Gorgeous high-res display; Built-in tech support; Epic battery life; Great parental controls; Huge library of content
Fewer apps than other Android tablets; Limited browser options; No microSD card slot
The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9-inch packs a stunning display, instant tech support and helpful parental controls, plus it offers very long battery life.
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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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.
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.
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).
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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.
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.
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."
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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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|CPU||2.2-GHz Quad-Core Snapdragon 800|
|Storage Drive Size||16GB|
|Storage Drive Type|
|Display Resolution||2560 x 1600|
|Graphics Chip||400-MHz Adreno 320|
|OS||Kindle Fire 3.0|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||720P|
|Card Reader Size|
|Warranty / Support|
|Size||9.2 x 6.2 x 0.31 inches|