are some notable exceptions. A bigger issue is timely updates, which Amazon is sorely lacking. Most developers will push updates to the Google Play Store well before they send them to Amazon. The process is splintered for developers because of the way Amazon has splintered Android for their own uses. This is something that you’ll need to know with the Fire HD 6.
Amazon does give you 500 coins with a Fire HD 6 purchase. These can be used to purchase apps in the Appstore and is a nice bonus if you’re looking for some apps for your new tablet. You also get a 30-day trial of Amazon Prime that you can use to stream movies using Instant Video, and ship your Amazon purchases for free. You can also take advantage of Kindle Unlimited for $10 and get access to more than 700,000 ebooks and audiobooks. You can access those from any Amazon device and from the web. The Amazon ecosystem is a separate entity from Google and Google’s Play Store, but Amazon has done well building it and making it simple for users.
When you purchase a Fire HD 6, Amazon gives you 500 Coins to use for apps in the Amazon Appstore. That’s equal to $5.00 in apps and in-app purchases that you can pick up. Amazon will also give you $30 in Amazon credit that you can use to buy what you want on their website. Not only is the Fire HD 6 an inexpensive tablet that performs well, it is a doorway into Amazon’s ecosystem. They give you enough to get started on Amazon website and in the Appstore.
The Amazon Fire HD 6 is a great little tablet. Even with some short comings, it’s a solid device with a decent screen, sturdy construction, surprising performance, and great battery life. It’s only $99. You can find some better tablets for a bit more than that, but at that price-point you won’t find much better than this.