Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 review

When you think about the things we look for in tablets, it’s always the same stuff that comes to mind. We want a light device that’s gorgeous, powerful, and lasts days on end. Some of us also have preferences in regards to storage capacities, speakers, and cameras. Seasoned Android users may tend want Google Play access and a host of Google branded apps. First time tablet buyers, however, aren’t as demanding.

Factor  in all of these little details and look and at the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. How does it stack up against the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab series or the Nexus tablets? Believe it or not, the Amazon tablet can go to toe-to-toe with pretty much any tablet on the market. It’s powerful, sexy, and very easy to operate.

Hardware

The first thing noticed about the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 was how incredibly thin and light it felt in the hand. Weighing in under one pound (13.5 ounces), it’s not a task to hold with one hand. Even extended use in reading never presented any cramping or wrist aches. Try that with most 8-inch+ tablets on the market and you’ll find that’s not an easy feat. There’s a great curve back to the tablet that makes it feel thinner than it actually is but you’ll never look upon it as thick.

feature-cs._V357418975_The materials used in the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 feel nothing short of premium and the whole look is one of quality. Every angle and side of this tablet begs to be touched. Seriously, in the area of aesthetics it puts other Android-based tablets to shame.  This is not to say it’s perfect, though, because it will pick up oils and fingerprints somewhat easy. This goes double for that strip along the edges.

Taking a page out of the Motorola Xoom, the power button and volume buttons are found on the rear. They’ll be right where your hands go when you hold it in the landscape mode. It’s convenient once you get used to them but that may take a few days.

You’ll find a pair of speakers on the backside of the tablet. They’re more than adequate for viewing videos online or listening to podcasts, but they’re not designed for long term music. Well, maybe they are, but we’d rather connect a set of headphones or external speaker. In terms of tablet speakers, they’re among the better we’ve heard, if not a little bit flat.

There are multiple storage options to choose from in the Kindle Fire HDX: 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB. There’s a little more than 5GB in use by the tablet when you take it out of the box so keep that in mind when making your purchase.

Display

Wow. Such brilliant.

The screen on the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is among the most clear, vibrant, and sharp images we’ve seen in a tablet. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking straight on or reading from a slight angle, you’ll have no issues with text. Images look stunning on the tablet and that 8.9-inch display bests just about anything out there.

Watching Netflix and HBO Go were a treat though we could have used a boost in sound. Reading books, a primary concern in ereaders and tablets, was a true joy. Everything bounces right off the screen.

Camera

feature-camera._V357383345_I rarely turn to a tablet for photos and the Kindle Fire HDX did little to change my usage. Naturally, it works well in brightly lit scenarios, but it’s not a reason to buy. As you might expect, lower-lit conditions tend to add some noise to the photos. Shutter speed was average but nothing worse than I’ve encountered with other tablets. If snapping a good photo is a concern of yours, look to your phone or standalone device. But, in a pinch, this one will suffice should you need a snap of the random celebrity on the metro.

Battery

I tested the WI-Fi version of the Kindle Fire HDX so I cannot speak to the life of the LTE variant. With that said, this tablet was very good on battery life. For average users who do the Facebook/casual game/email, this will get them through a few days. For those who spend most of their time simply reading the life gets even better. Thanks to a system setting in the tablet, users can add another 50 percent life in the battery. Amazon lists the average of 12 hours of normal (display on) usage with up to 18 hours in “reading” only.

Software

Although the tablet is based on Android, the Fire OS 3.0 “Mojito” doesn’t resemble anything you’ll find on Samsung or other standard Android tablets. On the other hand, it doesn’t stray far from the OS behind the first few generations of Kindle Fire tablets.

If Fire OS is one thing, it’s intuitive. First time users will be up and running in no time and seasoned Android users will have little issue learning the ropes. This is an OS that is designed with mass appeal mind. More specifically, it wants you to pick it up and play with it. The user experience is built around delivering Amazon content: videos, magazines, products, and books.

kindle_fire_hdx_twinYou won’t find multiple panels, widgets, or personalized settings. Instead, you’ll find a carousel of recently installed/downloaded content, apps, games, and other media. You’ll not find any Google apps or services, which can be a bit jarring to longtime Android users. Those who keep documents stored in Drive, use Gmail and YouTube, or like to sync Chrome bookmarks and settings could be a little bit put off. On the other hand, there’s nothing here in the experience that feels missing for a new tablet user.

It might sound a little trite but I actually prefer the Kindle Fire HDX for my reading and media consumption. Why? Quite simply, I can get too easily distracted with the way Android handles multitasking. On a standard tablet I find myself hopping into notifications, reading emails, or taking a trip down the rabbit hole. The Kindle Fire HDX keeps my attention in that there’s no pop-ups notifications or chiming. Granted, this thing is designed to get me to spend money on Amazon products or services.

I love that the Fire OS feels unlike Android. More specifically, I love how it doesn’t look like Android with a skin on top of it; it feels entirely unique. You can hand this tablet to anyone and they’ll figure out how to get around in no time at all. Be warned, however, that one of the best features in Android is not as easily accessible here. Indeed, the simple act of sharing from one app to another is nowhere near as easy. In most cases, it’s completely gone. Find something in your Reddit app that you’d like to share via Hangouts, Google+, Gmail, or Drive? Get ready for some copy and paste.

Across the top of the main screen you’ll find a drop-down navigation bar with shortcuts to media. It’s also up here where you’ll see hand-offs to Amazon content. Shopping for books, magazines, movies, documents, and anything else is but a tap away.

The biggest, most prominent part of the home screen is a carousel which displays your most recently installed or loaded content. You can manually remove them from the carousel if you’d like; all of the apps and games are just below and can be easily accessed. Looking at the UI as a whole, it’s clean and clutter free but not customizable. That’s quite alright, however, as you’ll spend much of your time interacting with apps, books, etc.

One area where I prefer the Google software suite comes in the pre-installed browser and email client. On their own, they are great and work well for the average user. But, as I’ve spent the better part of six years using Google’s apps, I’ve come to depend on them. Silk (the browser) is decent but pales in comparison to others. Sadly, we cannot install anything else on the Kindle Fire HDX to replace the browser.

This isn’t quite so bad in the email app, plus you can install other clients, too. As someone who employs a lot of email filters and labels in Gmail, I don’t enjoy managing emails outside of the official Gmail app. Again, first time tablet users won’t have a problem with the pre-installed email app.

Finding apps and games through Amazon’s Appstore is really easy and the experience gets better all of the time. Amazon does an incredible job with developers and is always providing new incentives. There are more titles every day that can be found in Amazon’s portal however there are the random apps that can only be found in the Google Play Store.

As one of Amazon’s main selling features in their software experience, the MayDay button (found in the top bar) is a breath of fresh air. Now, instead having your aunt call you for tech support on her tablet, she can simply go to the real gurus at Amazon. Available 24×7, MayDay representatives can help with any problems or questions; Amazon promises a 15-second response time.

Origami Case (optional)

The review unit we tested came with Amazon’s Origami case, something we quite liked. It’s protective, sturdy, and offers a variety of ways to read from your Kindle Fire HDX. Like to read in your hand? Okay, simply flip it open and around. Want to set it upright in a portrait manner so you can read long web articles or social media stream? Fold it into the origami shape (thanks, magnets!) and place the tablet on the desk. And, yes, you can flip it on its side for landscape mode for other tablet reading and usage.

origami_caseOne of the cooler features in this case comes when you slide the tablet up out of its position. Doing so activates the rear camera. No matter what app you’re working on or where you are in the Kindle Fire HDX, simply slide the whole tablet up and the camera activates. No, you won’t replace your camera or smartphone with this setup, but darn if it isn’t handy to have in a pinch.

If there’s a drawback to the case it’s the weight. Putting this guy on the tablet makes it feel three times heavier and more rugged. Not in a good way, but rugged like it’s the sort of device you’re meant to drop and get wet.  In other words, nothing the actual Kindle Fire HDX deserves. It’s quite remarkable how quickly the case turns the slim, sleek, and light tablet into a run-of-the-mill bulky experience. With that said, we never worried that the tablet was in danger should it suffer the occasional drop or scuff. The case is strong to be sure.

Conclusion

If you are new to tablets and smarter ereaders you will not do better than the Kindle Fire HDX. It’s thin, fast, light, powerful, and everything else you need in a device. Sure, the software could use some improvement here and there but, generally speaking, it’s a great product that seems to get better with time. The more you use Amazon for your digital media needs, the brighter this light shines.

Longtime Android users might take issue with a few things, especially the lack of Google apps and services. Not having the traditional Android sharing functionality can be a tough pill to swallow for a while.

All things considered, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 should be on a short list of devices to consider when it comes to your first or next tablet. As much as we’ve come to appreciate the Wi-Fi version in this house, we can only imagine the potential of a 4G LTE model.

The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is available in three storage capacities and is offered in Wi-Fi or 4G LTE connectivity.

  • 16GB WiFi ($379.99)
  • 32GB Wi-Fi ($429.99)
  • 64GB Wi-Fi ($479.99)

The 4G LTE versions are sold with and without “special offers” for Verizon and AT&T networks. Pricing and storage options vary.

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