Kindle Fire HDX 7" tablet review: Elegant hardware, but a frustrating experience

Kindle Fire HDX 7" tablet review: Elegant hardware, but a frustrating experience

Summary: The Kindle Fire HDX is an elegantly designed gateway to Amazon's walled garden. Some will find that reassuring, others claustrophobic.

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The Kindle Fire HDX is the latest model of Amazon's tablet. It's primarily designed for consumers with the emphasis on reading, watching videos and listening to music. However, Amazon has also added some features that may make it appeal to the business audience too.

kindle-hdx-7-main
The IPS screen on the Kindle Fire HDX 7" has a resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, giving a pixel density of 323ppi. (image: Amazon)

Kindle Fire HDX 7": The hardware

The Kindle Fire HDX 7" is an anonymous black slab from the front, but a nicely chamfered trapezoid from the back, which endows it with some unexpected cubist cool. The large Amazon branding across the back is slightly offputting but it is appropriate — make no mistake, Amazon's services loom very large over this device.

The rounded edges of the screen make it very easy to hold, and it's light enough (303g for the wi-fi-only model we tested) to make carrying and holding it extremely easy, as does the non-slip plastic chassis. It's very thin — a mere nine millimetres deep — but feels reassuringly solid.

Unusually, both the power button and volume rocker are on the back on the device, at index-finger-height. This is mildly disconcerting at first, but actually a nice design feature, making it easy to adjust volume while watching video without pausing (that's assuming you're using the device in landscape mode, which seems to be the default). There is a 720p front camera of adequate quality, but no rear camera. If you want to see what's inside, take a look at the pics from the teardown.

Speakers are on the back of the unit, and as a result tend to project sound away from you rather than towards you. This is most noticeable in noisy environments, where I found myself turning the device over to listen, which is hardly ideal.

The charging point and the headphone jack are the only ports on the side (there's no SD card slot to upgrade your storage).

The much-vaunted 'beyond HD' 323ppi touchscreen (7in., 1,920 by 1,200 pixels) is crisp, although perhaps not quite as sumptuous as the screen on the Nokia 2520 (although according to one set of benchmarks it outperforms the iPad mini). Unsurprisingly it's a very good tablet for reading; and watching video is also an excellent experience, with good viewing angles.

The quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor runs at 2.2GHz and, with 2GB of RAM in support, delivers a very smooth and responsive experience with no hint of lag.

Software

I tested out the ad-supported model, which means the first thing you'll notice is the lock screen, which will display an advert — for a book, a game or a Kindle add-on. You can pay an extra £10 to get the ad-free version, which I'd recommend: I found this quite offputting.

The lock screen is another harbinger of what you'll find inside the tablet: at times I found using the Kindle Fire was a little too much like surfing the web in a shopping mall — at every turn Amazon wants to sell you something.

The device runs Fire OS 3.0 'Mojito', which is Amazon's fork of Google's Android. That means Amazon has been able to customise the software with its own features, particularly around the user interface.

Because it's an Amazon device, you get immediate access to one of the world's largest content ecosystems — over 27 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, games, books, audiobooks and magazines. Clearly this is one of the device's major selling points.

One nice touch is the inclusion of a Mayday button offering live tech support, which Amazon promises is available at any time — with the goal of connecting you to support within 15 seconds. Amazon's tech support staff can talk you through how to use to the tablet and answer queries: you can see them in a small video window, but they can't see you. When we tested the service, the support desk responded within the target 15 seconds and knew enough to answer our queries.

It's a neat little addition and possibly reflects the market the Kindle is going after: tech beginners who might want to upgrade from a Kindle reader to a tablet but don't have extensive computing skills. As such, those of us who provide unofficial tech support to various friends and family may well end up recommending Kindles if only for the peace and quiet. Mayday might also be a handy tool for tablets in a BYOD setting, taking some pressure off the corporate help desk.

Other Kindle-only features include X-Ray for Music, which offers song lyrics, and X-Ray for Movies & TV, which uses IMDb to offer trivia or plot details while you're watching videos. If you've got a Playstation 3 or a 2013 Samsung TV, you can use the Second Screen feature to display video from the Fire on the TV screen, using the tablet for playback controls or X-Ray content, for example. The bundled Silk browser is workmanlike, although the reader mode that strips out most of the formatting on a web page to deliver an easier reading experience is an nice touch.

What about the apps?

Using Fire OS also means you won't be downloading apps from Google Play like most other Android users; instead, you're restricted to Amazon's own app store. By using a fork of Android, Amazon has created a walled garden of apps, which means, for example, that you can't currently view content from Channel 4, ITV or Channel 5 thanks to the lack of Flash support on the tablet and the fact that there's no alternative app.

These and other 'missing' apps may appear at some point, but it's worth bearing in mind that developers inevitably go for the biggest and most lucrative markets first, starting with iOS, then Android, then Windows Phone. Another example: although Spotify is now free on iOS on Fire OS, you still only get a 48-hour free trial.

All tablets try to tie you into a particular content ecosystem, whether that's via iOS, Windows or Android. However, Amazon's Fire OS fork is probably about the same priority for developers as Windows Phone — at least, that's how it seems given the limited set of apps in the Amazon Appstore. This is worth keeping in mind if you're particularly app-hungry.

Amazon has touted the Kindle's enterprise-ready credentials, with support for encryption, Kerberos Intranet, secure wi-fi connections and VPN integration. Despite Amazon's claims, this remains a content-consumption device rather than an enterprise workhorse, especially because of its small size - the 8.9-inch model is a better fit for business.

But although documents look great on the 323ppi screen, getting them there in the first place isn't that easy if you want to email a document directly to a Kindle; you first need to authorise the sender's email address, which is a bit fiddly to set up, alternatively you can sync them from a computer, clip them from the web or transfer via USB. Mostly it's probably just easier to email them to your own account (I found Gmail worked well with the tablet's built-in email application).

Conclusion

If you are heavily invested (intellectually and financially) in Amazon's content ecosystem of books, music, film, magazines and audio books, then the Kindle Fire HDX will deliver a rich experience. If you've spread your content around or don't really want to haul it out of other silos, or are just looking for a handy pocket-sized tablet, then you might find it somewhat claustrophobic.

Alternatives

Two obvious alternatives come to mind, depending on your choice of entertainment ecosystem: the iPad Mini with Retina display and Google's Nexus 7.

Pros

  • Sturdy design
  • Great screen quality
  • Mayday service helps with technical problems
  • Enormous Amazon content library

Cons

  • Limited number of apps
  • Emphasis on Amazon services

Specifications

Processor  Quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor running at 2.2GHz, 2GB RAM
Display  1,920-by-1,200-resolution 7in. IPS touchscreen (323 ppi); video playback up to 1080p; max brightness over 400 nits
Dimensions  186mm x 128mm x 9.0mm
Weight  303g (wi-fi-only); 311g (LTE + wi-fi)
Storage  16GB (10.9GB available to user), 32GB (25.5GB available to user) or 64 GB (54.3GB available to user) of internal storage; unlimited cloud storage for Amazon content
Battery life  Up to 11 hours of reading, surfing the web on wi-fi, watching video or listening to music; up to 17 hours of battery life when only reading
Charge time  Fully charges in under 4 hours using the included Kindle PowerFast power adapter
Wi-fi connectivity  Dual-band, dual-antenna wi-fi (802.11a/b/g/n) with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) wi-fi connections.
4G connectivity  4G LTE wireless networks with HSPA+, HSDPA, and with Vodafone wireless, EDGE/GPRS fallback; compatible mobile networks using LTE Band 3 (1800MHz), Band 7 (2600MHz) and Band 20 (800MHz).
Ports  USB 2.0 (micro-B connector), 3.5 mm stereo jack
Sensors  Ambient light sensor, accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS (4G model)


Prices

Wi-Fi-only: £209 (16GB), £239 (32GB), £269 (64GB)
Wi-Fi + LTE: £279 (16GB), £309 (32GB), £339 (64GB)


Verdict

7/10

Topics: Tablets, Android, Consumerization, Mobility, Reviews

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34 comments
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  • iPad Mini Retina not for readers

    Last christmas I bought the iPad Mini Retina for my wife. After days of testing we returned the device and she now also has a Nexus 7 2013. Personally I think Android these days outclasses iOS 6 & 7 everywhere. But the main reason to return is the terrible quality of the display. Especially for reading it is terrible and even eyes will start to burn and hurt acompanied by eyetears. Low brightness for at night makes text hard to read. On our Nexus 7 2013 even 1 percent brightness reads great. To be honost: Apple should be ashamed delivering such terrible display on the iPad Mini Retina at such high cost.
    juliatan
    • Really

      What a pathetic comment to make. Say what you want about Apple and the iPad Mini Retina, but the display is certainly NOT terrible quality nor causes any sort of eye problems that any other tablet wouldn't (with exception of Kindle e-ink). Whether you even bought your wive the iPad Mini is doubtful. But assuming you're not just an anti-Apple paid troll like many folks here, almost every tablet I know has a brightness control setting.
      Key Lime
      • who's the troll?

        I think he's allowed an opinion. He prefers the Nexus 7 display over the iPad Mini, you (it would seem) prefer the Mini. Fine. But just because he doesn't share your view doesn't make him a "paid troll". Ease off on the religion folks.
        frylock
  • its really frustrating

    To try to install OSX apps on an iPad Air and downloading and accessing files is immensely frustrating on an iPad Air. Etc., etc. See its pretty easy to identify use cases that don't fit a particular device and then write an article about it.

    So its really frustrating to see thinly disguised propaganda articles like this.

    ICU
    greywolf7
    • You'd have a point if everyone stopped calling

      The Kindle an iPad killer and called it an e-reader.
      baggins_z
      • Kindle is an iPad killer

        From a hardware point of view Kindle HDX totally out classes the iPad. The vast discrepancy between the hardware makes the iPad look so bad not even software can redeem it.

        After leaning how rotten the Apple is and how limited the Kindle software is people will look for a better solution. The two have basically opened the market for others.
        MichaelInMA
        • OK. Then the blog author's criticisms

          are valid.
          baggins_z
          • Flash can be side loaded into the Kindle HD & HDX

            Adobe doesn't support Flash in the Kindle Store but you can side load it and use a browser such as dolphin to view Flash Videos.

            What Amazon does is weed out the crap that dosn't run well on the Kindle Fire.
            kyron.gustafson@...
          • I don't think flash is supported on Android or iOS either

            Isn't it? I don't see an obvious flash player to install in the Google app store anyway.
            marque2
          • It depends on what you call "supported"

            There used to be Flash for Android, but Adobe has ceased development of it, and the app can't be found on Google Play. Yet old releases still work and can be installed via the apk.

            iOS never supported Flash - this was one of Steve Jobs's favorite personal pet peeves.
            goyta
          • Flash/Android FYI

            Just FYI--Old Android systems would run Flash. Google decided to stop supporting it (and did so as of 8/15/12), so Android versions beyond Android 4.0.x aren't compatible with Flash. You *can* make it work--and there are plenty of how-to articles online to walk you through it--but it's worth noting that since Google doesn't support it anymore, there have been no Flash-related security updates to Android systems since summer 2012. I have no idea if there's anything out there exploiting that fact or not.

            (Back to lurking and reading now. ;) )
            sterghe@...
          • Flash/Android FYI - Right, but...

            While you are right that Google does not officially support Flash anymore, I wanted to add, that my (stock) HTC One Mini does still come with Flash preinstalled on Android 4.3. So unless they changed a whole lot, it's still compatible. It could have been included, they just decided not to.
            4.4 HTC Devices however do no longer support it as they switched to Chromium I guess (?)
            domenuk
      • kindle much better than article implied

        I, for one don't see Amazon pushing me or my kids to buy stuff. Maybe that is because I paid 20 bucks extra for no adds. As for constraining - can you use another store with iPad? Doesn't Google make Android a big Google sales machine? My Nexus 4 and 5 phones are much more pushy about using Google services.

        I ended up using the Amazon help feature as well. A driver for USB connection was not properly installed in the HDX and they got it fixed in about a minute. The user interface is amazingly easy to use and understand. Every time you go to a new part of thetablet it gives you a tutorial how to use it as well.

        Google would do well to imitate the Amazon interface on future Android releases.
        marque2
        • oh and as for lack of apps

          The big ones are there. You have to get a bit esoteric before you have issues and there are always alternates.
          marque2
    • Whats even more frustrating is terrible false equivalencies

      Since the Kindle is an Android device, there is certainly an expectation of being able to use aAndroid software and apps. Not being able to use Google play is a legitimate issue.

      Since the iPad Air is an iOS device, there is no expectation of being able to install OS X apps on it.
      yoshipod
      • Amazon store has most of the apps you need

        Unless you are looking for something goofy - you can get everything you want. I think this excuse is a bit of a canard.
        marque2
  • Tablet solutions

    If you are looking for content and not necessarily app usage the Microsoft tablets actually offer more than the iPad or Nexus. I have a kindle and a Barne & Nobel app as well a a Chrome browser on mine. It makes it easy to use nearly any content.
    hayneiii@...
    • The best of the Win 8"

      If you are shopping for a Windows 8" tab in the iPad Mini price range, the Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is the best of the bunch right now. This is one sweet machine.

      http://www.gizmag.com/lenovo-thinkpad8/30456/
      Rann Xeroxx
      • and when Microsoft dumps them or upgrades the OS

        You are left with a brick. No thanks.
        marque2
  • Mirrors my actual experience

    I have three tablets currently, an iPad Retina, an Acer Windows 8 convertible (actually removable) that lives as a tablet, and a Kindle Fire HDX. I also had until very recently a Nexus 7 which I thought the Kindle could replace. Was wrong. And the assessment is dead on. The iPad and the Nexus, despite the OS differences were pretty even. Nearly all I could do on one I could do on the other, and what I could not do was pretty trivial. iOS is more polished (Google, quit playing with toys and put some of your best on polishing up Android, and put your foot down on the OEMs) but Android holds its own pretty well. Then the Windows tablet comes in and while somewhat behind is catching up fast. And for doing USEFUL stuff on a tablet, it wins. Finally, the Kindle, for reading, music and video it is wonderful. Anything else is hit or miss. Even shopping at Amazon on it can be aggravating. And forget a lot of stuff taken for granted on the others. Especially games and apps. But it sure is pretty!

    And you can turn of the suggestions (as Amazon calls them). There is a setting in Devices to do that. But you have to pay the toll to kill the lock screen ads on a supported model.
    jwspicer