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

Amazon has produced a fabulous tablet for a reasonable price. The gorgeous screen and high performance make this a tablet to be reckoned with.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

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

Hardware

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.

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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

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2 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

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.

 

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3 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

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.

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4 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Amazon Origami Case for Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 side view

The case is shown above with the tablet in landscape mode.

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5 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Back view of Origami Case (landscape orientation)

This shows how the case folds to form the stand.

 

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6 of 6 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Origami Case with Kindle Fire HDX in portrait orientation

Here's the case turned to put the tablet in portrait mode.

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