In the Pros and Cons installment of the three-post series on Amazon Fire tablets, I noted (*cough* a few times *cough*) that Amazon has not done a great job when it comes to naming their otherwise terrific devices. And it’s not that the names aren’t creative or cute; it’s that they make it really difficult to know which tablet is which.
UPDATE: In September 2016, Amazon released a new version of the Fire HD 8 tablet with significantly different features and a much lower price. And what have they named it…? The Fire HD 8. *sigh*
So this post is attempts to help you find the tablet that will work best for you by clarifying what the main differences are between all the current models as well as those from previous generations, most of which are still available to purchase either new or used. The third part of the series provides instructions on how to install apps on the devices that aren’t available through the Amazon app store.
The Basic Differentiators
Amazon Fire tablets can be distinguished by two main features: quality of screen display and physical size.
Quality of Screen Display
The tablet’s screen display quality is determined by two factors: resolution and screen density.
Resolution is the total number of pixels on the tablet’s screen, stated as width x height (or height x width, depending which way you’re holding it…). The higher the resolution, the more information can be displayed on the screen. Screen density is the number of pixels per inch. The higher the screen density, the sharper the image will be.
Now I’m no expert on display technologies and I find the topic a bit confusing myself, but I found this thread on Stack Overflow to be helpful (the Fire operating system is built on Android):
There are three general categories of display quality for Fire tablets.
The lowest level applies to tablets with a 1024 x 600 resolution and a screen density of 169dpi. These are signified by having no additional term in the product name, i.e. they’re simply called Amazon Fire (or Kindle Fire for earlier generations). These models include the first generation Fire, one model of the second generation, and one model of the current fifth-generation (the $49 one).
NOTE: The Kids’ Edition tablet is the same piece of hardware as the basic tablet but is differentiated by content availability, storage, accessories, and the warranty.
The next quality level applies to tablets with either a 1280 x 800 or 1920 x 1200 resolution and screen densities ranging from 149 to 254dpi depending on the model. These are signified by HD (for High Definition). Every generation since the second one has had 1 or 2 HD models.
The highest quality applies to tablets with either a 1920 x 1200 or 2560 x 1600 resolution and screen densities over 320dpi. These are signified by HDX (for High Definition eXtra…?). There were two HDX models in the third-generation and one in the fourth-generation. The fifth generation has none; I’m assuming Amazon discovered people didn’t want to pay the premium price for the higher specs, but I don’t know if that’s the case or if they’ll bring back more HDX models in the future.
NOTE: As you can see by the above, resolution is not the sole determinant for product names as tablets with a 1920 x 1200 resolution have been designated as both HD and HDX, depending on the screen density.
The only article I’ve found that has explicitly listed the resolutions and densities for all Fire models is this one on the Amazon developers’ site. There’s one table for resolution and a separate one for screen density. The sixth-generation Fire HD 8 hasn’t been added to the list yet, but it has the same screen specs as the fifth-generation.
Amazon has released their tablets in a variety of sizes over the years. The smallest has been the Fire HD 6 (fourth-generation) and the largest is the current Fire HD 10 (there have also been HD models at 7″ and 8″). The HDX models were available in 7″ (third-generation) and 8.9″ (third- and fourth-generation) sizes. For some reason they only add the size to the HD and HDX model names. The non-HD models are all just called “Fire” and all of them have been 7″ to date.
In addition to the display quality and physical size of the devices, different models have different tech specs for both performance and features. Generally speaking, HDX models have better specs than HD models, which have better specs than basic models. Also, as would be expected, the specs within each category have generally improved with each generation.
I’m not going to go into all the different ways they’re different, but I will mention a few of the major differentiators to look at when comparing models.
NOTE: All the tablets let you read the same Kindle books, listen to the same Amazon music, and watch the same Amazon videos on them. And if you start reading a book or watching a video on one device (including your PC and Kindle e-readers), you can pick up right where you left off on another one.
Prior to the fifth-generation tablets, all Fire models ran on a Fire OS4.x operating system. The fifth-generation ones introduced Fire OS 5 and a couple of months later fourth-generation tablets were upgraded to this system as well. A lot of users would like to see the third-generation tablets upgraded as well, since it includes 2 of the 3 HDX models, but there’s are no reports that this is going to happen any time soon if at all.
Fire OS 5 has a number of performance enhancements, but I haven’t really noticed a difference because my other tablets all performed perfectly fine for me. From my perspective, the two most noticeable differences from Fire OS4 are the interface and the ability to support more Android apps from Google Play.
I actually preferred the old interface, but a lot of that has to do with what I was used to. There’s nothing major about the new interface that I hate or anything; it just doesn’t appeal to me as much.
The additional support for Android apps is a huge benefit of OS 5. For example, I couldn’t use Twitter’s live-video Periscope app at all on my third-generation Fire HDX 7 but I can use it on my fifth-generation basic Fire. Unfortunately it’s still not straightforward to add the Google Play store apps to the devices so I wrote a whole other post about that. 🙂
Different models have different processors, which primarily affect speed. Having said that, there’s not a huge difference among the various models of the current generation. They’re all quad-core, but the non-HD model and HD 8 model is 1.3GHz and the HD 10 says it is “up to” 1.5GHz. (I’m not sure what “up to” means in this context; when it comes to processors, I’m as Luddite as they come!)
The current Fire has a mono speaker and the HD 8 and HD 10 have DOLBY ATMOS (whatever that is) dual stereo speakers. They all have built-in microphones.
All the current models have both front-facing and rear-facing cameras. (Some earlier generations only had front-facing.) The difference is the Fire and the Fire HD 8 have lower quality (VGA front, 2MP rear, 720p video) than the Fire HD 10 (720p HD front, 5MP rear, 1080p video).
The Fire comes in 8GB and 16GB versions, the Fire HD 8 has 16GB and 32GB versions, and the Fire HD 10 comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB versions. All of them have a microSD slot that accepts up to 200GB cards. They all also come with unlimited cloud storage for Amazon content (books, videos, apps, photos, etc. bought from Amazon or taken with an Amazon device).
All the fifth- and sixth-generation models support Second Screen for casting Amazon videos to an Amazon Fire TV streaming media player (box or stick) or PlayStation 3 or 4 gaming console so you can watch them on your TV while continuing to do other things on the tablet.
The Fire HDX models and the fifth-generation HD 8 and HD 10 models also support display mirroring, which lets you duplicate whatever is on your tablet screen to a Fire TV. I was also able to mirror my HDX 7 model to a Roku streaming player, but according to this article on Amazon, the fourth and fifth generation models only work with the Fire TV.
The sixth-generation HD 8 does not have a screen mirroring feature. I know they had to remove features when they dropped the price so much, but this loss makes me sad. 🙁
One of the biggest upgrades to the sixth-generation Fire HD 8 is an increase in battery life, which is now up to 12 hours. The Fire and Fire HD 10 have up to 7 and 8 hours respectively.
In November 2016, Amazon added Alexa to the Fire, Fire HD 8, and Fire HD 10 tablets through a software update. Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant that lets you take advantage of a whole slew of capabilities by speaking to it.
My Two Cents
In my original post, I said that my favourite Fire tablet was my third-generation HDX 7. Unfortunately, I dropped it and broke the screen so it’s no longer usable. 🙁 There are no new ones available to buy and I’m more than happy enough with my other models to not be bothered looking for a new or refurbished one. If they ever provide an upgrade to Fire OS 5 to this model, I may reconsider for the added Android app support. UPDATE: I ended up buying a used version of the HDX 7. 🙂
So which model is right for YOU? There’s no way I can answer that because, as you saw above, there are so many variables and it just depends what’s most important to you. Is it display quality? Sound quality? Size? Do you want to use it primarily for reading email and surfing the web or to play videos and music or to keep up with your social media accounts? How much are you willing to pay? The answers to these questions will all determine which model will be the best option for you.
But hopefully the information above will help you narrow down your choices. And to find more information about specific models, click the links below for full specs and customer reviews.
Links to all Fire tablet product pages on Amazon
Note: Product pages for the older models generally only have listings for used and refurbished items.
Sixth-Generation Fire Tablets
Fifth-Generation Fire Tablets
Fourth-Generation Fire Tablets
Third-Generation Fire Tablets
Second-Generation Fire Tablets
And I’m not going to link to the first-generation Fire because it’s not right for anybody!
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