8 / 10

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7in (Wi-Fi) review

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7in (Wi-Fi) review

Company

Amazon

Price

$229 (£140)

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 is incredibly easy to use. Its new Mayday remote video support feature is as revolutionary as Apple’s Genius Bars once were, giving you unlimited, personalised video support for all of your tablet needs. Combined with a very easy-to-use interface and very solid specs – particularly given the asking price of $229 (£140) over in the US – the Kindle Fire makes an ideal first tablet. As long as you’re comfortable buying your media from Amazon, that is. When it comes to the tech-savvy consumer, though, the more user-configurable Google Nexus 7 remains our favourite small tablet.

Design

With each generation of the Kindle Fire, the tablet has become classier looking. This one feels downright premium, with one exception: A huge bezel around the 7in, 1,920 x 1,200 (323-pixels-per-inch) screen. The back panel is angled and mostly soft-touch, with a big embossed Amazon logo. Sizeable power and volume buttons on the back edges are a big leap forward from the previous-gen Fires.

At 128 x 9 x 186mm (WxDxH) and weighing just a tad over 300 grams, the HDX is wider than the Google Nexus 7, but not as wide as the somewhat awkward Apple iPad mini. The Nexus 7 is certainly easier to use in a single hand in portrait mode, but the HDX is still usable. (For more on the HDX versus Nexus 7 in terms of specs, see our comparison here).

The IPS LCD screen is remarkably sharp, marred only by a barely noticeable blue glow around the edges. Dual stereo speakers sit on the top back edge; they give a sense of space, but offer almost no bass. Fortunately, you get a lot more low-end when you plug in headphones.

The Kindle Fire HDX suffers from the fate of all slim, small, super-high-resolution tablets, which is so-so battery life. I got 5 hours and 40 minutes playing video with the screen set to full brightness, which doesn’t compare well with the 7 hours and 37 minutes the Nexus 7 turned in on the same test. Amazon said a firmware update may improve battery life before the tablet ships in the US, and indeed, it might have been improved further still by the time we see a UK release. I hope so, because Amazon claims the slate is good for 11 hours of video viewing time.

We reviewed the Wi-Fi-only version of the HDX, which supports 802.11 b/g/n on the 2.4 and 5GHz bands. Tested side by side with a Nexus 7 using a Meraki 802.11n router, the HDX had slightly better performance than the Nexus 7 did, especially in weak signal areas at the edge of the router’s coverage zone.

Beyond the $229 (£140) base model, you get some options which you can mix and match. $15 (£9) cleanses the lock screen of ads. $40 (£25) more gets you up to 32GB storage, while $80 (£50) gets you 64GB. $100 (£60) more buys you an LTE-equipped HDX, and this also has a GPS radio – the Wi-Fi version does not. Both versions integrate Bluetooth 4.0, but neither offers NFC.

Fire OS 3.0 and performance

The new Fire runs “Kindle OS 3.0 Mojito,” which is a fork of the open source version of Android 4.2.2. It’s compatible with most Android apps, but has an entirely different interface.

Like all Kindle Fires, the HDX starts with a clear text menu across the top of the device: Shop, Games, Apps, Books, Music, Videos, Newsstand, Audiobooks, Web, Photos, and Docs. Below that, there’s a carousel of big thumbnails of your most recently used media. Below that, new to OS 3.0, is a more traditional grid of apps.

Each of the tablet’s main sections, meanwhile, is divided into three parts: Cloud (stuff you’ve purchased that might not be on your tablet), On Device, and Store. If you’re getting the idea that this tablet is an ideal way to shop at Amazon’s stores, you’re right. That’s always been at the heart of the Kindle Fire. Amazon doesn’t bar competitors – Netflix, for instance, is free in Amazon’s Appstore – but it makes accessing Amazon content easier than anyone else’s content.

The Kindle Fire comes with a $5 (£3) credit for Amazon’s Appstore, which has a very wide range of high quality Android apps. If an app isn’t available in Amazon’s store (like, say, Google Chrome), you can sideload it by dragging and dropping its APK package file over from a PC or Mac; during testing, I did that with no problem. Unfortunately, the only legal way to get those APK files, for most apps, is to download the app onto another “Google-ised” Android phone, back it up onto an SD card, drag it off onto your PC, and then drag it to the Fire. That isn’t exactly a no-brainer.

The Kindle Fire runs a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Pro 800 processor; technically, that’s one of the fastest processors available in a tablet today. Our Browsermark and Antutu benchmarks crashed on this tablet, and Geekbench 3 wasn’t available. The tablet outpaced the Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone on Geekbench 2, though, and it was itself slightly outpaced by the Nvidia Tegra 4-powered HP SlateBook X2 tablet. The HDX also hit 51 frames per second on the GLBench Egypt HD benchmark, indicating good gaming performance.

Browsermark crashed because the HDX runs Amazon’s Silk browser, which does some cloud-based pre-fetching tricks that speed up the appearance of some pages to an insane extent. I loaded NYTimes.com in 1.9 seconds, Amazon’s home page in two seconds and CNN.com in 6 seconds. The home page for a local Thai restaurant also appeared in under two seconds, as did our mobile web page. That’s pretty wild.

To test gaming performance, I ran Asphalt 8 and got smooth and clean game play. The only issue I discovered was that some games (like Triple Town) didn’t seem ready for the new higher resolution screen with equally high-res graphics.

Amazon also updated the Kindle Fire’s email, calendar, and contacts apps. They’re now all similar in capabilities to the apps included in Android 4.2.2 – the email app can do push from Gmail (although not Google Apps accounts) and shows threaded mail with buddy icons. The Kindle reading app handles PDFs adroitly.

Mayday

Mayday is Amazon’s most exciting feature. Pull down the notifications bar, press a button, and an Amazon rep appears in a video window within fifteen seconds – and you can call on the help rep 24/7. I tried Mayday half a dozen times at various times of day and the rep always appeared quickly, although I got the same guy twice, which tells me they didn’t have a huge number of people working yet.

The Mayday advisor can see your screen, draw on it, and move things around. He or she can’t see you. The advisors had no problem answering tech support questions or helping me navigate Amazon’s store, but they wouldn’t give me any answers that required editorial judgement.

For instance, asking questions about how to mirror my screen on a TV and how to switch between multitasking programs, I had no problems getting answers. When I said, “I want a great new science fiction book to read,” the advisor pointed me to the science fiction section of Amazon’s bookstore. When I asked about children’s books with a read-along function, the advisor sent me to the Immersion Reading directory in the bookstore.

So Mayday staff members aren’t going to help you pick your media, and they won’t solve your life problems. But they’ll make the Kindle Fire experience relatively painless, which is a huge step beyond the limited, poking-in-the-dark tech support you get with tablets like the Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab line.

The one big question about Mayday is whether it will scale. Handling the questions of a few nosy reviewers is one thing, but what about when everyone and their brother starts dialling in? Jeff Bezos himself told me that they’re prepared, but only time will tell.

Reading

This is a Kindle, after all, so I wanted to throw in something here about the reading experience. While books look just fine on this tablet, the Kindle Fire lacks the thoughtful reading-centric features we’ve seen on the Nook tablet line.

For text-only books, fonts are extremely sharp, but the Kindle’s white background emphasises the blue light leak around the edges. Comics look especially good here – I was blown away by the detail on Brian Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s “Saga,” and I could read complex pages without having to zoom in.

Magazines are good looking, but tend to be expensive and lack interactivity. However, the Kindle Fire’s weakest point remains children’s books, which still tend to be straight scans without interactivity or a read-along mode, like Nook picture books usually have. It’s funny: Amazon has a read-along mode for adult books (it’s called “Immersion Reading,” but it isn’t available for every book – it costs extra) but I couldn’t find the option for the picture books I searched for. Neither could my Mayday advisor!

Multimedia

The 16GB Kindle Fire has 10.9GB available and no memory card slot, but Amazon pushes its cloud storage on you almost constantly: Every tab in the UI defaults to showing you what’s in your cloud, and the Docs tab sends you a link for the Amazon Cloud Drive desktop app. Cloud Drive offers unlimited storage for stuff you buy from Amazon (there we go again), and 5GB for other files.

The Kindle Fire HDX has a single front-facing 720p still and video camera. Skype and AIM are available, Google Chat isn’t. The camera is fine for video chat, but you’re not going to use it like a real camera. Please don’t try…

You can drag and drop your own music and video onto this tablet – it supports MP3, AAC, FLAC and OGG music, and H.264, MPEG4, Xvid and DivX video up to 1080p. However, Amazon really wants you to buy your media from them, and the whole interface is geared towards that end. That said, Netflix, for example, runs just fine on the HDX.

You really want to watch higher quality HD versions of videos with this tablet, though. I found that some shows I watched had visible MPEG artifacting that could get a little annoying at times, while true 1080p shows were breathtakingly clear.

Amazon added two new features to its music and video players. Some albums now come with lyrics (The Killers’ “Battle Born” did, Stars “The North” didn’t) and videos let you tap on the screen to get IMDb bio pages of the cast, which the company calls Video X-Ray.

Music sounds good over wired and Bluetooth headphones, and the tablet doesn’t have a problem with lip sync when connected via Bluetooth.

Amazon dropped the HDMI port from this tablet, which makes it a much less appealing option if you want to show your video on a TV. You now need to use Miracast with a Wi-Fi-enabled TV or wireless adapter, and video quality is dependent on your connection with the Miracast box. Using a $60 (£37) Netgear Push2TV 3000 with a Sony TV, I found that games, music and video all skipped and juddered unacceptably.

Verdict

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7in is a high quality compact tablet offering that is very user friendly indeed. It’s a terrific choice for anyone intimidated by today’s complex technologies, as long as you’re willing to make Amazon’s stores your first stop in any of your app or media endeavours.

The difference between the HDX 7in and Google’s excellent Nexus 7 is really one of philosophy. The Nexus 7 is a blank slate which you can customise to your whims. The Kindle Fire is a cheerful personal shopper.

Our favourite is the more flexible Nexus 7 – but if configuring and supporting Android 4.3 on the Nexus 7 sounds too much like hard work, then the Kindle Fire HDX (with its Mayday advisors always just a touch away) is a great alternative to take the pain out of slate usage.

While the HDX currently has a ship date of 21 October in the US, the UK release date and pricing are still to be confirmed. Of course, by the time the HDX emerges this side of the pond, it may well have the refreshed iPad mini 2 to go up against. At any rate, hopefully we’ll hear the UK release details for the Fire HDX before too long – be sure to stay tuned to ITProPortal and we’ll keep you up to date with all the latest Kindle news.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7in (Wi-Fi)

Screen Resolution

1920 x 1200 pixels

Operating System

Fire OS 3.0 (Google Android 4.2.2)

Dimensions

128 x 9 x 186mm (WxDxH)

Weight

303g

Screen Type

IPS LCD

GPS

No

RAM

2GB

Camera Resolution

720p Front-Facing

Storage Capacity

16GB

Wi-Fi Compatibility

802.11 b/g/n; 2.4GHz/5GHz

Screen Pixels Per Inch

323 ppi

Video Camera Resolution

720p

Processor Speed

2.2GHz

Bluetooth Version

4.0

Screen Size

7in

CPU

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 Quad-Core

Ports

microUSB

Storage Type

SSD

Pros

  • Sharp screen
  • Fast processor
  • Extremely easy to use
  • Amazing live tech support

Cons

  • Short battery life
  • No HDMI port anymore

Company

Amazon

Price

$229 (£140)

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