Kindle Fire HD’s Canadian version is a huge disappointment: Peter Nowak

I’m not sure why anyone would buy it.

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(Photo: Reed Saxon/AP)

(Photo: Reed Saxon/AP)

Amazon’s announcement last month that the Kindle Fire HD tablet e-reader was finally coming to Canada elicited some excitement from gadget watchers. I myself wondered if the news might mean renewed interest from Amazon in a country where it has devoted less than its full attention, a fact that has probably resulted in the stalling of the e-book wave here.

I’ve been playing around with the smaller of the two announced tablets, the seven-inch Kindle Fire HD, for the past week and can safely say that nope, Amazon really isn’t ramping up its Canadian operations. The device itself is fine, but it’s not very useful because of what it doesn’t come with—a decent version of Amazon’s premium subscription service, Prime.

Hardware-wise, the Fire HD is about as nice a device as you’ll get—and it’s tough to beat on price. The seven-inch version sells for $214 while the larger 8.9-inch model, which has a slightly higher screen resolution, goes for $284. The closest decent tablet is Google’s Nexus 7, which regularly sells for about $239, while the iPad Mini starts at $329. With a solid screen, stereo speakers on its back and the capability to do most of what you want to do on a such a device—surf the web, check email, read e-books, play videos and post to Facebook—the Fire HD is good value.

The smaller tablet has the same screen resolution as the Nexus 7 and is slightly sharper than the iPad Mini, while its stereo speakers beat both competitors.

It’s when we get to the software side that its deficiencies become apparent. For one thing, the Fire HD—although based on the Android operating system—doesn’t have full access to the Google Play app store. Instead, it offers up Amazon’s own curated version, which has far less going for it, such as fewer apps and no music or movies.

The key, though, is the lack of a proper Prime service. In the United States, an annual $79 fee gets subscribers unlimited two-day shipping on products ordered on the website, plus access to the Amazon Instant Video streaming service and the Kindle e-book lending program. In Canada, the same fee only gets the shipping perk and not the other two services. As it stands, Prime is woefully overpriced for Canadians given how seriously it’s hobbled.

The only real way to get media onto the device, aside from Amazon’s own e-books and streaming apps such as Netflix, is by side-loading files through a computer connection. That’s a giant pain in the butt that competing tablets aren’t handicapped with. The Nexus 7 is well worth the extra $20, just for the option of having access to the full Google Play app and media store.

The Kindle Fire HD is therefore a thoroughly handicapped device. In the United States, its big advantage over competing tablets is its smooth interoperability with Amazon’s video streaming service. Without that option in Canada, it’s tough to figure out why anyone would want it over one of the competing tablets.

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