Quite recently, Amazon released their latest Kindle product — the Kindle Fire HDX. The company’s new tablet offering provides a handful of upgrades compared to the various Kindle products we’ve already reviewed, including the Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, and Kindle Paperwhite. However, is the Kindle Fire HDX worth owning if you haven’t owned a Kindle before, and is it a worthwhile upgrade for current Kindle owners?
To find out, we purchased a 16 GB Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (Wi-Fi) without special offers for $244, and we’re giving it away to one lucky MakeUseOf reader!
The Kindle family of products has spread out into a few branches, where the two main branches are the e-ink products like the Kindle and Kindle Paperwhite, which are extremely energy efficient and emulate the look and feel of real paper; and the Kindle Fire series which is based off your common Android tablet. The Kindle Fire HDX is an upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD, and the main selling point over its predecessor is upgraded hardware.
Just about any product describing itself as a tablet or eReader can be considered as a competitor. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.2, the Nexus 10, the iPad, the Kobo Aura H, the Kobo Arc, and many more are all competitors that offer vastly different features, hardware, and prices.
The $244 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (without special offers) can be considered as a somewhat cheaper tablet, or a more expensive eReader, depending on how you wish to see it. As you’ll see, however, there are some important differences between the Kindle Fire HDX and its competitors so it can’t quite be compared that easily.
In addition to a 16 GB variant, Amazon also offers the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX in 32 and 64 GB models for $40 and $80 extra respectively, as well as options to pay just $229 to receive the version with special offers; and LTE connectivity for an extra $100. Not to complicate things, but there’s also an 8.9-inch version starting at $379; the same storage and connectivity options apply.
Amazon has places extra emphasis on its packaging of the Kindle Fire HDX, calling it “frustration-free packaging”. The outer packaging just looks like it’s a single piece of cardboard that’s been folded around to somehow hold the Kindle Fire HDX. However, upon further inspection, it’s still solidly covered and glued together. There’s a tab which you can pull (with a decent amount of force, but not too much) to open it. The box for the Kindle Fire HDX itself is covered by some plastic and a sleeve — just remove the plastic, take off the sleeve, and pull another tab to unseal the box.
Inside the box, you’ll find some very simple packaging. Front and center is the Kindle itself, with some instructions for turning it on, found under the device. Above it in a small box with flaps, you’ll find the charger and corresponding microUSB cable. Unlike most other products, you won’t find any thick booklets with guides or warranty information. Simplicity is the focus, and it’s rather nice.
We’re reviewing the 16 GB Wi-Fi only model of the Kindle Fire HDX. Here are its specifications:
- 2.2 GHz quad-core processor
- Adreno 330 graphics processor
- 2 GB RAM
- Android-based FireOS 3
- 7″ tablet with 1920 x 1080 resolution; 8.9″ tablet with 2560 x 1600 resolution
- 720p HD front-facing camera
- 8.9″ only: 8MP rear-facing camera
- Wi-Fi capabilities (802.11b/g/n)
- Optional LTE with AT&T and Verizon (US only)
- Battery life: 11 hrs mixed use on WiFi/17 hrs reading for 7″; 12 hrs mixed use on WiFi/18 hrs reading for 8.9″
- 303-311 grams for 7″; 374-384 grams for 8.9″
- 9 mm thin for 7″; 7.8 mm thin for 8.9″
- Starts at $229 for 7″; starts at $379 for 8.9″
The Kindle Fire HDX has a very elegant design — it has rounded corners, a front-facing camera on the left side when holding the device in portrait orientation, and a rubber back. The power button and volume rocker are found on the back, on either sides of the device. There are no other buttons on the device — the rest of them will be software buttons shown on the screen.
You’ll also only find two ports on the device — a microUSB port for charging and connectivity, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack so that you can consume media without disturbing others.
The software that’s on the Kindle Fire HDX is what makes it so different from any other regular eReader or tablet. It’s apparent that this Kindle Fire HDX runs on a modified version of Android, but Amazon has made plenty of tweaks to it so that it won’t even mention Android anywhere. Therefore, it’s impossible to know what version of Android the software is based on.
Amazon also removed any traces of Google services in its operating system. You won’t see Chrome or the Play Store — instead, this Kindle comes with the Silk Browser and the Amazon App Store. The browser doesn’t seem to be replaceable, but it is a pretty functional browser which can display YouTube videos just fine as there’s no official YouTube app for the Kindle. The Amazon App Store is similar to the Play Store, but it doesn’t offer nearly as many apps. You will find a lot of common favorites, however, such as Angry Birds and Flow.
Amazon also made their own launcher which shows your most recently used apps in huge icons at the top, and all of your other apps when you scroll down. It doesn’t use common concepts such as an app drawer, but it’s fine. Again, simplicity is the idea here, and all you need to do is swipe up or down. That’s it.
Of course, you get an assortment of various Amazon services, including music, videos, and most importantly books. All of these work exceptionally well. In the case of books, the screen brightness changes to a very comfortable level. However, because the Kindle uses a glass screen like any other tablet, expect to see some amount of glare if you’re outside or in other well-lit areas. The Kindle does try its best to negate this by turning up its own brightness, but it’s not entirely eliminated. Because of the Kindle’s high resolution, you’re in for a great reading experience. The text is very crisp and easy on the eyes — it’s certainly better than older tablets or even paper books.
One of the cooler features of the Kindle Fire HDX (after it has performed a system update) is the Mayday feature. If you ever have any questions, you can use the Mayday feature to be connected to a customer service representative “within 15 seconds” and via both video and audio when the internet connection allows it. The service representative can also see your Kindle’s screen and draw on it in order to show you certain buttons or features. It’s a really cool idea that definitely makes getting help much more interactive and effective. The Kindle Fire HDX is already pretty darn easy to use, but this really makes sure that you’re taken care of.
Performance and Battery Life
Thanks to the quad-core processor that the Kindle Fire HDX sports, it is very snappy. Everything loads within a second or two, YouTube videos play without stuttering, and scrolling is very smooth. It can definitely handle everything you can throw at it.
The battery life is also excellent, and fairly close to what is advertised. Realistically, maybe take an hour or two away from the estimated battery life, and that’s what your real-world experience will approximately be. Like I said, the Kindle Fire HDX readjusts the brightness while reading so that it saves battery and makes it comfortable on the eyes. The Kindle Fire HDX is still a eReader first, and then a tablet.
Should you buy the Kindle Fire HDX?
So there’s no doubt that the Kindle Fire HDX is a great piece of hardware, but is it really worth getting? Not necessarily. If you’re a current Kindle owner and are completely happy with its features, performance, battery life, and resolution, then there’s no reason for you to upgrade.
If you’re not a current Kindle owner, I might advise that you look at a regular Android tablet instead, especially if you’re considering the 7″ version. For example, you can get a second-generation Nexus 7 for about the same price, same performance, better resolution, the option for LTE capabilities for all American carriers, and it runs on a vanilla Android OS, letting you run anything that’s available from the Google Play Store, including the Amazon Kindle app and the Amazon App Store.
There might be more reason to buy the 8.9″ Kindle Fire HDX because the Nexus 10 isn’t quite as advanced — however, the Nexus 10 is due for an update any day now.
Don’t buy unless your Kindle needs an upgrade.