Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 review

Pros

  • Fast
  • Gorgeous screen
  • Very easy to use, with live tech support

Cons

  • It's all very focused on Amazon
  • Less apps than a standard Android tablet
  • Poor cameras

Tired of asking for tech support? Tired of providing tech support? The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 comes with its own support team built into the tablet, an array of chipper, headset-wearing folks collectively known as Mayday. It's the best large-screen tablet for the tech-averse, although it's not quite as flexible as our favourite full-size slate, the Apple iPad Air.

Design

The tablet comes in 16GB, 32GB, and 6 GB models, with or without ads on the home screen, and with or without 4G LTE connectivity. The base price is £329 and can reach up to £489 for the top-end model. Each step up in memory costs £40, ditching the ads (special offers) costs £10 on top of that, and adding LTE is another £70. We tested the base 16GB Wi-Fi-only model with special offers.

Extremely slim and light, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 measures 158 x 7.8 x 231mm (WxDxH) and weighs in at 374 grams. It's lighter than the iPad Air, which admittedly has a larger 9.7in screen. The tablet is well-built, mostly consisting of soft-touch black plastic with some modernist-looking angles on the back.

The 2,560 x 1,600, 339 pixel-per-inch 8.9in display shows rich colours but not reflections. It's denser than the iPad Air's display, and boasts about the same level of brightness. The result is that website text appears slightly smaller than on the Air, but it isn't blurry at all. The front and rear cameras are located at the top centre of the tablet when it’s held in landscape mode.

The HDX 8.9 has dual-band Wi-Fi with a MIMO antenna, and results were decent on the Ookla Speedtest.net app, but we got much better performance on the iPad Air under both strong and weak signal conditions. For instance, at about 30 feet from a router with a 100-megabit connection, through a steel door, the HDX got 7.66Mbps down while the iPad showed 18.1Mbps.

Battery life is very good here: We got 7 hours and 44 minutes in our tests where we loop a video with the screen set to maximum brightness. That's 90 minutes more than the iPad Air; it's also 13 minutes longer than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1. With brightness notched down to half, the Kindle HDX 8.9 will surely hit Amazon's estimated 12 hours of battery life.

Performance and apps

The HDX runs Amazon's Fire OS "Mojito" 3.0 on a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. The Fire OS is based on Android and runs third-party Android apps, but it has veered far from the Google path; there are no Google apps here, and no Google Play store access. Instead, you get a simplified interface that's focused on surfing the web, games, books, and music from the Amazon store.

The GFXBench graphics benchmark showed 39 frames per second, also a good result for this very high screen resolution. More importantly, the HDX blazed through various apps, including processor-intensive games like Asphalt 8 and Need for Speed: Most Wanted. We go into greater detail on Fire OS 3.0 in our 7in Kindle Fire HDX review, so check that out for more.

The flagship feature is still Mayday, Amazon's innovative new tech support system. When I worried that Amazon's Facebook integration would post to my news feed, for instance, I summoned Mayday, and got Molly, a cheerful rep who told me that nothing would be posted without my permission, and then led me through the steps to unlink Facebook from my tablet. The Mayday advisors can help with tablet operation, but they won't assist on questions of taste. When I asked a Mayday advisor for a great book to read or app to play, they could direct me to a particular part of the store, say science fiction bestsellers, but they wouldn't commit to a specific title.

With the tablet, you get £5 in Amazon App store credit, and you're likely to find most of the Android apps you want in the store (yes, there's Candy Crush Saga)! I noticed that titles in Amazon's store are sometimes behind, or are older versions than you'd find in the Google Play store, though. For instance, Amazon is a version behind when it comes to the Geekbench and Antutu benchmarks, and the store lacks some of the more recent Kemco RPGs. As for Amazon competitors, Netflix is here, but Nook and YouTube are not (although you can access YouTube through the HDX's very speedy web browser, of course). If you're sufficiently techy, you can sideload any Android app by using a USB cable.

Multimedia

Our 16GB model had 11.36GB of free storage. There's no memory card slot, but Amazon gives you unlimited cloud storage for content you buy through the company, plus 5GB for your own personal files.

The 8-megapixel main camera and 1-megapixel front camera aren't great. A painfully limited dynamic range seems to be the main problem; in low light, the cameras drop down to shutter speeds that are pretty much guaranteed to introduce blur, while strong light blows out bright areas and causes some serious lens flare. HDR mode didn't help one bit. The camera is good enough for video chatting, but not much else.

The front camera records 720p video at 30 frames per second, while the rear camera grabs 1080p video at the same frame rate. Exposure on the front camera was way too bright, so my skin looked ghost-white. A video recorded indoors with the main camera had an annoying pulsing affect, and outdoors, it looked washed out.

Amazon's Fire OS adds little bits and bobs of information to your media experience. For example, if you play a song purchased recently from Amazon, you get lyrics provided which is a neat extra.

The last-gen Kindle Fire's HDMI port is gone, replaced by wireless TV streaming via Miracast, so you need a compatible TV or a box like Netgear's Push2TV adapter. Miracast streaming quality is highly dependent on how crowded your room is with Wi-Fi networks. With fewer networks online than when I tested the previous Kindle Fire HDX, I had no problem streaming The Avengers in 1080p, although Asphalt 8 still suffered from a little too much lag.

Verdict

The Kindle Fire is not a hard-core productivity tablet; it's designed mostly for consuming media from Amazon. While it's certainly possible to load it up with your own content and office apps, that isn't what its super-simple interface is made for. You might notice that in general, the HDX has better specs than the iPad Air at a lower price. It's just less ambitious from a software perspective, which makes it a better tablet for some people, but it also makes the iPad a better slate for more people.

If you want to surf the web, play games, read books, and watch some flicks on a big screen, the HDX is absolutely perfect. However, all of these things can also be said about the 7in HDX, a very similar tablet which costs much less at £199. You're primarily paying more (£130 more) for the bigger screen and longer battery life here (as well as the rear camera, but that isn't much of a prize).

Our favourite large-screen tablet, Apple’s iPad Air, is also great for books and watching movies, and it has a much broader choice of great apps available – but it's also £70 more than the HDX 8.9.

And finally, if you’re not interested in Amazon’s ecosystem or advanced games, and can put up with a slower web browser, the Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ is now £129, which is amazing value for a pretty good tablet.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Wi-Fi Bands

2.4GHz/5GHz

Screen Resolution

2560 x 1600 pixels

Operating System

Google Android 4.2.2 / Fire OS 3.0

Dimensions

158 x 7.8 x 231mm (WxDxH)

Weight

374g

Screen Type

IPS LCD

Graphics Card

ARM Adreno 330

GPS

Yes

RAM

2GB

Camera Resolution

8-megapixel rear-facing

Storage Capacity

16GB

Cellular Technology

GPRS, EDGE, HSDPA, HSPA+, LTE (optional)

Screen Pixels Per Inch

339 ppi

Video Camera Resolution

1080p Rear

Processor Speed

2.2GHz

Bluetooth Version

4.0

Screen Size

8.9in

CPU

Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core

Ports

microUSB

Storage Type

SSD