Kindle Fire HDX: Amazon's Tablet, All Growed Up At Last
After a little hands-on time, they're fast (so much faster than last year's), light, well-made, and come close to reaching the ideal Amazon set out in front of itself last year: Premium products at non-premium prices. They are still, however, somewhat of an acquired taste.
The first thing to notice about the Fire HDX line is the price. The entry level 7-inch model is $230. The 8.9-inch is $380. They go to $330 and $480 with LTE. That's a lot, but tempered by the fact that a remodel of last year's Fire HD is available at $140-basically the price of a regular Kindle Paperwhite.
At times, last year's Fire felt like it was a mix of boutique and bargain bin parts. Not this time. This time around, there's very little by way of hardware to knock the Fire HDX on.
Before we get into the under-the-hood improvements, though, let's take a minute the sitting-on-the-hood-in-a-speedo remodel of the
And they are-they're made from a molded magnesium body, which Amazon tweaked this year to get rid of the midframe, which makes the HDX (especially the 13.2-ounce 8.9-inch version) feel incredibly light. For reference, a 10.1-inch
The biggest weak point of the HD was probably the TI OMAP processors found in both models. They were just too slow. So for the HDX went with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800. It (and
The other massive, massive improvement is the buttons. You can actually find them now. Instead of the completely-flush buttons of the Fire HD, the HDX now has a circular power button on the left, and a volume rocker on the right They're still recessed, but not in a way that makes them impossible to find in the dark, or even in the light if you don't know where to look.
The screens are both improved as well. The 7-inch version got a boost from 1280x800 to 1920x1200, and the 8.9-inch
For battery life, Amazon's claiming 11 hours (up from 10 last year). That's interesting given the upgraded screen resolutions and the accompanying brighter, 400-nit light (brighter light, more battery drain). Amazon says the efficiency comes from the efficient new panel it's using-not unlike Sharp's Igzo displays-that lets more light through the pixels, even at high densities. Reading mode uses even less power, and Amazon claims 17-hours of reading time thanks to optimized power states for the processor and memory.
OK, here's the crazy part. Besides the improved hardware, the biggest addition to the
The technician can then speak with you (your mic is active, but the camera isn't, so they can't see you) and guide you around the screen. They can see everything on the screen that you can, and draw lines or arrows, circle things, or even interact with the menus themselves if you authorize them to. So a technician could go in and raise or lower volume, pop into your audio library to show you where to find something, or literally anything else.
Security details were a bit vague-we saw that the video feed is paused while passwords are entered-but it's unclear if you can restrict the content that a Mayday operative can see, like work emails or Shades of Grey or hardcore bondage selfies inspired by Shades of Grey.
To be clear, this is incredibly ambitious, and CEO
Last year, the consensus was that the Fire HD was a good media consumption device, but if you wanted to do anything else, good luck. Amazon wants to change that this year. It's made some significant (or, less generously, insanely tardy) additions to Fire OS (we're officially calling it that now), if not quite enough to really punch weight with
You can also swipe up from the main "Caroucel" screen and come to a familiar Grid. Instead of being nothing but apps and folders, like iOS, you can pin books, movies, shows, documents, or anything else you want there, almost like Windows Phone, just less information-dense.
Other improvements include threaded email, at last, starring and tagging in
Fire OS 3.0 also adds multitasking, which, it's about time! You get at that by swiping from the right side of the screen (or the bottom in portrait mode, which seems overly confusing) and you can see recent items. Unlike other multitasking, though, it's content-level, not app-level. That means you'll see several different books, or several movies, instead of just "Books" and "Movies" there. It's a smart tweak for something used to read and watch stuff as much as a Kindle Fire.
Oh, and there's a new case! A new case that is ACTUALLY GOOD. In the past, Kindle Fire cases have been nice, for what they were, but hugely clunky compared to a Smart Cover, and total hell if you wanted to take the tablet out. The new ones, called Origami Cases, snap in with magnets. That's actually extremely convenient if you use the tablet without a case at home, but don't want to toss it in a bag unprotected.
They also fold up onto themselves so that you can use them as either a landscape or portrait mode stand.
Odds and Ends
The ambient light sensor (usually used to just dim brightness in dark rooms or amp it up in sunlight) now also controls the contrast of the screen when it senses sunlight. In the demo we saw (with an artificial sunlight flashlight because Seattle gets less sun than Rapture) it shaded naturally with increased light. It seems like it'll be a nice addition in super sunny conditions, but still probably not enough to make using a tablet in those cases a smart thing to do.
There's also now a rear-facing camera. It's 8MP and "mediocre" is probably generous. The quick photos I shot in the play pen Amazon set up for the press looked quite grainy. Even Amazon seems a little puzzled about why anyone wants rear cameras on tablets (though there are some good reasons!).
So, Is This For Real Now?
The Fire HDX is absolutely a top tier piece of hardware