Amazon's innovative Silk browser – which uses cloud data (thanks to the company's vast web hosting capabilities) to speed up page rendering – started off pretty strong on the Kindle Fire and only improved via a series of updates over the past several months. Unsurprisingly, it proves an impressive browser on the Kindle Fire HD.
Is the performance head and shoulders ahead of what we've seen on the Nexus 7, the new iPad, or other tablets? Not really – but it is a reliably smooth and capable browser that rarely gets bogged down or fumbles elaborate web layouts. Flash is no longer available, disappointingly, but that's becoming more and more common with modern mobile browsers.
In practice, Silk isn't remarkably different from the browsers we've seen on other Android devices. It supports multiple tabs and bookmarks, plus you can nix the task bar on the bottom (or right in landscape view) for a more full-screen look. Pinching or double tapping on text to zoom are both expected features that work well here.
One of the more desired enhancements in the Kindle Fire HD software lineup is that of an enhanced email client, which does end up being pretty capable. Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, and Exchange accounts are expressly supported, though you can add your own if your provider falls outside of that list.
Loading up our Gmail account, we were able to star, move, and mark unread emails, as well as access all of our folders. Swapping between emails is a smooth process in portrait view, with "Newer" and "Older" buttons at the bottom of the screen, while landscape view splits the screen with a message list pane on the left.
Likewise, the virtual keyboard worked well in both email and Silk, with responsive keys that are nicely large in landscape view – though that perspective does deliver one nagging annoyance. The back button is located to the right of the keyboard, right where we'd expect a Delete key (which is actually below, above Return), so don't be surprised if you accidentally flip back a few times on mistake.
The Kindle Fire HD is the first tablet with dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi, which uses MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) tech to allow simultaneous transmission over both antennas to improve speed and reliability. Amazon claims it to be the fastest tablet around – reportedly up to 41% faster than the new iPad's dual-band, single-antenna design.
In our testing, the device did indeed perform admirably during everyday use, from web browsing to large downloads (like apps and HD television episodes) and video streaming. Moreover, we tested the strength of our Wi-Fi signal on both the Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7 and found that it deteriorated at a noticeably lower rate on Amazon's device the further we walked from the router.
Much like the Nexus 7 and most other tablets in this price range, the Kindle Fire HD does not support cellular connections. It does, however, include Bluetooth support this time around for keyboards, speakers, and more, plus the HDMI-out port can be used to display your video clips and other media on a TV or other secondary screen.