The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX won’t be available until October 18th but the first set of reviews are in. The general consensus is positive so far. In case you’re thinking of purchasing the new Amazon tablet, these are the top ten reviews you need to read.
Not everyone is going to be smitten with the notion of a gadget so thoroughly hardwired into one merchant’s e-commerce operation. But the good news is that the 7″ Kindle Fire HDX, which I tried in nearly-final form, is far and away the most refined expression of this concept so far. This is the first Fire that doesn’t feel like it emerged from a company that’s still in the process of learning how to meld hardware, software and services into a pleasing, seamless whole. (All Kindle Fire models run Amazon’s own radically customized version of Google’s Android operating system, which now has its own name: Fire OS.)
The Kindle Fire HDX isn’t just a portal for Amazon. It is Amazon. It’s a marriage of impressive technology and easy access to commerce. Every spec and feature is there to make sure you keep using the tablet, and by proxy, buy more stuff from Amazon.
Powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, the HDX hums with nary a hiccup or UI stutter. Gaming is smooth and looks outstanding on the 1920 x 1200, 323 ppi (pixels per inch) display. It’s the same resolution and ppi as the Nexus 7. Both of which top the iPad mini’s paltry 163 ppi.
As with the Fire HD, HDX models come in 8.9-inch and 7-inch screen sizes (the latter being the one I reviewed). They boast outstanding stereo speakers and a scrolling carousel-type interface that intermingles icons for movies, apps, books and other content. Android is buried underneath.
These tablets provide a smooth passageway to Amazon’s vast digital treasure trove of eBooks, movies, music and other content, especially for customers who prefer Amazon’s ecosystem to say Google’s or Apple’s. And as before you can tap into the flicks and TV shows made available to subscribers of Amazon’s $79-a-year Prime service.
The display is another story. Amazon once again upped its game, this time upgrading from 1,280 x 800 at 216 pixels per inch to 1,920 x 1,200 at 323 ppi, matching the Nexus 7’s display pixel for pixel and leaving the iPad mini’s 1,024 x 768, 163-ppi screen in the dust. Indeed, it’s a beautiful thing to behold, and it makes us seriously consider upgrading our Breaking Bad digital collection to the HD format. If we’re going to relive the trauma, we would want to view Walt’s meth in the true blue that only perfect color accuracy can provide. In outdoor use, the dynamic image contrast helps as well, utilizing the built-in ambient light sensor to adjust the contrast of the display on a pixel-by-pixel basis, rather than just changing the display brightness. The effect is generally subtle, and you won’t often see it kick into action. In a demo, an Amazon rep shone a “sunlight” flashlight on the sensor indoors, and the result was immediate and impressive. So you can do that at home, if you really want to see a dramatic transformation.
Fire OS 3.0, codenamed “Mojito,” is Amazon’s latest software effort. It’s not the flexible, versatile, platform Android has become, and still feels very much media-centric. The top navigation is just a list of ways to give Amazon your money: Shop, Games, Videos, Audiobooks, Newsstand, and more. The homescreen is still a reverse-chronological carousel of every book, app, and movie you’ve opened or purchased since the beginning of time. Mojito does offer a new grid view of your apps, which makes life easier — before, if you didn’t open Hulu for a week, it wound up buried in the carousel behind all the other things Amazon really thinks you should be buying and watching instead.
Mayday may be Amazon’s biggest innovation in this new version of the hardware. It is, in short, an amazing idea well-implemented. While, obviously, the most pressing problems a user could have with the Kindle is getting online, we can only assume they have some grasp of Wi-Fi passwords and can clear that hurdle. After that, nearly anything could “go wrong,” and Mayday is there to fix it. The Mayday button essentially calls up a dedicated customer service specialist on your screen who can view your settings, modify and control the UI, and draw, virtually, right on your device. It’s a 24/7 service and Amazon hopes to have a 15-second response time. Given that support is 90 percent of customer satisfaction, I’m almost positive this feature will reduce returns and improve the popularity of these devices.
Customer service is by no means a new concept, but I can’t recall any other modern-day tech company attempting what Amazon has set out to do with May Day. It wants, in essence, to support, potentially millions of Kindle Fire HDX tablets with live, 24/7/365 tech support.
I have no idea how this scales, but in my tests, it worked just as advertised. May Day is part of the Settings menu, which you access by swiping down from the top edge of the screen. When I tapped it, a small, roughly 1.5-inch rectangular window appeared on screen. For a moment, I was on hold, waiting for a customer-service attendant. Then Cody appeared. He helpfully moved about my screen, circled what I needed to access and, if I had let him, could have controlled my screen. It was one-way video and while the video quality was sharp, the audio was just OK, though completely intelligible.
What sets the Kindle Fire HDX apart from other tablets, when it comes to digital books, is the new Reading Mode. By powering down the quadcore processor automatically, whenever the Kindle ebook app is running, as well as pushing the text into a lower-power chunk of memory, Amazon claims up to 17 hours of battery life: 6-7 more than in regular use. We’ll look at how well that performs later, in the battery section.
Great as it might be, the Kindle Fire HDX isn’t going to be my primary tablet. I am going to stick with iPad Mini — it feels lighter, it has a better ecosystem of applications (that make sense to me) and more importantly, I find it easier to use for emails and lightweight document creation in addition to some photo editing. And if Apple does introduce a higher-end retina display version, even better.
That said, I am actively and seriously considering making the $229 16 GB version of Kindle Fire HDX as my auxiliary tablet and ebook reader. Yes, it is not cheap, but given how much of my life resides on Amazon’s servers — books, movies and music — and how often I order stuff for my home from Amazon, it will be a worthwhile investment. Maybe Amazon should offer this at a discount to its Amazon Prime customers!
If there’s anything to dislike about the Kindle Fire HDX, it’s that, despite all the improvements, users are very much wedded to the Amazon ecosystem. And although iPad mini is pricier and features older components (for now), if you’re a Mac user, there’s undeniably more synergy among Apple devices. Also, Fire OS 3.0 still trails behind iOS7 in some features and polish.
That still doesn’t diminish what Amazon has done this year with the HDX. For the first time, truly, the company has made a product that won’t make some users feel like they’re compromising an excellent user experience for a cheap price tag. Because now, Amazon’s tablet line has both.
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