Why I traded in my Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G for a Google Nexus 10" wifi

Recently, I had the great fortune of playing with a Kindle Fire HD 8.9" tablet.  At first I was really excited and stunned by how it performed.  As time went on, however, I started to resent little things about it.  Enough so that I finally turned it back in and am getting a Google Nexus 10" instead.  Here are my experiences that led me to make this decision:

Disclaimer:  First off, let me just say that I'm not being paid by anyone to write this.  Nor did I receiving any devices from any company in exchange for a favorable review or in exchange for a scathing review.  These are my honest, personal experiences that I feel would be helpful to know.  This is also not coming from a position of animosity towards Amazon.  I am a loyal Amazon Prime customer and absolutely love the products, services and technology they routinely put out. I simply want to share my experience with the Amazon Kindle HD 8.9" 4G device.

THE INTERFACE

Having owned a Google Nexus 7 and a Samsung Galaxy S3, I was very familiar with the Google JellyBean interface.  I absolutely adore it's simplicity but it's power.  The Siri-like interface of Google Now just keeps amazing me with the way it can ignore background talking in a crowded room and really pick up what I'm asking for and give it to me straight.  The way that I can search for a movie on my computer and then open navigation from my car and have it bring up a tile that says "7 minutes to the movie" and provide directions is exactly the kind of stuff that makes it useful.  The ability to customize just about every part of the OS is really powerful and makes it truly "mine".

But that's Google, not Amazon.

The Amazon Kindle HD 8.9" 4G on the other hand is another story.  The interface is really dumbed down.  Perhaps it's great for older parents or grandparents or smaller kids, but for a techie like me, it's a complete disappointment.  I'm not trying to disparage Amazon for this, their way of doing things makes them billions of dollars...my way of doing things doesn't.  And I'll be the first to admit that some of my issues with it are that I don't understand the interface and don't know how to change things so it might not be fair to lay some of this on them but if I can't figure it out after a few minutes, there's no way small people or non-technical people will figure it out much either.  

So the interface...for one, it just feels soooo limiting.  There's the carousel which has recently used apps and a menu bar at the top...

Shop   Games   Apps   Books   Music   Videos   Newsstand   Audiobooks   Web   Photos   Docs

and that's kind of it.  It's essentially a platform to use and purchase things in the Amazon ecosystem.  The thing is, I'm not exclusively Amazon so it pains me that this Android-based device with great hardware specs and the compatibility to run anything Android is purposely limited to be essentially a "Kindle book reader with benefits". I don't see a way to edit that list of items in the menu or move them around. I don't see half the system settings and customizations that Google has.  I don't see anywhere to add additional tablet users.  It's just so locked down.

I also had issues with the Amazon videos interface.  When it works, the video quality on this Kindle is fantastic!  The screen is sharp and hi-res and bright and all the things one looks for.  But I had too many times where the video would decide to go black and play only the sound, but not video.  When stepping your way through a Doctor Who series, it's expected that you can hit the forward or backward button and have it go forward or backward and keep playing.  But this would blank out literally 4-5 times a day and simply exiting and restarting the video wasn't good enough. I had to open a different movie. Stop the movie. Go back to the blank one and start that one again.  THEN it would snap out of it.  Well, most of the reason for me wanting a Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G device in the first place was that it had Amazon Instant Video supported out of the box, natively.  If I wanted to deal with blanking video and periodic oddities, I can already get that from ANY android device by side-loading flash and firefox and dealing with an unsupported but mostly working configuration.  But this is Amazon's device with Amazon's software.  I expected more.

BLUETOOTH

I'm kind of a bluetooth snob.  I have a Plantronics Voyager Legend headset that I use several hours every day for making or taking business phone calls using my Skype subscription or from my S3.  I also have an expensive Nokia BH-905i noise-cancelling bluetooth headset that I use while traveling or when watching movies.  From my Google Nexus 7 or my Samsung Galaxy S3, I can put either headset on and make calls to landlines via Skype as if I put on a wired headset. When it connects to a Nexus/S3, my Nokia will beep twice (indicating it connected once to the A2DP audio profile and once to the headset profile) and my Plantronics Legend will say "Phone 1 connected..." and then add an additional beep (indicating that it connected to the headset profile and also the A2DP profile). But this Kindle Fire HD 8.9" 4G device only seems to do audio-out only through bluetooth.  When my Nokia connects, it's a single beep (indicating A2DP only).  When the Plantronics Legend connects, it just says "PC Connected" withOUT the second beep.

Another item about this that is different from my Nexus/S3 devices (for ease, let's just call them Google devices) is the bluetooth settings page.  When you are looking at the paired/connected device list on the Google devices you can click on the PLT_LEGEND and it will bring up a second page with two checkboxes something like "Connect to headset..." and "Connect to audio...".  But on this Kindle when you click on a device, it just pops up a dialog with two buttons "CONNECT   FORGET". There is no choosing headset and audio.  This tells me that either the bluetooth doesn't support both for a device or the interface is purposely limited to not allow this.  Either way...weak.

Lastly, there's no APT-X for low latency, wired-quality HD audio.  My Samsung Galaxy S3 has this.  The difference in quality between A2DP (normal fidelity) and Apt-X (high fidelity) is stunning.

THE BUTTONS

I'm sorry, but the buttons on the edge (the up/down rocker and the power button) are so incredibly thin and nondescript that its impossible to run your finger along the edge and turn it on/off easily.  And it takes so much pressure to push it that you end up pushing the device across the table.  There is also the edge of a back speaker that wraps around the side and adds yet another blip on the side that looks and feels just like the low-height buttons. You end up pushing it thinking, "is that the on button? Nope...Is this the on button?  Nope." and then just pushing hard and draging your finger along the whole side pushing everything along there hoping to hit something.  But then the screen takes a second or two to turn on so you do it again and realize that it's in the middle of turning on when you hit it again and you're actually turning it off.  GAHHH! Gimme a dot or a bump or SOMETHING to let me know where the buttons are.  The Nexus 7 has pretty thin, almost equally low profile buttons but they stick out enough to be able to feel your way on/off.

THE 4G

Get this...I bought the 250MB per month for $50/yr plan.  The thinking was that I'm usually at home or near wifi and won't need much but it'll be handy having the ability to navigate or check email from out of the house.  The 4G LTE works great and is fast in my area (Minneapolis).  It uses AT&T's network. The thing that really gets me though is that when on 4G only and you try to watch an Amazon Instant Video, it says "You must be on wifi to watch videos".   OK, WTH is that?  So, you pay a $200 premium (or whatever it is) for a 4G tablet, but you can't actually use the 4G to watch amazon videos? I get that 250MB is nothing and you can burn through that in an hour, but for testing purposes I wanted to see how it behaved. Again, for that kind of headache I could just side-load flash and Firefox on any other android device and watch videos just fine, albeit unsupportedly.  Of course, Netflix still worked just fine over 4G, it was the Amazon Instant Videos that yelled at me.

THE APPS

This kind of goes along with the limiting interface, but I think it deserves its own section.  Even though you're running an Android device, you don't have access to the Google Play marketplace.  You have the Amazon App marketplace.  What's wrong with that?  Well, it depends on what kind of tablet user you are.  If you only need some of the basics like Pandora, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Angry Birds, Amazon Silk Browser (built-in), Facebook, etc.  then there's no problem.  But if you want some other apps you've gotten from the google marketplace, you're out of luck.  There are NO browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Dolphin, etc.) there is no SpeedTest from Ookla, there are no google apps (maps, navigate, gmail, earth).  It was very disappointing.  I mean, it's an android device...they WILL run on it. 

SUMMARY

Now, with all that being said, if you choose to void your warranty and root your Kindle to turn it into a non-amazon device then sure, it will probably work great for you.  But you're on your own there.  No support, no warranty...that isn't always the best idea and something I don't see my parents or grandparents or kids being able to pull off successfully.  You can also side-load something like the "1Mobile" marketplace and have THAT load many of the android apps you want, but that feels kind of hokey to me.  Plus it pops up a bunch of notifications that "this app needs updating" and "that app needs updating" but then some of them the Kindle refuses to upgrade because they conflict with the system stability so you just keep getting notifications that there are apps that need updating.  That doesn't work for me though for some people that's just fine.

I guess when I look at the hardware specs, the interface, the bluetooth, the apps and whatever else I've laid out here, I've come to the conclusion that I'd much rather have a Google Nexus 10".  The specs are similar or better but you get the native Google interface, Google Now, Google Play marketplace buttons you can feel, apps galore, bluetooth that does both A2DP AND a headset for phone calls...I gave it all my attention for more than a week and I've decided to give it back. 

OK, seriously...as I finish this, my Nexus 10" just arrived.  I gotta go :)

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