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Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Review: In Depth

The Good

  • Slick, portable design

The Bad

  • Adverts

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets are aimed squarely at users of the online giant, as a slick and convenient way to access all of your Amazon content – be it movies, music, books or even apps. The Kindle Fire HDX is the best version yet, thanks to its mega-sharp HD screen and unique features such as the brand new Mayday button, and it comes in a choice of 7-inch or 8.9-inch models. We took the 8.9-inch tablet for a spin, and came away suitably impressed.

“Does it come in black?”

The HDX is what we imagine Batman’s tablet would look like – at least Christopher Nolan’s version. There are sharp, angular edges, a thin and svelte profile, and contrasting shades of black on the back that helps to keep the tablet from looking totally dull.

Amazon thankfully didn’t opt for glassy plastic either, instead using a similar soft-touch material to the Nexus 5 and 7. The rubberised material is definitely coarser than either of those devices, but you get a firm grip when holding one-handed and it’s still pleasent against your fingertips. The Kindle Fire HDX is easy to clutch with one hand thanks to its featherlight 374g weight (making this one of the lightest tablets we’ve played with recently), and it’s slender enough to easily slip inside a bag.

The physical power and volume buttons are oddly positioned around the back of the tablet, near the very edge, in a similar fashion to LG’s G2 smartphone. We personally found our fingers fell on them naturally and we rarely had to fumble around to find them, but we imagine not all users will find it so intuitive.

Those strategically placed stereo speakers, meanwhile, sound great. They’re nice and loud, and they don’t distort audio at higher volumes either. We happily enjoyed some TV and a handful of YouTube clips and never felt the need to reach for a pair of headphones.

The 2560×1600 display on the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX is simply stunning, and easily the tablet’s best feature. It’s pin sharp with a 339ppi density, and boasts excellent viewing angles and colour reproduction. We would even argue that it’s almost as strong as the Apple iPad Air’s display: it has the same wide colour gamut, yet the higher pixel density keeps the viewing experience consistent even if you hold the tablet a little closer than normal. Our only complaint is that the maximum brightness levels aren’t quite as high as we hoped.

Come on Bezos light my fire

The hardware on offer is seriously great for the price (£329 for the base 16GB version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9). But the major deciding factor for most people will be the tablet’s custom OS, and its ties to the Amazon online store.

The HDX is ready for action right out of the box if you order directly from Amazon, but if you want to wipe the device and start over, setup takes a bit longer. Once you’re up and running, Amazon makes sure any of your purchased content is available to access straight away through the carousel on the homescreen. Yet that carousel also acts as a “recent apps” tray of sorts, meaning you’ll have to micromanage what’s being displayed if you don’t want any old app jumping to the front of the line.

A swipe down reveals every app installed on the tablet, while Amazon’s services – Books, Music, Video, the app store, et al – all reside in a simple bar at the top. It’s a simple little interface, and bound to please consumers who simply want fast access to all of their Amazon content.

Amazon’s app store has a great selection of apps for productivity as well as entertainment, although the new Coin system for buying stuff seems rather unnecessary, much like Microsoft’s points. You get £4 worth of free coins once you buy the tablet, which is a nice enough gesture – but seriously, why not round it up to a fiver?

You’d think that this would be the perfect tablet for video too thanks to that amazing screen, but you’ll be struggling to watch anything on a fresh install. In the United States, Amazon includes access to thousands of movie and TV titles if you take out a yearly subscription to Prime. But here in the UK, Amazon’s video business is handled by Lovefilm, which is technically a separate entity. if you want to watch streaming titles, you’ll have to shell out for a subscription – there’s no streaming as part of your Prime package. Alternatively, you can install a rival such as Netflix.

The Silk web browser is a reasonably good effort, with silky-smooth (pun kind of intended) scrolling, swiping, and zooming through websites. However, tab chasers will likely prefer to sideload Chrome or Firefox for a better experience. Amazon has launched a 4G version of the Kindle Fire HDX, so you can get online at any time if you shell out for that model and a data SIM.

Last, but not least, are the adverts you’ll have to deal with if you opt for the cheaper version of the HDX. Every time you fire up the lockscreen, you’ll be treated to new offers from different manufacturers – they tend to refresh every day or so. We don’t blame Amazon for including them – after all, this tablet is basically another way for them to sell content. But these ads are rather intrusive, especially given how much you’ve shelled out on the hardware.

Mayday, America, help us

The big standout feature for the HDX line is Mayday, a feature that aims to connect you with a tech support rep in 15 seconds, no matter the time or what day or the year it is. That’s an extremely ambitious goal, and even if we didn’t always see a sub-15 second response, we were never left waiting for over a minute.

When you hit the Mayday button – it’s in the notification shade alongside the usual Android controls – the HDX starts to hunt for an available support rep. Once you’re connected, you’ll get a live video feed of the person on the other end of the line. Amazon’s little helpers are able to hear you and control your tablet to try and help you solve problems, but they can’t see you – that’s probably for the best, as we can only imagine how many dangly body parts the reps would be subjected to otherwise.

Customer services reps were polite and generally very helpful – just don’t be surprised to be talking to a lot of Americans. Amazon’s support centres seem to be entirely based in the United States right now, with one member in Washington telling me that there are several spread out across the land.

Mayday will be a boon to anyone used to being the resident tech support member of the family. No longer will relatives have to chase you down to ask how something works. Instead, they can simply ask Amazon for free assistance.

The verdict

Amazon’s Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is a solid all-round tablet in terms of specs and hardware, boasting one of the best screens around and plenty of power. Of course, whether you should buy it or not depends on your love for Amazon. If you regularly buy books and media through the website, and especially if you’rea Lovefilm user, then there’s plenty of reason to dive right in. If you’re less keen on the online giant, you’d be better served by the Google Nexus 7 or Apple iPad Mini with Retina display.




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