Amazon has made a name for itself by making things easy for the consumer. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch tablet continues that tradition by offering on-demand tech support, helpful parental controls and tons of great content. This Android-powered tablet also adds a dazzling 2560 x 1600 display that rivals the iPad Air's while costing $120 less. Find out just how much value this slate delivers overall.
The shape of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch definitely is more interesting than your average black rectangular tablet. Every edge of the HDX is angled, offering an aerodynamic look.
The only adornment on the front is the HD camera, which supports 720p recording. The thin edges are home to the microUSB port on the left and the headphone port on the right. Along the slanted, soft-touch back sides, in landscape mode, you'll find an indented power button on the left and volume buttons on the right that were easy to find by touch alone. The top edge houses Dolby speakers on each side, as well as an 8-MP camera in the middle.
At 9.2 x 6.2 x 0.31 inches, the HDX 8.9-inch is more compact than the competition, including the Apple iPad Air (9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches), the Microsoft Surface 2 (10.8 x 6.8 x 0.35 inches) and the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (9.57 x 6.75 x 0.31 inches). However, all of these tablets have bigger displays. Weighing just 13.3 ounces, the HDX 8.9-inch is lighter than other tablets in its class, including the 1.05-pound iPad Air. The 8-inch Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 weighs 11 ounces.
Like the iPad Air, the HDX lacks a microSD card slot, something the Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 offers. However, Amazon does make a 16GB, 32GB or 64GB version of the HDX 8.9-inch.
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Amazon packs the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch with a sharp 2560 x 1600-pixel, 8.9-inch display with a density of 339 pixels per inch. That beats the iPad Air's Retina Display (2048 x 1536-pixels with 264 ppi). The Galaxy Note 10.1 does match the pixels of the HDX of 2560 x 1600, but the pixel density of 300 dpi is less on Samsung's full-size tablet. The HDX display also blows away the Surface 2's 1920 x 1080.
When watching an HD trailer for "Charlie Countrymen," viewing angles on the Fire HDX 8.9-inch were excellent. The purple rims around Shia LaBeouf's drug-addled eyes were completely believable. In side-by-side viewing, Amazon's screen looked brighter than the iPad Air while watching an HD trailer for "The Avengers." However, the iPad Air's display offered warmer colors. Oddly, when watching an HD copy of "Batman: The Dark Knight" downloaded from Amazon, it looked a bit choppy.
The 440 lux and 408 nits of brightness on the Fire HDX 8.9-inch beats its competition, including the iPad Air (411 lux), the Surface 2 (357 lux) and the Note 10.1 (427 lux).
Dual speakers combined with Dolby Digital Plus technology made for some impressive audio on the HDX 8.9-inch. Due to the speakers' placement along the top slanted edge, the audio was actually amplified when we put the tablet on a table. We picked up some bass from Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," and the cowbells in One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" rang out crisp and clear, even at full volume.
On our LAPTOP Audio Test, the Fire HDX speakers pumped out audio at a loud 74 decibels. That's lower than the 83-db category average, but we had no problem filling a small room with quality sound.
While Android powers the Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon has fully skinned the tablet with its own overlay, called Fire 3.0 "Mojito." The outward appearance looks very similar to last year's Kindle Fire HD, but Amazon has gone hog wild with new features.
Familiar to previous Fire owners is the carousel view of recently opened content or apps that sit at the top of the screen, just above a more traditional grid view. Yet this year Amazon has added the Quick Switch feature from within apps; with a side swipe, you can reveal a tray of open apps without going back to the home screen. The carousel view still seems a bit My First Tablet to us.
The top bar of the screen shows some basic info, such as wireless setting and battery status. Below that is a row that separates your content by type -- games, apps, books, music, videos, newsstand, audiobooks, Web, photos and docs. Naturally, you can access the Amazon store from this bar. It's an obvious and clear system of navigation that we found helpful.
Pulling down from the top reveals some quick access settings such as brightness, auto-rotate, wireless and settings. Under Settings you can open another window to tweak everything from sounds and security to parental controls. For dedicated readers, there's a Quiet Time switch that allows you to prevent notifications from interrupting your reading time.
Screen Reader, Explore by Touch and Screen Magnifier are new accessibility features for the visually impaired. Screen Reader features Ivona's natural language text-to-speech voice. Explore by Touch describes items when you tap the screen. Screen Magnifier allows you to zoom in quickly.
Amazon isn't stopping with these enhancements. A Fire OS 3.1 update is planned for mid-November 2013, which will add Cloud Collections, Goodreads and some enterprise-level enhancements. Cloud Collections allows you to group content into like groups and then store them on Amazon's server instead of your tablet's memory. Goodreads is a social network for bookworms, which will allow members to see what friends are reading, share highlights and rate books.
Among other enterprise enhancements (such as VPN support and IT department management tools), later this year Fire HDX owners will be able to print to a wireless printer. The newer version of the Fire OS will come via a free over-the-air update.
Second Screen and Mirroring
Another part of the upcoming OS 3.1 update is Second Screen, which will enable users to share their tablet's content with select Samsung TVs, as well as the PlayStation 3 and PS4. If you don't own one of these devices, you can stream whatever is on your HDX's screen right now directly to Miracast-capable devices, such as the Netgear Push2TV Wireless Display adapter ($59).
Here' something you won't see on other tablets: In the quick access drop-down settings menu of the Fire HDX 8.9-inch, you'll find a Mayday button for instantly getting 24/7 tech support. After hitting the button, another screen opened, offering us access to the user guide or our wireless settings. The screen also suggested we could use text chat by visiting www.amazon.com/kindlechat.
But the big news on this screen is the prominent yellow Connect button. After tapping that, the head of Sabrina appeared nearly instantly in a small box on our screen. The live Amazon expert could access and control our tablet, which we found helpful but also somewhat intrusive. We could also manually move her head around the screen to keep her from covering important answers.
We asked for help setting up a Kindle FreeTime, which allows you to put limits on the time your children play with the HDX. Sabrina was friendly and easy to understand. We liked that she could draw on our screen, just like a telestrator during a football game, to show us where to press on the screen. She quickly walked us through the difference between parental controls and FreeTime, as well as how to set it up.
Amazon has extended its X-Ray feature, previously available for books and movies, to its music store. The idea behind X-Ray is that you can obtain extra information on the media you're enjoying. For books this means getting a CliffsNotes-like look at the appearance of various characters or themes within a story, which we could see being helpful while writing a paper.
The music version of this feature is a little different. While listening to "I Will Wait" by Mumford & Sons, the lyrics streamed along the right side of the screen. We could navigate through the song by tapping a specific lyric. Any fan of karaoke will appreciate this addition.
X-Ray for video, which was added earlier this year, is more in-depth, as it syncs with IMDb's database. By tapping the screen while watching "Batman: The Dark Knight" we could pull up bios on the actors in any given scene. You can also get general trivia. We loved finding out who the actors are in the opening scenes of the masked men who were breaking into the bank. You can also navigate through a movie by skipping to specific songs as they play, or, of course, you can buy the music from Amazon.
With a nod to the fact that tablets are a family device, Amazon also has enhanced its free Kindle FreeTime feature. Parents can create profiles for different children, and hand-select what books, apps, games and videos their kids access. We especially appreciate that parents can set daily limits for tablet use, or restrict specific categories of content, such as games and movies. Children can also add their own personalization, such as changing the background color from black to blue or pink.
In FreeTime mode, children are blocked from buying new content, accessing the Web browser, sharing via Facebook or Twitter, or using any location-based services. FreeTime also requires your child to enter a password before gaining access to Wi-Fi or in-app purchases.
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Amazon also is now offering a subscription to kid-friendly content called Kindle FreeTime Unlimited. For $2.99 per month, parents can automatically provide their children safe access to age-appropriate (ages 3 to 8) books, games, apps, movies and TV shows on their own profiles. The content comes from such well-known sources as Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS and "Sesame Street."
The HDX 8.9-inch sports the same gray keyboard as on the HDX 7-inch. The white letters proved responsive in our tests. The keyboard supports swipe-to-type, and we appreciated the dedicated .com button. We also liked that we could hold down the / key to separate the keyboard into a thumb-friendly format; however, you cannot swipe-to-type in this mode.
Fire HDX owners will not be able to access the Google Play store, but Amazon does offer its own curated Android app store with more than 100,000 apps and games. While the selection isn't huge, we were pleased to see many solid staples such as "Angry Birds Star Wars II," Evernote, Facebook, HBO Go, Netflix and many others. However, the lack of access to Google services and apps such as Chrome and Drive was a disappointment.
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From among the top 25 free apps in the Google Play store, you'll find 17 in the Amazon app store, but among the top 25 paid apps you'll find only 13 on the Fire HDX. What you won't find on the HDX includes Snapchat, "Candy Crush Saga," Instagram and Beautiful Widgets (understandable due to the HDX's more closed interface).
Amazon -- true to its bookseller roots -- offers a catalog of millions of e-book titles. The company even boasts that more than 1,700,000 titles cost less than $9.99. Of the New York Times' fiction e-books list, Amazon carried all 10, seven of which were less expensive than on the Google Play store. Amazon offers more than 20 million songs from thousands of artists, as well as a large selection of newspapers and magazines.
A huge perk for Kindle Fire HDX owners is Amazon Prime. By being a member, which costs $79 annually, you can borrow books from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library for free once a month, with no due date. Plus, Prime members can stream unlimited commercial-free movies and TV shows. And for physical goods, members get free two-day shipping. Amazon is now offering a 30-day free trial to this service.
With Amazon's new Immersion Reading, you can get even more engrossed in your next e-book. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch can synchronize Kindle text with companion Audible audiobooks, which highlights the text as it is being read by a professional narrator. While we could see this feature being helpful for children, we're not sure what adult would want to have a book read to them as they read.
When it comes to movies and TV, Prime members get access to thousands of popular movies and TV shows such as "The Hunger Games," "Under the Dome" and "SpongeBob SquarePants." Prime Instant Video movies and shows now can even be downloaded for offline viewing.
Amazon Silk is a cloud-optimized Web browser that can only be found on the Kindle Fire HDX. It also happens to be the only browser that will work on the HDX, unfortunately. Still, we found the tabbed browsing of Silk very responsive and quick. We loaded Laptopmag.com, NYTimes.com and ESPN.com in 2 to 3 seconds each over our office Wi-Fi connection. That's in part thanks to the predictive loading feature that's built into Silk, which taps into Amazon Cloud to load pages faster.
We also like the browser's features, such as Reading View, which removes images and pop-ups for a faster read. A pop-out left menu offers easy access to content types such as Most Visited, Bookmarks and Trending Now. Trending Now is neat for discovering what people across the Web are reading now. The Silk browser also lets you share pages via email, Facebook, Twitter. As you
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add apps such as Pocket, Evernote and ES File Explorer you get more options for sharing.
Generally speaking, we found the Kindle HDX 8.9-inch very responsive. Amazon packed its new tablet with a 2.2 quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor with 2GB of RAM and a 400-MHz Adreno 320 graphics chip, three times more powerful than its previous Fire HD. By comparison, the Apple iPad Air sports the A7 chip, while the Note 10.1 is powered by 1.9-GHz Samsung Exynos 5420 processor.
In our real-world testing, apps opened quickly and the slate transitioned from one app to another smoothly. "Minion Rush," a normally slow-to-open game, was ready to play in 15 seconds. "Riptide GP2" opened in just 3 seconds, while the Silk browser took only 2 seconds. Not only was gameplay smooth, but we were impressed with the realistic water effects created as the water splashed on the screen in "Riptide GP2."
With a score of 8,003 on An3DBench, the Kindle HDX 8.9-inch blows away the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014)'s score of 5,885. It also beats the 7,384 category average. However, on Quadrant, the Fire HDX's 19,047 doesn't quite catch the 19,523 from the Note 10.1.
On Geekbench 3, the HDX 8.9-inch scored 2,609 on the multicore test. That couldn't beat the Air's 2,694, but it does beat the Note 10.1's score of 2,516 and the category average of 1,489.
On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which measures graphics performance, the HDX 8.9-inch showed a score of 12,786. But the iPad Air's 14,850 score, the Note 10.1's 13,539 and the Surface 2's 13,777 all beat the HDX. Amazon's tablet is still above the 5,139 average, though.
The rear-facing 8-MP camera on the HDX took sharp and vibrant photos both indoors and out. All the cracks and crevices of a building across the street were easily visible. And each piece of our cat's fur was easily distinguished.
When held in landscape mode, the 720p front-facing camera sits above the HDX 8.9-inch's screen. Selfies taken in our New York City offices looked grainy and lacked definition. However, colors were fairly accurate.
We appreciate that Amazon can combine all your disparate image files into one Amazon Cloud file. By downloading the Amazon Cloud app to our PC and our Samsung Galaxy Note II, we easily synced all our pictures for seamless safe-keeping. Plus, we connected to our Facebook account to upload those pics for safe keeping.
Amazon claims the Kindle Fire HDX will get 12 hours of battery life. The retailer also says that when the HDX is just used for reading, it is smart enough to power down unused system components, which could extend the endurance to 18 hours. On the LAPTOP Battery Test -- continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi on 40 percent brightness-- the HDX 8.9-inch lasted an epic 13 hours and 42 minutes.
By comparison, the iPad Air lasted 11 hours and 51 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). The Note 10.1 lasted 7:44; both beating the category average of 7:16.
The low-end of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX will cost you $379 for 16GB of storage and a Wi-Fi-only antenna. At the top end, it could cost you as much as $594 for 64GB and Wi-Fi plus LTE coverage through AT&T or Verizon. That version, of course, would require a monthly data plan as well.
Epic battery life combined with a stunning display, helpful parental controls and instant tech support make the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch an excellent tablet for families or new tablet owners. Amazon Prime members will especially love being able to access tons of content for free. The iPad Air offers a much broader selection of tablet apps and a faster A7 chip, but for the price the $379 HDX has a lot to offer.