Kindle Fire HDX: Smooth operation, great screen (hands on)

Kindle Fire HDX: Smooth operation, great screen (hands on)

Summary: Amazon has produced a fabulous tablet for a reasonable price. The gorgeous screen and high performance make this a tablet to be reckoned with.

TOPICS: Mobility, Amazon, Tablets

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  • Kindle Fire HDX first impressions

    The Kindle Fire HDX TV ad explains the selling points of the tablet to someone who sounds like Jony Ive offscreen. It's lighter, has a higher resolution display, and is cheaper than the iPad Air. This sums up the best features of the Kindle Fire HDX, and the special Fire OS interface is also pretty good.

    I'm testing the 8.9-inch model Kindle Fire HDX and the claims in the TV ad are accurate. Barely bigger than the iPad mini, and weighing about the same, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 has a screen not much smaller than the iPad Air.

    Hardware specs as reviewed 

    Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core (APQ8074), 2.2 GHz
    Memory  2GB
    Display  8.9-inch, 2,560x1,600, 339 ppi (Qualcomm Adreno 330, 450 MHz)
    OS version  Fire 3.0 (compatible with Android 4.2.2, API level 17)
    Camera  Front: 720p; Rear: 8MP
    Storage  16GB
    Ports  microUSB
    Connectivity  Wi-fi 802.11a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0
    Battery  12 hours (18 hours reading ebooks)
    Dimensions  9.1" X 6.2" X 0.31"
    Weight  13.2oz


    The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and Adreno graphics processor run the Fire OS on the Kindle Fire HDX nicely. This tablet runs faster and smoother than any Android tablet I've used, and that's quite a few. All apps and the interface scroll more smoothly than other Android tablets, making the Fire HDX a joy to use.

    See related: Top 15 Android tablet apps for work and play10 cool Android apps to start the year | Top Android tablets (March 2014 edition)

    The tablet is very thin and light, making it very comfortable to hold. The decision to put the volume rocker and power button on the back of the Fire HDX allowed Amazon to make these controls a good size for easy operation. The construction is solid and the tablet is not slippery in the hand as is common with other tablets.

    The high-resolution display is the jewel of the Kindle Fire HDX. It is bright and vivid and gorgeous. Text appears crisp and watching video is as good as it gets on any tablet. The 339 pixels/inch means everything is legible, even tiny fonts.

    The 8MP rear camera takes decent photos for those who actually use a tablet as a camera. The front web cam makes video calling a reasonable experience although it's not very resolute (no actual resolution is specified other than 720p).

    Amazon rates the battery life at 12 hours for normal use and 18 hours for reading ebooks. This seems accurate in testing so far.

    User Experience

    Amazon has designed the UI to be easy for anyone to use, and while Android purists will turn up their noses at this, it's actually quite pleasant to use. The carousel on the main screen makes it a breeze to cycle through the most recently used apps and content. The content displayed consists of apps, videos, music, Kindle books, and photos. Just spin through them and return to the desired activity.

    Home screen (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

    Beneath the carousel is a row of recommended apps to buy. Those who pay the extra $15 when buying the Kindle Fire HDX can turn off these ads.

    The bottom of the screen displays three rows of apps (in portrait), making it a dock of sorts. The apps displayed and the order can be customized by the owner. Swiping up on the home screen exposes additional apps.

    Silk is Amazon's web browser for the Kindle Fire, and it's not bad. Web pages are rendered quickly and Silk is even fast with a number of tabs open at once. 

    It is not possible to access the Google Play store for apps nor content, as this is replaced with Amazon's own store. While Amazon doesn't have nearly as many apps as Google, I have been able to find all my main Android apps. My favorite Android keyboard, SwiftKey, is unfortunately not compatible with the Kindle Fire HDX.

    Fire OS is optimized for working with Amazon content, including Kindle books, music, and video. There is a large selection of Amazon Instant Video which can be used on the Fire HDX with ease.

    Amazon has added features to Fire OS 3.0 designed to make the Kindle Fire HDX more at home in the enterprise. These include wireless printing support, good Exchange support, integrated VPN handling, and the ability to view Microsoft Office documents.

    The Kindle Fire HDX is so much fun to use that when I set it down for a while, I am quickly enticed to pick it up again. It's good to use and it draws me in to do so. This is a mark of a good tablet with a nice user experience. Using the Kindle Fire HDX just feels right. It is better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 I've owned for a while and can easily replace it.

    The Kindle Fire HDX with 16GB of storage as reviewed is available from Amazon for $379 with ads and $394 without. 

    Reviewer rating: 9 out of 10

    See the unique Origami Case in action on the following pages

  • Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

    The volume rocker and power button are handily located on the back of the tablet. The back of the Fire HDX is not slippery and feels secure while held in the hand.


  • Amazon Origami Case

    The optional Origami Case, $55 polyurethane and $70 leather, protects the Kindle Fire HDX. The tablet is held in the case magnetically, and the cover folds origami style to form a stand. Magnets in the cover prop the tablet up in either landscape or portrait orientation very securely.

    The rear camera is covered by the case but slightly sliding the tablet up exposes the camera for taking photos or shooting video.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Tablets

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  • Good with the hardware

    I am totally agreeing that the hardware is good for the price. I am just not a fan of being kind of locked into Amazon. Its most likely too small for me as I found the iPad Mini too small.
    The price is right if your willing to accept the Amazon ecosystem.
    • The only problem

      The only problem with the ecosystem are the apps but, they do allow side loading of applications (Some work, some don't).

      The video, music, and book libraries are second to none and Prime is a great deal for the money.
      • Unlock? How Long

        It is such a great piece of hardware. I have been wondering how long it will take before someone figures out how to unlock it and install a more generic version of Android.
  • Thanks for the review

    I've been bouncing back and forth between getting this new model to replace my original Kindle Fire or getting an iPad. Other than price it sounds like I could go with either for consuming Amazon and video content. The gmail and twitter apps that run on the original Fire are awful though as is the original browser -- sounds like the HDX would be much better for these non Amazon apps.
  • Hard to beat

    the new kindles if you are immersed in amazon's eco system. They have great screens for movie viewing and reading
  • Time to nitpick the Kindle Fire HDX 7" model

    Please understand the word "nitpick". These are minor observations or "complaints" that I (and a few other online sources) have encountered over time with this tablet. BTW, all the positives remain the same.

    Nitpick 1: Although the display color is gorgeous, the whites are not as white as other tablets. There is a slight yellow tint to the white color (which CNET's review also noted) and I can confirm. It is not objectionable but it is present.

    Nitpick 2: Battery charge duration. Amazon rates these HDX tablet batteries for 11 hours of mixed use activity. CNET rates it as 10 hours and Laptop rates this model as 8.6 hours.

    I have found that, if pushed hard (say by streaming video to an HDTV via Netgear's Push2TV miracast adapter, that the battery will drain in about 6.5 hours. In use, I have found that my battery performance basically matches Laptop's observations.

    So, that little Kindle HDX gives 8.5 rather than 11 hours of battery life in real world activity. (Playing back-to-back Netflix TV episodes, for example). So what. That's still a good performance. However, as some others have noted, my slightly larger iPad Mini retina model lasts longer on a battery charge. (Usually about 10 plus hours per charge.)

    This is a fine tablet and I would recommend it to anyone
    • This is the 8.9

      Your points about the Kindle Fire 7 are well made but this review is of the larger 8.9" model. A totally different tablet.
      • Same screen tech, James, same OS and apps

        And I was citing Amazon's battery charge specs for the 7" model as well as review references for the 7" model rather than your 8.9" Kindle Fire HDX.

        Basically, both tablets are the same except for screen size. But there are differences between the two tablets.
        • Except there are differences

          Although CNET specifically said one of your nitpicks does NOT apply to the HDX 8.9:

          "Also, the HDX 8.9 displayed none of the yellow tint problems I saw on the HDX 7."

          So, no, you can't just assume the two tablets are the same....
          • Didn't know that. Thanks for the info update

            Good to know.
      • Re the apps not at (but easily gettable at other stores)

        James, re the apps not available at the Amazon store: Many don't know that Amazon (from the start) enabled the regular Android setting that lets users check a box to "allow installation of apps from unknown sources" (meaning non-Amazon sources).

        There are other stores that carry the Google apps, after the fact, and -- unlike Google -- they don't forbid Kindle Fire tablets access to those apps. So we download the store app (there are several stores for this) and then use that store app the same way we do the Amazon store app -- Search for an app and then download it directly to the Kindle Fire HD or HDX and it's installed and, in my case, just about always works.

        I have Google Maps, Street View, Google Earth, Google Voice on all my Amazon tablets (no modding or rooting is necessary). Pure download and install. The easiest store is, which has well over 500,000 GooglePlay apps.

        I have steps for this, if needed in an article you'll find if you google the following phrase

        how to install non-amazon apps on a kindle fire

        It's usually the first search result.

        I actually would not enjoy my tablet so much without being able to do this and likely would not have bought it, but Amazon made a good decision on that Android setting.
        • Thanks for this tip.

          Much appreciated.
        • malware

          This sounds great but do you not need to worry about malware?
          • worries about malware

            We need to worry about this at GooglePlay as well, as shown in past stories.

            I use an anti-virus app (there are several highly rated ones at the Amazon app store), but in two years of doing this I've not had a problem. I do recommend, though, always, that people wait for a few days to see if others have had problems with an app file/update, either with software glitches or something less benign, and not jump on a new file by a new appmaker until others have had good experiences with them.

            I've also found that one version of Google Earth was just suddenly much more sluggish and found the previous ones available on another site and that solved the problem. Haven't gone for updates though on it, as it works well.
    • Time to nitpick

      If you are streaming hd videos to ur tv, why is battery power a problem?
      Can't one just plug the unit into power?
      • Of course that could be done but I wanted a battery "torture test"

        In order to have a max and min charge duration range. I just wanted to see what the "little gal" could do on her own.
    • personal experience with my hdx 7.9

      I recently purchased my hdx 8.9 and I am definitely finding much better battery life than the 7" version using push to tv I ran nonstop videos for just over 11.5 hours yesterday. And that was with nonstop videos basically watched an entire season of one of my favorite shows . Hope this helps anyone who was curious about battery life.
  • I returned mine

    Nice hardware but not having full Android was a deal breaker. I emptied my pockets and got an ipad air.

    I'm an amazon prime member, but I just didn't like the experience on the hdx. it just seemed like too much of a compromise.
    • I returned mine

      So, you just traded one closed ecosystem for another?
    • Really?

      So instead of a full android tablet you get NO android tablet.