Why you should buy a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (review)

Why you should buy a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (review)

Summary: After using the evaluation Kindle Fire HDX that Amazon sent me for a few days, I was so impressed I bought one of my own.


The UX

More than any other reason, the user experience (UX) of the Kindle Fire HDX convinced me to buy it. Amazon's Fire OS used on the Kindle is not only designed to be easy to use, it is very efficient.

Kindle Fire HDX home screen
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Android purists will argue that a full Android UI is superior to Fire OS, but I've come to disagree with that view. The Kindle home screen is a gem of a design, as it puts the things you use most where they are most easily accessed. This is accomplished in three areas of the home screen: the carousel, apps at the bottom, and the thin strip of content at the very top of the display.

The carousel is what makes Fire OS such a joy to use. Every time you open an app or some content, the icon for it automatically appends on the left of the carousel. It's common in normal use to see apps, ebooks, music album art, and preview thumbnails of documents side-by-side in the carousel. This makes is simple to return to something you were doing earlier.

I have lots of apps installed, but I suppose like many users I tend to use five or six of them most of the time. Given the way the carousel works, my main apps are right there on the screen a tap away. The carousel content changes dynamically, and that makes it subtly powerful. It's like the Kindle always puts what you need right where it can do the most good. That's the mark of a great user interface (UI).

The app 'dock' at the bottom of the home screen isn't really a dock, it's a dynamic area where you pin the apps you want on the home screen. There can be as many or as few as you want, as all apps live in the Apps segment that's on the top of the screen.

This custom home screen area always displays one or two rows of icons in landscape or portrait, respectively. You can pin any apps you want and put them in any order you prefer. This turns the bottom of the home screen into a dock of sorts. It's a convenient place to put your most frequently used apps for easy access, for those rare times when one is not right there on the carousel.

The thin strip of content categories along the top of the screen provide easy access to apps and content on both the Kindle and in the Amazon cloud. The Music category not only taps into your music library, both local and online, it also accesses the Amazon Cloud Player integrated right in the OS. There is no separate app to deal with to listen to music, just tap on an album on the music page (or on the carousel), and the music plays.

Kindle book content works the same way, and it's no surprise the HDX is a fantastic ebook reader. This is the best version of the Kindle app on any platform, which is how it should be for Amazon's tablet.

Fire OS is optimized for the good hardware used in the Kindle Fire HDX, and it's the smoothest Android tablet I've ever used. The interface and apps flow fluidly on the screen. There are no lags, nor herky-jerky scrolling. The HDX is pure joy to use.

Next: Sideloading apps; Value proposition; Is it better than the iPad Air?

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Reviews, Tablets

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  • Wrong link to origami case review?

    Hi James, I clicked on the link to see your review of the origami case, but got somewhere else. Is this the correct link you intended to post?
  • Fixed

    The link has been fixed, thanks.
  • nice

    Nice review as usual James, definitely has me thinking about picking one up. On the current iPad Air's though, even though they come specific to one carrier, I thought I read somewhere that if you put an AT&T sim in the Verizon or vice versa it will work. Side loading takes the one concern away I had about the Fire HDX. Is it just as easy to tether with the kindle as the iPad with LTE?
    • Tethering yes

      In the Wireless settings mobile hotspot can be configured and turned on just like the iPad.
  • Kindle Fire HD lifecycle support

    How long will Amazon provide OS updates and/or upgrades to it's Kindle Fire HD users?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Which two tablets did you replace?

    the kindle is a very very nice tablet.
    • These two

      Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and the iPad mini (original model)
  • In my opinion the carousel still has issues

    One of the main things I can;t stand about the carousel is that it just keeps getting longer and longer; you have to manually erase everything on it. What Amazon should do is allow the carousel to be configured. Something like allowing a limit to the number of items and perhaps restricting the apps that show up on the carousel. Also, instead of the apps that updated showing up on the carousel, have a better notification system in place. When my kindle HD 8.9 sleeps, I never hear the notifications that go off on it. Also, if the carousel had an option to "pin to carousel" then it would effectively be a dock, with the favorites bar being for less favorite apps that you use regularly, but less often than the carousel apps. I also see no reason why Amazon doesn;t just allow google play store on it's device. While I like that Amazon vets their apps better than Google, updates always come extra late to the device.
    • Good points!

      You bring up some interesting items. However, rather than being deal breakers, they seem to be minor quibbles, that are easily overcome. It is not like any of them are a brick wall. If this were all I found wrong with ths tablet, I would gush about how great it is....(and I do....LOL)
  • Useful Review, Mr. Kendrick!

    Thank you very much. I'm not a tablet person, but I know some who are. Thank you again.
  • Another Believer

    Mr. Kendrick has given the specs and the user experience for the tablet, so I'll just say I strongly agree. I have both the HDX 8.9 and the HDX 7. Both are outstanding tablets, and that's before we even get to the slick way they run and are used. I also stay current with all major operating systems (expensive! but it's my only financial weakness:-), and I was worried at first about the comparison between this version of Android vs those on pure Google, LG, and Samsung machines. For me it's a tossup between the Kindle and the pure Google Android. But price is king here. I will be a buyer of the next 8.9, but will stay with the current HDX 7.
  • Kindle

    Amazon has the best prices o all the kindle Models CHECK IT OUT NOW! http://amzn.to/174bELn
  • Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" vs iPad Air

    I have both of these tablets and I agree completely with your assessment. I love them both for what they each do best. However, I find myself picking up the Kindle a lot more and the Air less and less...
  • Kindle, of course

    Ok, got the 8.9 HDX 32g WiFi. Extremely happy with it. Comments, lack of sd card slot is just plain 'mean'. You also didn't note that the Kindle annual subscription will be going up from $80.xx to $99.xx on your next renewal. If one uses it as we do, it's still an excellent value even if my pocket-book had to cry a purple tear drop.
    One other item. You're a big boy now. You can write articles on one page like the other adults. I know that you know this, because I've been telling you for over a year. This being said, if you can't put an article on one page, you will not be served green (or any other ind of) beer on St Paddy's Day. You already blew 'Pie Day. Please, Enuf already !
    Leo Regulus
    • Kindle HD

      Oh I did not know that there is an annual subscription too. What for? If that is an intergral part of owning a Kindle, I'm not going to buy it. Thank your very much. I do not like anyone squeezing my balls.
      George Rego
      • Subscription

        The subscription being talked about here is the Amazon Prime membership that allows you to access their Amazon Instant-video library as well as receive free 2-day shipping on many products they sell. While this isn't an integral part of owning a kindle, it's certainly a plus. If you have just the wi-fi version of the device, you can watch a lot of their content for free. Without it, you still have access to these things via paying for the content. There is also an option for "super-saver" shipping and free shipping when buying over a certain amount of stuff.
        Florence Bailey
  • Audio limited to files bought from Amazon ?

    This is the problem I had on my Kindle fire. I have some MP3 files (a spanish course) and could never listen to them on my Kindle fire, bought in the US. And Amazon proved unable or unwilling to help. So beware !
  • Kindle Fire HD

    What none of the reviews including the above makes no mention of Kindles primary function as an ereader. I take it that this is a tablet competing with the ipad or the samsung tablet and is not suitable as an ereader at all.
    George Rego
  • parental controls

    How is parental controls? I an considering the 16th model for my daughter.
  • Question regarding Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

    I am wanting to purchase this for my online business and my carrier is Verizon. Before I make this purchase I need to know for sure that this exact Kindle will work with Verizon.
    Can I rest assure this is true?