The fastest tablet this holiday season could be Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, which is the first Android slate to pack Qualcomm's blazing 2.5-GHz Snapdragon 805 processor. We're talking 70 percent faster graphics than last year's model, plus a 2560 x 1600-pixel display that's sharper than the iPad Air's Retina display.
Available in October for $379, the HDX can also be turned into a Surface-like productivity companion when you add the optional Bluetooth keyboard and Origami cover.
The new HDX's coolest trick is what the display does when it's time to read. During a very compelling demo, I watched as Amazon's new Dynamic Light Control technology kicked into gear. Using an ambient light sensor, the screen automatically adjusts its color temperature to present a warmer picture that's very close to the printed page. It should make a huge difference when reading, making the experience feel more natural.
Weighing just 13.2 ounces, the new HDX 8.9 is 20 percent lighter than the iPad Air, thanks to a body that's crafted of magnesium. I'm still not a fan of the power button and volume controls being on the soft-touch back, but they're fairly easy to find by feel.
Speaking of volume, the HDX 8.9 is best listened to with headphones plugged in. That's because Dobly Atmos support -- a first for tablets -- provides a 3D-like sound experience in movies that were filmed using the tech. A scene from Transformers did sound like I was in the theater as pieces of robots crashed to the ground. Gravity was also apparently filmed using Dolby Atmos, but I suspect you'll need a premium pair of cans to get the best effect.
Other highlights of the Fire HDX 8.9 include Firefly, which really puts the back 8-MP camera to good use. Like the Fire phone, the slate should be able to instantly recognize everything from movies and TV shows to packaged food. You can even translate foreign languages, as I saw during a demo with an Italian menu.
Like the new Kindle Fire HD 6 and Fire HD 7, the HDX 8.9 runs the new Fire OS 4 "Sangria," which includes a new profiles feature for easily sharing the tablet with the family and a Family Library feature that lets you share apps, music books and Prime Instant Video with the whole household.
Because households are getting faster Internet connections, Amazon is keeping up with the times by equipping the HDX 8.9 with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which promises up to 4X the performance.
When it's time to work, you can use the new $59 Fire Keyboard, which uses Bluetooth and has a decent amount of travel at 1.2mm. Amazon also boasts that its built-in touchpad is better than the competition. When you add in the $49 Origami cover, you have a mini PC, albeit one you can't really balance in your lap. The Fire HDX 8.9 will be best used at a desk, and you can connect it to a bigger monitor via HDMI (with an optional adapter.) Amazon will throw in the WPS Office app as well.
Overall, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 looks like a strong value at $379 in terms of performance for the money. I especially like the display and how it morhps when it's time to read. However, Amazon's carousel-based interface isn't for everyone, even though it has improved. We look forward to testing this tablet when it goes on sale next month.