Introduction and design
The tablet as we know it has existed for only three years and we already have plenty of tired old cliches about them. The first is that they’re media consumption machines, built only for taking in movies and leafing through magazines.
Tell that to the legions of suit and tie types running their empires via iPad and keyboard dock. The finest tablets, devices like the Apple’s iPads, Google’s Nexus tablets and Sony’s Xperia Tablet Z, are versatile machines with lush ecosystems and sleek hardware that’s a pleasure to hold.
It’s a rock-bottom option as well in terms of price: £199 for the 16GB model, £229 for 32GB and £259 for the 64GB if you’re willing to have the special offers on the lock screen to reduce the cost by a tenner.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX comes close to standing among those champion slates. With its pixel rich screen, speedy guts and compact frame it’s Amazon’s answer to the iPad mini 2 with Retina and the Nexus 7. But instead of being the Jack of all trades you might hope for, it ends up as that cliche device that’s built more for pleasure, and purchasing, than anything else.
It’s a high speed gateway to Amazon’s world of stuff, all of it ready to ship right to your door, as well as music, movies and games to download or stream. Those one touch purchases are dangerously convenient, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
The tablet world moves fast and Amazon is iterating just as quickly as the competition. So far its matched the yearly refresh rate of Google and Apple, debuting the Kindle Fire HDX only twelve months after the first Kindle Fire HD. My those tablets grow up fast.
Amazon currently makes the best ereader on the market, the near perfect Kindle Paperwhite. It’s mopped up all competition from Nook and the like, but the 7-inch tablet is a different sort of game.
With the Kindle Fire HDX, it’s also built an excellent Android tablet, from a hardware perspective, at least. But while it’s lightning fast and a great way to enjoy books, magazines, comics, music and movies, it comes up short in the places where the best tablets truly impress: third-party apps and a whiz bang customizable interface.
Amazon has all the media you crave, plus tube socks and cat food at rock bottom prices. It’s built a great tablet, an Android one despite what its Fire UI wants you to think. But while it excels at getting out of the way so you can read, watch and buy, buy, buy, is it lagging behind the feature curve set by Google and Apple? Let’s break it down.
The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX is no supermodel, but it is better looking than its predecessor, the brickish Kindle Fire HD.
A bit of thickness has been shaved off its frame, giving it a depth of .35 inches, whereas the old HD was .4 inches.
It’s still a bit dull looking, especially from the front. The rear is actually more attractive, with subtly shiny black plastic and tapered, sloping edges.
It’s built from the same soft touch plastic material as the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s pleasant to hold and grippy without feeling sticky.
It weighs just 10.7 ounces, so it’s light enough to carry day to day without adding much weight to your bag. It’s overall dimensions are 7.3" x 5" x .35" inches, making it easy to hold in one hand, but too large for a pocket.
Amazon opted to place the power button and the volume rocker on rear of the HDX. They’re clicky and easy to press, but despite their sunken design, it’s often hard to locate them. We frequently mixed up where they were, especially when holding the HDX in portrait orientation.
The requisite 3.5 mm headphone jack is found on the right side, and a microUSB is on the left. Both do their jobs while keeping cords from trailing over the display. There’s also a front facing camera above the screen, but no camera on the back.
Overall, it’s a functional, but less than eye catching design. It looks like something a power tool company would design, a construction worker’s tablet, until you light up that screen. This is one of the places where Amazon’s hardware stands toe to toe with the competition.
The 7-inch LCD display rocks a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and an intense pixel density 323 ppi. Though seven inches isn’t a ton of visual real estate (this is a "mini" tablet, after all), it makes movies look magnificent and keeps text nice and crisp. It’s bright, colorful and among the best tablet displays on the market.
When we reviewed the Paperwhite, we bumped up against the limitations of a black and white display when trying to read comics or books with photographs. That’s in no way an issue here, the Kindle Fire HDX makes all your Amazon purchases look incredible. Of course, it’s more draining on the eyes than an e-ink display, but certainly the more versatile device of the two.
Its backlight is a bit less powerful than that of the Nexus 7, but in day to day use that won’t matter much, unless you’re prone to browsing in a completely dark room. We detected only one little flaw, a bit of black shadow along the display’s edge. It’s only visible when reading something with a completely white background like an ebook. Still, it’s a rather disappointing bit of quality control, like the dark spots that appeared on the first Paperwhite, but were gone by the second iteration.
Other than those dark spots, it stands among the best tablet displays on the market. Holding it next to a Nexus 7 or any Retina iPad, you’d be hard pressed to notice a difference, so it doesn’t best the competition, but watching a film on an HDX is just as nice as on any high-density 7-inch tablet.
The HDX has fine speakers as well. They’re mounted on the back of the tablet, near the top, so it’s easy to hold the tablet without covering them up.
We’ve heard louder sound on other tablets, but even at maximum volume, the HDX is free from the distortion that sometimes popped up on last year’s model. It doesn’t scream, but it’s good enough to watch videos outside in a park without switching on the subtitles.
We don’t often talk about accessories in a device review, but the origami case sold by Amazon deserves a shout out. It’s quite expensive at £45 for plastic and £50 for leather, but it’s a really elegant combination of protective cover and stand.
When closed up, it lays flat across the display and the rear, shielding it from scuffs and scratches while adding little to the devices bulk. It converts to a stand by folding the flap back and pinching it together. It holds it at a perfect horizontal angle for movie watching, and keeps it upright in portrait mode as well, though with a slight lean.
The cover sticks to the rear with a magnet of impressive strength. You can hold it by the flap and give it a shake without causing a tumble. If you’re buying an HDX, you really ought to consider some sort of cover, if not this one. No one likes a scratched tablet.
The display comparison between the Apple iPad Mini 2 (you know, the one with Retina display), the Google Nexus (2013) and the 7-inch Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has taken a massive step forward this year, simply because things have become so much more powerful.
For instance, each display has a near identical sharpness, with the iPad Mini 3PPI crisper over its 7-inch rivals. The iPad Mini 2’s 7.9 inch screen is rocking a resolution of 2048 x 1536 compared to the standard 1920 x 1200 in the rivals.
Think what you will about the move in smartphones to see the difference in sharpness, but there’s no doubt that each of the three tablets on test here all display superb crispness in screen quality. Compare that to the iPad Mini of last year, and we’re glad that Apple has finally moved its smaller tablet into the future.
There’s an obvious difference between the iPad Mini 2 and the others – namely the screen ratio. Apple’s decided that movie watching can be happily done with black bars above and below the screen, as its 4:3 ratio is better for apps and browsing the web. Weirdly the problem with the iPhone 5 isn’t the same, as it’s now slipped to the 16:9 form that’s the same as its rivals.
However, while the other two are more suited to watching movies, there’s no doubt that it’s a more pleasant experience to use the iPad Mini 2 for browsing the web and flicking through games. The packaging shapes the iPad in a way that makes it actually easy enough to hold in one hand with a full grip – although there’s a chance that using the original Mini for a year has stretched the palm.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
That’s not to say Google and Amazon’s offerings aren’t great for web browsing too, but going from the Mini 2 to one of these wasn’t a pleasurable experience.
The only problem, if we were to identify one, is that Apple hasn’t made the best screen on the market, according to DisplayMate. Ray Soneira of the same laboratory testing facility has run the three displays through a variety of tests, and while the Mini 2 performs fairly well in most scenarios, it’s often bested by the competition.
For instance, that while all three have a really good level of sharpness at distance and differing viewing angles, and critically performed well when being calibrated, in many cases the iPad Mini 2 came up short. For instance, the colour reproduction wasn’t as good compared to the other two, and the contrast wasn’t as accurate.
The iPad Mini 2 definitely errs on the more ‘natural’ when it comes to colour reproduction, according to DisplayMate’s findings, and in our own side by side tests we noted the same thing. The iPad Mini 2 takes things too far at times, where the others show a clear and rich picture, especially when viewing photos.
This leads to lower colour accuracy too, where the others managed it quite happily; again, natural options are too the fore here. We noticed that the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has the best screen for movies and photos, which is down to two things: dynamic contrast and using quantum dot technology.
Credit: Republished with permission from DisplayMate Technologies
The former you’ll be able to see easily – lower the brightness on the screen when looking at a photo, and the decrease won’t be uniform. This might sound bad but what it does is keep the darker scenes well lit so you can still make out all portions of the screen without losing the overall visibility. For a tablet that some might say is only there to allow users to buy more things, the technology is very effective.
But what of Quantum Dots? Here’s what DisplayMate had to say on the subject: "Quantum Dots are almost magical because they use Quantum Physics to produce highly saturated primary colors for LCDs that are similar to those produced by OLED displays.
"They not only significantly increase the size of the Color Gamut by 40-50 percent but also improve the power efficiency by an additional 15-20 percent. Instead of using White LEDs (which have yellow phosphors) that produce a broad light spectrum that makes it hard to efficiently produce saturated colors, Quantum Dots directly convert the light from Blue LEDs into highly saturated primary colors for LCDs."
You can head over to the DisplayMate report to see the full findings of the tablet test, but the results were that while the Amazon and Google tablets were matched in terms of performance, the iPad Mini 2 had less accurate colour reproduction, and lower peak brightness while still drawing the most power – it was also the most reflective.
That said we do like the natural reproduction of the iPad Mini 2 – the other two did err one the ‘impressive’ side when it comes to display type, which can grate slightly at times but wow most others.
We’re really splitting hairs here – all three tablets have an incredible screen, which is a big step forward over last year. Apple might struggle with things like colour reproduction, and colour accuracy is a worry, but it’s not a bad effort, despite sitting well in third place.
The other two tablets just have great screens and offer brilliant value for money as a result – there’s nothing to choose between them in our eyes, but we do prefer the dynamic range of the Kindle Fire HDX in day to day tests, although we can’t really get on board with the UI. Overall the Google Nexus 7 is our pick – but we urge you to try all three and see which suits your tastes most.
Interface and performance
Believe it or not, Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX is an Android tablet. Yes, that’s good old Jelly bean, Android 4.2.2 running underneath Amazon’s custom Fire OS 3.0 UI, known internally as Mojito.
Android is a powerful mobile OS, but it can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Would your 65-year-old parents be at home on a Nexus 7? No? Well then perhaps you can see the idea behind the Fire OS.
Fire OS 3.0 Mojito
Amazon’s Fire OS 3.0 is a complete and utter overhaul to Android, to the point where the Kindle Fire HDX is utterly unrecognizable as an Android device. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Amazon’s target market will likely appreciate its simplicity.
What it lacks in attractiveness and customization it makes up for in simplicity. Like Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs wearing the same outfit everyday, Amazon doesn’t want you to fret over things like picking a wallpaper or managing more than one home screen.
Home Screen and Carousel
The HDX’s interface is built around a stream of recent apps at the top called the carousel, and the home screen, the grid of apps below. Apps, media and documents are all given equal footing. They all appear in the carousel at the top, in order of most recently accessed.
Below that is the home screen grid, which resembles Android’s app drawer. Not every app you own has to live here, just the ones you’d like to give a permanent place.
It doesn’t automatically reorder like the carousel. Instead, you can manually order things by dragging around icons, or dismiss an app with a long press. As with the carousel stream, you can place books and other media here for quick access. Android hallmarks like folders and widgets are absent, but it’s a no fuss way to functionally arrange your favorite books and current entertainment obsessions.
While you can do most of your navigating from the stream alone, having more apps and books below makes for a nice tag team. We appreciated not having to keep every single app or piece of media right on the grid, so we could hide apps we don’t use much, or guilty pleasure books and shows we’re embarrassed by.
For diving in and finding apps and media not currently on the grid or in the stream, there’s a toolbar at the top. Selecting a category like Books opens your personal library, while Amazon’s storefront is just a click away. If you don’t own anything in the category you select, you’ll be ushered directly to the store.
The toolbar is functional, if a bit wordy and busy looking. The real power tool here is the search function, tucked into the magnifying glass in the upper left.
From here you can search your library, the web and Amazon’s store. The results are easy to filter, making it an incredibly powerful unified search. If you know what you’re looking for and not merely in the mood to browse, you can do nearly everything from this one little function.
Multitasking and notifications
The Kindle Fire HDX has introduced a more powerful multitasking feature. You can swipe from the toolbar to bring up your recently opened apps. This is a uniform feature of the OS, making it easy to jump from one thing to another recent thing, not matter what you’re doing.
While it performs readily enough, it’s an easy to overlook feature Amazon nonetheless needed to add to keep competitive. However, it’s not as shiny as the Android and iOS equivalents, nor its as powerful as the two apps at once feature of Windows 8 and Android phones like the LG G2 and the Galaxy S4.
Honestly though, the Kindle Fire HDX isn’t built to be a high productivity device, so it’s easy to ignore. Still, if you need a faster way to get from Angry Birds to the browser, you have it.
Like most mobile devices, the Fire’s interface has a drop down notification center, accessed by dragging down from the top of the screen. It shows active downloads, new messages from social networks and emails. It also provides access to system menus, and once touch access to Mayday, a built-in video chat customer support service – more on that in a bit.
It provides a unified area for keep tracking of all the happenings across your tablet, but it’s a bit underpowered compared to Android and iOS. For example, while it provides a progress bar for video and app downloads, it doesn’t do the same for emails with a large number of attachments. This can lead to a lot wondering as to whether your communications have gone through or not.
You can’t discuss the Kindle Fire HDX without bringing up its trademark lock screen offers. For £10 less, Amazon sells versions of its gadgets that display ads when you first wake them up. These ads sometimes feel random, other times are obviously based on your preferences and activities. They’re mostly inoffensive, and gone the second you swipe the tablet open.
However, the one thing they rob they Kindle Fire HDX of is a useful lock screen. Windows Phone 8, Android and iOS devices use this space to display useful info like the date, upcoming appointments, or media controls. By selling this space to highest bidder, Amazon has robbed users of that useful feature. At least you can pony up the extra £10 at any time to be rid of them.
The Kindle Fire HDX is also without a voice powered equivalent to Google Now and Apple’s Siri. If you frequently use to talk to type, or rely on digital reminders, this is something you’ll miss here. The HDX does have a notification system, visible when pull the shade down from the top, but it’s underused to the point where it’s almost invisible.
If you care to use it, it displays incoming emails, social media messaging and progress for current downloads. It’s also a quick shortcut to display brightness, WiFi and other settings.
The Fire OS might be a bit underpowered, but the HDX’s internals certainly aren’t. With a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor coupled with 2GB of RAM, this tablet is built for speed, and it shows. In day to day performance it absolutely flies.
The tablet boots up cold in less than thirty seconds, and snaps right out of sleep the moment you wake it. The densest apps load quickly and play with nary a stutter. Games like Riptide GP2, GTA Vice City, Modern Combat 4 and Plants vs Zombies all played without a hitch.
The HDX is frighteningly fast at everything. Rotate the screen and you’ll be surprised at how quickly it reorients. You can flip it over during an HD movie and the HDX won’t even blink.
Currently, there’s nothing available on the Amazon App store that can make the HDX break a sweat.
The Kindle Fire HDX is more than just a way to buy stuff from Amazon, it surfs the web, and quite handily, we might add. The browser is yet another place where Amazon chose to buck the Android trend, creating its own proprietary web crawler rather than support Google Chrome.
Amazon’s web app is called the Silk Browser. Surely meant to suggest that the app handles the web smoothly, and for the most part, it does.
Silk’s basic setup will be familiar to anyone who’s surfed the web on a tablet. Tabs at the top, address bar below that, with a back, forward, share and search button at the bottom.
Settings are found by touching the tri-bar icon at the top left. There you can make settings tweaks, manage bookmarks, track downloads and groom your history.
You can search by typing a subject directly into the address bar. It’s a Bing search by default, but it can be changed to Yahoo or Google in settings.
The Kindle Fire HDX is built for making media nice and digestible right at your fingertips, and the browser follows suit. View any text heavy article on the web you’ll find the Reading View button at the top right. Touching this formats the current page like an ebook, bumping up text size, perfecting margin width and stripping out any and all banner ads.
The result is very clean, easy to scroll article right before your very eyes. It’s not perfect though, it removes video embeds you might want to watch, and occasionally jumbles up image placement, or just removes a picture or two altogether. For long purely text articles it’s perfect, but as a multimedia experience it’s lacking.
Still, Reading View is worth using, and worth writing home about. We used it more often than not, but usually gave an article one last scroll in regular web mode, to make sure we got everything.
Other than missing on YouTube embeds, it’s an excellent way to read an in depth TechRadar review. It can take an article with multiple pages and turn it into one easy to scroll document.
However, this is a place where you’ll notice those shadows at the edge of the display, since the text is put on white background. It’s not enough to derail the reading experience, but it’s noticeable and a little annoying.
When it comes to surfing speeds, Silk can keep up with the competition. Side by side with a Nexus 7, it loaded web pages just as quickly. Though the Chrome loading icon would often stop spinning and declare itself done before the HDX, it often took another second or so to finish placing everything. By then, Silk had completed the page as well.
The biggest problem with the Silk Browser is that it’s only available on Kindle Fire devices. With Safari, you can sync bookmarks from your MacBook, iPad and iPhone, and maintain a reading list across all of them. Google’s Chrome is excellent at tracking your history and favorite sites across devices, even letting you reopen a tab on your computer that you just closed on your phone. Silk offers no such functionality.
Also, Silk puts less information at your fingertips than Safari and Chrome. With those browsers, a long press on a word lets you get a definition or perform a search. Not so with Silk, which just gives copy or select all functions.
Still, it’s peppy, thanks to ample memory, and can handle up to ten tabs at a time. That’s the actual limit, Silk won’t let you open any more than that. Probably a good limitation, since it keeps users from ever having the web actually crawl.
Silk doesn’t support flash, which is old news in the mobile space, but it also struggled with proprietary video embeds from other sites that worked just fine on an Android device. It also has a few quirks with YouTube embeds.
YouTube videos played quickly and smoothly, but there’s no way to fullscreen them without heading over to YouTube’s site. That option is just a touch away thanks to an icon right on the video, which pops it open in another tab, but it seems like an unnecessary step. And even when you’re in fullscreen, the little tab to summon up the toolbar never goes away. It’s as annoying as YouTube’s pop up annotations, but at least you can disable those.
Finally, Silk just doesn’t look as good as the competition. It’s busy, and has too much bland white text on a black background. Say what you will about iOS 7, but at least Jony Ive’s toolbar knows when it isn’t needed, and scoots out of view. Same with Chrome on Android. Silk has an option at the bottom to make the toolbars go away for full screen browsing, but other browsers just does it automatically.
This is where you start to encounter the lack of third-party essentials in Amazon’s world. As far as we could tell, there are no viable third-party browsing options. That’s disappointing, since even Apple allowed a Chrome app in it’s famously closed off ecosystem.
Silk is functional for some light web browsing, but it’s one of the ways Kindle Fire tablets lag behind the competition. It’s fast enough at loading content, but offerings from Apple and Android offer far richer, better looking experiences.
Media, apps, books and X-Ray
This is what the Kindle Fire HDX is all about, hooking you up with a slew of entertainment options, all at a competitive price. Amazon’s selection of books, movies and music is second to none, and it’s built some great players that create a unique experience, available only on its Kindle Fire devices.
Amazon has thousands of movies on demand, for rent or purchase, at prices that won’t be beat by iTunes, the Play Store or Xbox Movies. That’s not to say that they’re cheaper, but you can click away, assured that you won’t be overpaying.
To help sweeten the deal, a digital purchase you make on your Fire will be playable on your TV, through a game console, Roku or other set top box with Amazon functionality. You can also watch them through your PC, or on an iOS devices. There’s no Android streaming option though, as Amazon would surely rather you invest in one of its tablets, not Google’s.
Once you’ve made a purchase on the Amazon marketplace, you have the option to watch it via streaming, or download it to your tablet for offline viewing. The option to download is a godsend, it’ll save you loads on your data plan, if you opted for an LTE Fire, and prevents playback from being interrupted as you commute. While you can stream Amazon movies on a lot of devices, being able to download ahead of time is being kept as a Kindle Fire exclusive. Wise move Amazon, wise move.
American Amazon Prime subscribers get the added bonus of having the majority of Prime Instant Videos available to stream, or download. These downloaded files can only be kept for 48 hours, but it’s a great way to get the most from a service you’ve already bought into.
UK Prime members are left out in the cold in this one, as Amazon has not yet made this service available in all regions yet. Also, their are a number of Prime videos that can’t be downloaded, and there’s no way to sort the videos to see which have this feature locked out. It’s small percentage of the videos, but some of the best new releases, such as Skyfall, are not available for local viewing,
As we’ve mentioned, movies look fantastic on the Kindle Fire HDX’s screen. Colors are bright and true, and the speakers provide quality sound that isn’t the loudest, but won’t get tinny or distorted. Also, get some headphones. You’re the only one on the bus who wants to watch Duck Dynasty. Trust us.
X-Ray for Movies & TV by IMDb
Amazon’s X-Ray is the ultimate solution for the "where do I know that guy from" movie watching dilemma. Available with one touch as a sidebar, it keeps info like the cast, director and writer at the ready, for all your trivia pursuing needs.
It’s so precise, it’s downright spooky. It doesn’t just give a static listing of actors, it changes scene to scene, letting you choose between just the actors currently on the screen, or the full cast. It’s a movie nerd’s dream, and a sure fire to get very good at six degrees of Kevin Bacon.
All the info comes from IMDb, so it’s accurate and well laid out. It’s easy to jump to the IMDb site or app, in case you’d like to know more. It’s also very easy to ignore, should you care to, you know, actually watch the movie you paid for.
Amazon’s music selection is more than ample. From brand new releases to stuff from the vinyl era, only the most eclectic indie rock nerds will find gaps in Amazon’s library.
Just like movies, songs and albums can be streamed or downloaded directly to your Fire. Also, should be the type that still buys physical media, Amazon is now offering complimentary digital access to any CD you’ve bought from them, past or future. Basically, if you buy a CD from Amazon, you also own it in the cloud.
For music, Amazon’s speakers are decent. There’s not much bass, this is a tablet after all, and any music aficionado will surely be using headphones. However, the sound has decent fidelity, not cracking or distorting, and you’ll likely prop your tablet up to play a song or two for friends, if nothing else.
This where the lack of lock screen controls are a real bummer. We personally like to bring a tablet with us through the house as we do chores. On an Android or iOS device, you can simply wake the device and tap pause or skip a track, right on the lock screen. On a Kindle Fire HDX, it’s a bit more hidden. You’ll have to actually unlock the device to reach those controls. It may seem like a little nitpick, but we were surprised with how often it annoyed us. You can control playback from the notification shade though, so at least you don’t have to stay in the music app.
X-Ray for Music
X-Ray for music works a lot like X-Ray for movies, only without a public database like IMDb, it’s not as deep. The best feature it offers is live, scrolling lyrics to accompany music playback. It’s an excellent way to pin down just what your favorite singer is screaming, or host your own weird little one person karaoke party – we need to get out more.
Other than a few band photos, a little album art and links to buy more tracks by that artist, there’s not much meat to it. We wish X-Ray for Music went deeper, offering the sort of info that liner notes give. It could at least credit a producer and give music nerds something to chew on.
Selling books was how Amazon got its start and it’s still king is this respect. It has an unbeatable selection and great prices. Even though Apple’s iBooks comes close, that fact that you can read a book you bought on Amazon through the Kindle app on iOS, Android and Windows platforms makes it the more open platform and a more sound investment.
Just like Movies and Music, books on your Kindle Fire HDX are divided between those on the device and all your purchases stored on the cloud. There’s also easy switching between your library and Amazon’s storefront. Graphic novels and comics are tucked in here too.
Once again Prime Members get an extra benefit here, in the form of the Kindle Lending Library. It’s a smattering of books from which Primers can check out one title per month, at no extra charge. These can only be read on Kindle devices, no third-party app access here, so it’s another way Amazon is pied pipering you onto its hardware.
The selection is rather hit or miss. We can’t see customers dropping in to see what’s free to often, but there are some big names in here, like all the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books. It’s at its best when you search for a title to buy, only to realise that you’re already entitled to it.
Reading ebooks on the HDX is good, just as good as on any high density tablet display, except for those annoying dark shadows at the edge of the display. Again, it’s not experience ruining , just a vexing flaw.
Other than that, it’s just as good as a Nexus 7, or any tablet with a backlight. Something like the Paperwhite is easier on the eyes and always preferable, but the HDX is the more versatile device. It does much better work with images, making it a better choice for comics, illustration heavy books, magazines, basically anything other than straight text.
X-Ray for Books
Where did that character come from again? Before it came to movies, X-Ray was originally created to help readers keep track of names in dense novels and it’s still an excellent feature.
It’s one that Amazon has saved for its own products. You can’t access X-Ray on the Kindle app found on other platforms, and it’s the main reason why it’s worth ignoring those dark spots on the display and reading on an HDX.
For a book with a mammoth cast like Game of Thrones, or for the Literature students struggling to remember who the heck Mercutio is, or why Jake Barnes dislikes Robert Cohn so much, it’s another world beating feature for Amazon. It’s like every book comes with its own little Cliff’s notes.
X-Ray isn’t available on every book, and there is some drop off in quality on certain titles. It’s easy to tell which X-Ray indexes have been written by a human being, and which have been aggregated by online sources. The former are generally more concise, and free from spoilers. Still, it’s an excellent option to have at a touch, no matter what.
Apps and Mayday
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX tows the company line across the board. Even though this is an Android-based tablet, don’t think you’ll be getting any Google Play apps here.
Amazon Appstore for Android
It may be called the Appstore for Android, but it’s a mere shadow of what’s actually available on true Android devices, or iOS for that matter. While their are plenty of great games and apps that play magnificently on the Kindle Fire HDX, they’re mostly old, and the overall selection pales in comparison to that of Google Play.
Of course the essentials are here. You can’t launch a tablet without Facebook and Twitter, but while many of the big gun social networks are here, there’s no Instagram – yes, the HDX lacks a rear-facing camera, but what about selfies? And sometimes we want to look at other people’s meals and mirror shots rather than take our own.
Great games include the zombie blasting Dead Trigger, the addictive Plants versus Zombies, the high frame rate Riptide GP2, the brilliant Ticket to Ride, Rockstar’s classic Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and the ubiquitous Minecraft.
All these games run exceedingly well on the new HDX. The frame rate is butter, loading times are in significant, and everything is priced competitively to its Android and iOS counterparts.
However, several of these great games have sequels, which have not shown up in Amazon’s Appstore. There’s no Plants versus Zombies 2, no Dead Trigger 2, and certainly nothing like the system pushing Infinity Blade series or the insanely inventive Ridiculous Fishing on iOS.
There’s also a dearth of quality productivity apps, nothing that comes close to Apple’s Pages, Numbers or Keynote. Actually, the most notable absence here has to be apps like Gmail and Google Drive from, you guessed it, Google.
Things are a lot less dire for streaming media apps. Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu Plus are all here, as well as cable apps likes ones from AMC, Comcast and Directv. For music and radio you’ve got essentials like Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, Sitcher Radio, Soundcloud and a few more.
Podcast fans will be disappointed that there’s no strong contender here. Sticher and Podcast Addict have selection, but leave a lot to be desired when it comes to interface, compared to Pocket Cast or Apple’s own Podcast app.
Games and productivity apps are one place where Amazon’s walled garden feels claustrophobic. Whether it was Amazon’s own decision to shut competitors out or it was out of their control, it doesn’t really matter. The Kindle Fire HDX is simply a less productive tablet because of it.
Bottom line, Amazon is well behind Android and iOS when it comes to apps, falling somewhere around Windows Phone 8.
One place Amazon is ahead of the curve is in customer service. This is thanks to Mayday, an awesome take on tech support that your Kindle Fire HDX purchase entitles you to.
Even the most tech savvy user occasionally needs some help, and when that happens, it’s never fun digging for customer service numbers and waiting in a queue for help. That’s what makes Mayday a world beating feature.
With Mayday, help is just a touch away. The help app or the Mayday button in the notification summons a video chat with tech support. A window appears on your screen with the face a helpful customer service, ready to answer your questions and guide you through the solution.
Your video chat helper can see your screen, but not you, and can draw on your screen to point out icons and make step by step help extremely simple. It can be a little bit unnerving to have a stranger’s face pop up on your screen, but it feels normal pretty fast.
What’s even faster is the wait time for help. Amazon’s stated goal is help in fifteen seconds or less. We used three times in our review period, during different hours of the day, and each time that gurantee came through.
We did have one disconnect from the service. Our video chat dropped about ten seconds into the chat, and while we were able to immediately begin a new session that didn’t break, customer service made no attempt to reconnect with us. Also, service reps never asked for contact info, like other support services do, in case of dropped call.
That’s really a nitpick though. Amazon’s Mayday reps are knowledgeable and friendly, and at your beck and call 24/7/ It’s absolutely the perfect service for someone who’s not terribly comfortable with technology, or those who hate traditional phone customer service. Basically, it’s perfect for the kind of customer who would want a Kindle Fire HDX.
Battery life and camera
Battery life is ultra important for a tablet. Users should be able to get to full day of fun without reaching for a charger. Amazon claims 11-hours of battery life, and with gentle use you’ll get that, but even with heavy use the Kindle Fire HDX gets impressive longevity out of a charge.
The Kindle Fire HDX we tested was a WiFi model, so we can’t speak for the LTE version, but it’s easy to get 9-10 hours of video watching, web surfing and all around media consumption from Amazon’s tablet.
Streaming video takes the greatest chunk out of the HDX’s charge, but you can still stream an entire movie and take out just a fifth of your battery life. You can easily charge this tablet ever other day with heavy use, maybe even once or twice a week if you’re less intensive.
Charging is done via a microUSB port. The charging cable and AC adapter is included – we really only mention this because Amazon doesn’t give an adapter with its Paperwhite ereader. We’re gad they didn’t cheap out here.
The Kindle Fire HDX’s battery life doesn’t best the competition, but it remains on par. You can fly across the Atlantic with this guy and keep entertained the whole way.
Absolutely nothing to write home about here. You’ve got a front-facing 720p camera, and no rear snapper. That’s a decision we’re ok with, since you frankly look like a goof shooting pictures with a tablet.
Still, it does feel kind of cheap when you stack it against a Nexus 7 or iPad mini, all of which have front camera.
The front-facing camera is good enough for Skype and capable of taking a decent selfie, in the right light. More often than not it’s blown out and grainy though.
Hands on gallery
What do we make of the Kindle Fire HDX? If you’ve read the review then you know. If not, or if you just want it all in summed up nice and neat, allow us to give you the long and short of it.
This is excellent hardware overall thanks to powerful internals. A 2.2GHz quad-core backed by 2GB of RAM makes for a powerful, responsive tablet. Menus fly, loading times zip by and there’s just very little waiting overall.
The 1920 x 1200 323 ppi screen is excellent for watching movies reading bright, colorful comics and magazines, or displaying brilliant websites such as TechRadar.
The battery life is absolutely on par with the competition. Those who push will still see more than a day of use off a single charge, and those who are light on it will plug it in only once or twice a week.
It’s also a excellent portal to Amazon’s world of stuff. Be it music, movies, books or physical purchases, Amazon puts it all at your fingertips and the selection is second to none.
Plus, many of the digital purchases you make can be accessed on your TV, or on other, none Kindle brand devices. There are also big benefits for Prime members, most in the streaming video and Kindle Lending Library department.
X-Ray for Video and Books is a fantastic feature. It’s like having your own Cliff’s Notes generator or geeky friend right at your side.
We’re relieved that Amazon’s hasn’t stonewalled the competition when it comes to streaming media. All the essentials, such as Netflix, Spotify and others are present and accounted for.
Mayday is among the best customer service experiences we’ve ever had, and the shortest we’ve ever waited for help. It’s a feature that every hardware manufacturer could benefit from.
Amazon’s interface is fast and gloriously simple. It’s perfect for those who want a no frills, get-me-to-my-content experience.
Finally, Amazon’s Origami case, while expensive, is truly excellent. It’s protective, useful since it doubles as a stand, and just plain fun to use. We’d say it’s worth the money.
The selection of apps, primarily games and productivity software, lags behind iOS and Android. Make no mistake, there are good games here, and the HDX plays them very well, but they’re dated, and some popular entries are notably absent.
The overall the design of the tablet is a bit dull and utilitarian. While it’s on par with Nexus tablet, it’s well below that of an iPad.
While the display us sharp for video and colourful things, there are visible dark spots on the edge when reading off a white background. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a flaw that really shouldn’t be there.
While we loved Silk’s Reading Mode, it’s a second rate browser overall. It might be peppy, but so are all mobile browsers. It can’t match the mobile to PC connectivity of Safari or Chrome, and there aren’t any great third-party options.
While simplicity is nice, the Fire’s UI feels awfully stripped down and impersonal if you’re coming from Android, iOS or a Windows platform. Also, it’s pretty lame how little info is available in the notification center, or on the lock screen, even when those ads have been removed.
Finally, it’s really a pity UK Prime Members can’t download the videos they’re entitled to, like their American counterparts can. It’s probably some kind of licensing nightmare Amazon is wading through, but it merits a mention. Their also needs to be some kind of division between Prime videos that can be downloaded, and those that cannot.
For the right kind of customer, the Kindle Fire HDX is the perfect tablet. And who is that customer? Someone who doesn’t want to much more than consume content on their tablet.
For the customisation you give up, you gain simplicity and ease of use. We’d like to call this the sort of tablet you give to someone who is less than tech savvy, but those devices don’t usually have such good hardware. There’s not single junk part on the Kindle Fire HDX that’ll spoil your experience with all of Amazon’s rich content. Features like X-Ray for movies, downloadable Prime videos and Mayday will have the most ardent Nexus fan feeling rather jealous.
If you’re a Prime subscriber, or heavily invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, the Kindle Fire HDX is a smart purchase. For those who want a little more functionality, reach for a Nexus 7, and for those with deeper pockets, consider an Apple tablet.