Amazon's Kindle Fire line has always been about putting gobs of great content at your fingertips, and now you can add tech help to that list. For the first time on any tablet, the Kindle Fire HDX provides guidance from a live adviser with the tap of a button. This 7-inch Android slate has a lot more going for it, including a sleeker new design, superfast Snapdragon 800 processor and superior full-HD display. After spending some quality time with the HDX, it's easy to see why Amazon has done enough to make this one of the very best 7-inch tablets.
The shape of the Kindle Fire HDX definitely is more interesting than your average black rectangular tablet. Unlike the Kindle Fire HD -- which has soft, rounded corners -- every edge of the HDX is angled, offering an aerodynamic aesthetic 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 are easy to find by touch alone. The top edge houses Dolby speakers on each side.
At 7.3 x 5 x 0.35 inches, the HDX is shorter than the competition, including the Nexus 7 (7.9 x 4.5 x 0.34 inches), the Hisense Sero 7 Pro (7.9 x 5 x 0.4 inches) and the ASUS Memo Pad HD 7 (7.7 x 4.7 x 0.4 inches). Weighing just 10.7 ounces, the HDX is lighter than the 12.7-ounce Hisense and 11-ounce ASUS. But Amazon's tablet is a tad heavier than the 10.34-ounce Nexus 7.
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Like the Nexus 7, the HDX lacks a microSD card slot, something both the Sero 7 Pro and Memo Pad HD 7 offer. However, Amazon does make 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions of the HDX. In our 16GB review unit, 10.71GB was available for use.
Amazon packs the Kindle Fire HDX with a 1920 x 1200-pixel, 7-inch display with a density of 323 pixels per inch. That matches the Nexus 7's screen, but blows away the Memo Pad HD 7's and Sero 8 Pro's 1280 x 800p panels.
When we watched a trailer for "Thor," viewing angles on the Fire HDX were excellent. Colors popped, as the hammer-wielding god's cape flapped and Loki's wicked smile shined with pure malice. In side-by-side viewing, Amazon's tablet beat Google's and Hisense's in clarity, color and contrast.
The Nexus 7 offers the brightest screen among its competition, with a lux rating of 531. But the 480 lux on the Fire HDX is still significantly brighter than the category average of 368 lux, as well as the Memo Pad HD 7 (358) and Sero 7 Pro (369).
Dual speakers, combined with Dolby Digital Plus technology, made for some impressive audio on the HDX. 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. Plus, Loki's voice in the trailer for "Thor" gave us goose bumps.
On our LAPTOP Audio Test, the Fire HDX speakers pumped out audio at a loud 77 decibels. That's lower than the 83-db category average, but we had no problem filling a small room with quality sound. The Nexus 7, by comparison, offered up just 73 decibels.
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 features.
Familiar to previous Fire owners is the carousel view of recently opened content or apps that sits at the top of the screen, just above a more traditional grid view. But 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, and will add Cloud Collections, Goodreads and some enterprise-level enhancements. Cloud Collections allows you to group similar content and then store it on Amazon's server instead of your tablet's memory. Goodreads is a social network for bookworms that will allow members to see what their friends are reading, share highlights and rate books.
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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's something you won't find on other tablets. In the quick-access drop-down settings menu of the Fire HDX, you'll find a Mayday button for instantly getting 24/7 tech support. After we hit the button, another screen opened, offering us access to the user guide or our wireless settings. The screen also told us 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 button, the head of tech support specialist Jace appeared nearly instantly in a small box on our screen. He could access and control our tablet, which we found helpful but also somewhat intrusive. We could also manually move his head around the screen to keep him from covering important answers.
We asked for Jace's help in setting up a user profile in FreeTime. He quickly circled the FreeTime app icon on our screen (think football Telestrator translated for the tech world) and walked us step-by-step through the process. We liked that when it came time to ask for our password, he paused his screen's access so he couldn't see what we typed. The whole call took less than 4 minutes.
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 get extra information on the media you're enjoying. For books, this means getting a CliffNotes-like look at the appearance of various characters or themes within a story -- a tool that could be helpful for writing a paper.
The music version of this feature is a little different. When we listened 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 "Django Unchained," we could pull up bios on the actors in any given scene. You can also get general trivia. For instance, we had no idea that Kevin Costner was originally cast as Ace Speck but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. You can also navigate through the movie by skipping to specific songs as they play or, of course, buy the music from Amazon.
With a nod to tablets' family-oriented qualities, 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 can 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 by customizing things like the background color.
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 that your child enter a password before gaining access to Wi-Fi or in-app purchases.
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 and PBS.
The HDX sports a gray keyboard with white letters, which 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 forward-slash (/) 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. 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 only find 13 for the Fire HDX. Apps you won't find for the HDX include Snapchat, "Candy Crush Saga," Instagram and Beautiful Widgets.
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Amazon -- true to its bookseller roots -- offers a catalog of millions of e-book titles. The company even boasts that more than 1.7 million 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 in 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 of this service.
With Amazon's new Immersion Reading, you can get even more engrossed in your next e-book. The Kindle Fire HDX can synchronize Kindle text with companion Audible audiobooks, highlighting the text as it is read by a professional narrator. While we could see this feature being helpful for children, we're not sure who 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. Unfortunately, it also happens to be the only browser that will work on the HDX. Still, we found Silk's tabbed browsing very responsive and quick. We loaded Laptopmag.com, NYTimes.com and ESPN.com in 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 a few of the unique 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 and Twitter. As you add apps like Pocket, Evernote and ES File Explorer, you get more options for sharing.
Generally speaking, we found the Kindle HDX very responsive, and the benchmarks proved that. 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, which is three times more powerful than the one in its predecessor, the Fire HD. In comparison, the Nexus 7 has the same graphics chip and RAM, but it's paired with a slower 1.5-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro. The Memo Pad HD 7 is powered by a 1.2-GHz quad-core MediaTek MT8125 CPU, and the Sero 7 Pro has a 1.3-GHz quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 T30.
On Quadrant, which measures overall performance, the Fire HDX went nuclear, with a score of 19,924. The Nexus 7, which still scored about 1,500 points above average, scored just 4,949. The Memo Pad HD 7 came in with 3,414, while the Sero 7 HD Pro registered 4,109.
Similarly, the Fire HDX obliterated the AnTuTu average of 7,491 by scoring a mind-boggling 32,835. In comparison, the Nexus 7 scored 19,572. The Sero 7 Pro scored just 12,092, while the Memo Pad HD 7 saw a similar 12,750.
When we ran An3DBench, a test that measures graphics prowess, the Fire HDX scored 7,999, about 600 points above average. The ASUS MeMO Pad HD 7 scored 7,139, the Google Nexus 7 scored 7,165 and the HiSense Sero 7 Pro 7 notched 636. In the same vein, the Fire HDX scored 16,201 on 3DMark Unlimited, while the Nexus 7 scored just 10,624. The category average is 5,804.
While playing "Riptide GP," we were impressed with the graphics and special water effects, which were on a par with those on the Nexus 7.
The only lag we ran into with the Fire HDX was when opening FreeTime. It took a few seconds to load a child's user profile. It took even longer -- 28 seconds -- to open the "Minion Rush" app, but the wait on the Nexus 7 was an even longer 37 seconds.
When held in landscape mode, a 720p front-facing camera sits above the HDX's screen. Selfies taken in our New York City offices looked grainy and lacked definition. However, colors were fairly accurate. The HDX lacks a back camera, while the Nexus 7 offers a 5-MP rear shooter.
We appreciate the fact that Amazon can combine all of 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 of our pictures for seamless safekeeping. Plus, we connected to our Facebook account to upload those pics for safekeeping.
Amazon claims the Kindle Fire HDX will get 11 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 17 hours. On the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi), the HDX lasted 8 hours and 39 minutes. That's slightly longer than the Nexus 7 (8:26) andabout 1 hour and 20 minutes longer than the category average (7:07).
At the low end, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX will cost you $229 for 16GB of storage and a Wi-Fi-only antenna. At the top end, it could cost you as much as $424 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.
The increasing number of very good sub-$200 tablets is making it harder to justify the premium for more expensive devices such as the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. Nevertheless, this $229 (for base model) device is a fantastic value. You get a superior HD display for enjoying movies and games, along with best-in-class performance in a sleeker design. Plus, only the HDX gives you one-touch access to personalized tech support.
Those looking for a purer Android experience will prefer the Nexus 7. Google's device offers a wider range of apps and some features the Fire HDX lacks, such as the useful Google Now and a rear camera. However, while the Nexus 7 offers user profiles, Amazon has absolutely nailed its family target audience with its more robust parental controls and huge library of content. Overall, the Kindle Fire HDX is easily one of the best tablets of the year.