Top positive review
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Excellent 3rd-generation tablet that compares favorably to the competition
on October 19, 2013
This is the middle model of the three models that Amazon is shipping this year: the Kindle Fire HD, the Kindle Fire HDX (this tablet), and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9". This is the successor for last year's Kindle Fire HD but with an updated operating system and new features, a redesigned shell (with the power and volume control buttons more readily accessible), an absolutely amazing display, superb sound, an included power adapter, and the new Mayday feature.
Update: Some users are reporting a bluish glow around the edges of the screen for the HDX. If you search on YouTube for HDX Blue Haze, you can find a video showing the issue. Amazon has updated their "Learn More" link with the following info:
"To achieve the perfect color accuracy on Kindle Fire HDX 7" at the lowest possible battery consumption and device weight, we used blue, not white, LEDs. Blue LEDs allow for a much more accurate and rich representation of color and result in an up to 20% improvement in power efficiency."
"As a result of using these blue LEDs, you may notice a very narrow, faint blue tint around the edge of the device when looking at items with a white background, such as books or web pages. All displays have some level of light emission around the edges, and the light on the Kindle Fire HDX 7" is blue due to the technology used to render perfect color accuracy."
If this is something that you think would bother you, I'd recommend taking a look at the YouTube video or taking a look at the HDX at a local Best Buy or office superstore. I've also uploaded a user image here of my HDX with a book loaded so that you can see the blue glow (http://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-media/product-gallery/B00DOPNO4M/).
The Amazon tablets are primarily content consumption devices, best suited for connecting to the Amazon ecosystem, including videos, music, books, apps, and so on. With the free Prime trial subscription, you can check out the Prime Instant Video options and watch movies and shows at no charge for 30 days. For videos, music, and books, the Amazon selection is at or near the top of the list; for apps, much less so. 90% of the top 100 apps are available on Amazon.com, as well as 100,000 others, but that's only a small fraction of what is available with Google or Apple.
It's not quite as bad as it sounds because, while the competition has ten times as many apps, most of those apps are, um ... how shall I put this ... less than stellar (look up Sturgeon's Law). If there are specific apps you need or want, you definitely should double-check before purchasing to make sure that they are available. The apps that will likely never become available on the Kindle Fire ecosystem are those apps that require Google services (i.e., anything that uses Google location services). One ameloriating factor is that it is possible to side-load most of the apps from the Google Play store onto an Amazon tablet and a web search on side-loading apps onto Kindle Fire will show dozens of websites with detailed instructions. If the app you are sideloading requires a Google service to work, though, it will not run on the Fire, even if you manage to successfully install it.
Like the other Kindle Fire tablets, as well as the Apple iPad and the Google Nexus, the Kindle tablet line doesn't have a micro-SD slot, so the assumption is that you're consuming content from the cloud. This is fine when you're using your tablet with wifi; not so good when you're traveling and want to load up your tablet with content for the trip. If the latter is something you expect to do regularly, you might want to consider the 32GB or 64GB versions, or pay the additional price for the 4G version, which is available on the 7" tablet for the first time. Also, if all of your content is on iTunes or on Google Play, you would have to side-load everything onto the tablet. As is true of Apple and Google tablets, there's no way to automatically connect to the cloud storage of the competition.
Something new this year is the ability to download Prime Instant Videos. I verified that I can download Prime Instant Videos to my Kindle Fire HDX. However, that option is not available for all movies and TV shows. It looks like they had to get the permission of the studios and not all of them said yes. So, for example, I was able to download "Casablanca" but not able to download "The Avengers" even though both are part of the Prime Instant Video collection and both are available for free streaming.
Update: Adding a bit from a reply in the comments: Amazon is clearly looking at the Enterprise market with this launch, at least based on the details they provide. They've added full accessibility support (required in order to get government contracts), will be bringing support for VPN and business printing, have a better email client with tighter integration to Exchange, and are including OfficeSuite for productivity. There are other productivity tools available in their app store, as well, although both Google and Apple, particularly the latter, have more options. When VPN support arrives, I'll definitely be taking a look, as it would be nice to not have to lug my laptop home every night.
So how does this Kindle Fire HDX differ from the previous generation Kindle Fire HD?
Display: 1920x1200 (323 ppi) vs 1280x800 (216 ppi). It's more than that, though, as the colors are richer, brighter, with better contrast. This display has been judged by many reviewers as the best in its class and I would have to agree. Amazon has also added technology to automatically adjust the contrast and brightness when viewing the tablet in bright sunlight. While there is definitely a noticeable improvement, this isn't what you need for reading on the beach. For that, you'll need an eInk reader like the Kindle Paperwhite.
Sound: As far as I can tell, the sound is about the same. This was already one of the best-sounding tablets on the market, with Dolby stereo output and enough power to actually make it possible to listen to music or video without requiring headphones.
Size and Weight: Noticeably lighter (10.7 oz vs. 13.9 oz) and noticeably smaller (7.3" x 5.0" x 0.35" vs. 7.6" x 5.4" x 0.4"). This is a comfortable tablet to hold one-handed, even for long periods of time.
Processor: It's a *lot* faster (2.2GHz quad-core, top-of-the-line CPU, compared to 1.2GHz dual-core). This tablet is amazingly fast and smooth, with the fastest processor in its class. Every game I've tried on it has run smoothly, with no hesitations, slowdowns, or glitches. Scrolling through content is amazingly smooth and fast now, without the hesitations and occasional slowdowns of the previous generations.
Build: A redesigned shell with power and volume control buttons that are easy to find! This is a solid build but the back of the shell is something of a fingerprint magnet. Since most of us will be buying a case to put the tablet in, that may not be an issue.
Camera: If there is a difference between last year's camera and this year's, I'm not able to see it. It's a high-def camera suitable for video-conferencing or Skype. Like last year's model, there is no rear camera. If this is important to you, you'll need the 8.9" version.
HDMI Output: This is the one area where last year's model wins. Amazon has removed the HDMI out connector from its tablet line (but see the description above for details on how Amazon is providing a software solution for sharing your tablet screen on your television). No other tablet that I'm aware of has this functionality so if this is something you need, you should be able to purchase one of last year's models fairly cheaply.
Battery Life: The same, at 11 hours. However, Amazon has added a special "reading mode" to the device, which they claim will extend the battery life to as much as 17 hours. I did not test this. For my own personal use, the battery life is adequate.
Price: It's more expensive ($229 vs. $199) but this year they include a power adapter, which was a $20 extra last year, so the actual difference in price is $10. For what you're getting, that price increase is definitely justified.
It has an updated OS and updated feature software (including the free unlimited Mayday customer support feature). The software updates include the ability to download some Prime Instant Videos to your device and watch them offline, enhanced accessibility, enhanced enterprise controls and features (so now it's better suited for office work), enhanced email client, enhanced parental controls, improved X-Ray features (now including lyrics for music, as well as additional information for both books and movies), integration with GoodReads (coming soon), and the like.
Where I noticed the biggest difference was the home screen. The default view is still the carousel but if you swipe upward, you'll see a more traditional icon view. The "Recommended for you" display on the home screen is now smaller and much less obtrusive (and it can be turned off in the settings). Amazon has also added multi-tasking of a sort, where swiping up from the bottom of the screen while you're in an app shows you the 20 most-recently-used items from your home screen, so you can quickly switch from one app to another without returning to the home screen.
There is also a left panel available on most screens (but not the home screen) and in some of the apps, with navigation links and settings to make it easier to navigate and control your tablet or to navigate within the app. If you tap the center of your display and then swipe left while you're reading a book, for example, you'll see a panel that shows you the table of contents, the About the Author link, the Sync to Furthest Page Read link, and so on.
The Kindle FreeTime option and the parental controls are still among the best in the business. If you want a tablet for a child and want to control what they can access, how long they can use the tablet at any given time, and the like, Amazon has you covered.
You can now also schedule "Quiet Time" on the tablet, where notification sounds and pop-up notifications are disabled, either on a temporary basis by simply pushing a button or on a scheduled basis. Frankly, I doubt I'll ever use this feature but if you're the type who likes to read or watch video until you fall asleep, it's kind of nice to be able to disable all sounds so that you don't get rudely awakened when, e.g., someone plays a new word in your Words with Friends game.
Mayday: This is a huge gamble by Amazon and it will be interesting to see whether it pays off. This isn't a feature for a techie like me and I didn't use it (although I was sorely tempted). From the commercials, it's pretty amazing, particularly that you can get a live chat in a matter of a minute or less (Amazon's goal is something like 15 seconds, I believe, although I can't help wondering what will happen on Christmas Day!). If you're thinking of getting a tablet for a technophobe, the addition of this feature may make the Kindle Fire HDX your best choice.
How does this tablet rank against the competition? There are really only two other tablets in its class currently: the Google Nexus 7 and the just-announced Apple iPad Mini with Retina Display.
Display: All three devices have retina displays, with the 7" HDX and the Nexus at 1920x1200 (323 ppi) and the 8" iPad Mini at 2048x1536 (326 ppi). All three displays are stunning. Amazon claims that it has enhanced the ability to read the display in bright sunlight, something that's a problem for all such devices. While this wouldn't be my first choice to read by the pool (I'd pick the Paperwhite), I can testify that it is easier to view the display in bright sunlight than its predecessors.
It's worth noting that the aspect ratio of the HDX and Nexus is 16:10 while the aspect ratio of the iPad Mini is 4:3. Where this matters is watching video. If you're watching an old television show, a 4:3 aspect ratio is fine. If you're watching a high-def movie, the 4:3 aspect ratio is going to leave large black bars on your screen and the video will be much more compressed than it would be on the HDX and Nexus. Apple chose to maintain backward compatibility with prior devices rather than moving up.
Sound: The HDX has Dolby Digital Surround Sound; the Nexus has Frauenhofer Surround Sound; the iPad Mini has stereo sound. The iPad Mini also makes the same mistake that Amazon made in its first-generation tablet: putting both speakers on the same side (in this case, at the bottom of the tablet). If you're watching a video, you'll have the tablet turned sideways and the sound will all come from the same side. The HDX, in contrast, has the speakers placed perfectly for video watching.
Networking: The HDX and the iPad Mini both have dual band, dual antenna (MIMO) Wi-Fi. The Nexus is dual band but not dual antenna. All things being equal, I would expect the Nexus to lag a bit behind the others in networking performance, particularly in areas where the connection is spotty.
Size and Weight:
HDX: 7.3" x 5.0" x 0.35" and 10.7 oz.
Nexus: 7.9" x 4.5" x 0.34" and 10.24 oz.
iPad Mini: 7.87" x 5.3" x 0.29" and 11.68 oz.
There's really nothing to choose from here. All three are small, thin, and light. The iPad Mini is the heaviest but it also has a slightly larger screen.
HDX: 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB memory
Nexus: 1.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro, 2GB memory
iPad Mini: 64-bit dual-core A7, 1GB memory
The HDX and iPad come out ahead of the Nexus on processing power while the HDX and Nexus come out ahead of the iPad Mini on memory. The A7 is only a dual-core processor but according to some tech sites that have run benchmarks, it definitely holds its own against the quad-core Snapdragon. These are all pretty powerful tablets.
Cameras: Both the Nexus and the iPad Mini have 1.2 MP front and 5MP rear cameras. The HDX only has a front-facing camera. If you expect to take pictures with your tablet, the HDX isn't for you.
Battery Life: HDX = 11 hours (17 hours when reading); Nexus = 9 hours; iPad Mini = 10 hours. Amazon wins this one, particularly if you will be spending a lot of time reading.
Expansion: None of them have a microSD slot; they all assume that you'll be using their respective cloud systems.
Parental Controls: All of them have the basic parental controls that allow you to limit your child's access to content, purchases, the web, and so on. Amazon goes farther, though, with the Kindle Free Time and Kindle Free Time Unlimited options, the latter of which is an inexpensive subscription to a curated library of content. If you are buying a first tablet for a child, I'd choose the Kindle Fire HD. At only $139, it is significantly cheaper and it has all of the options that the HDX has.
Enterprise: As soon as Amazon releases its update, it will add VPN and network printing support. I believe all of the tablets have basic enterprise capabilities, including that support and various office apps. For real productivity, though, personally I'd go with a laptop, not a tablet.
Support: Amazon wins this category, hands down, with the new Mayday system. Apple comes in second, with Apple and Amazon usually taking top marks in any customer support survey. This is an area where Google does not shine.
Price: The HDX and Nexus win this one, hands down. Both are priced at $229 vs. $399 for the new iPad Mini. Neither Google nor Amazon makes much, if any, money on their tablets; they're counting on you to purchase content from their respective stores.
From my own perspective, there is no single clear winner, as each tablet has strengths and weaknesses. If you already have Amazon Prime, the HDX is a no-brainer, with the access to the Prime Instant Video and the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. If you're primarily buying a tablet to read with, Amazon wins there, as well, with the 17-hour battery life while reading and the best display for reading outdoors. If you want apps, Apple and Google both have far more choices. If you want to watch movies, I'd pick either the HDX or the Nexus, as Apple's aspect ratio and its lagging sound put it at the back of the pack. If price is a factor, then you should pick either the HDX or the Nexus.
If you're heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, i.e., you already own an iPhone or iPad and all of your content is on iTunes, the HDX really isn't the tablet for you. Similarly, if you love browsing Google Play for apps to play on your Samsung Galaxy phone, you're likely to be disappointed in the section available on Amazon (although, as I note above, most of the Google Play apps can be sideloaded onto the tablet). If you love your Google Now or Siri, neither of which will ever be available on Amazon, this isn't the tablet for you.
The bottom line: This tablet is primarily intended as a viewport into Amazon content and Amazon services. If you have Amazon Prime and you have Amazon eBooks in your collection, this tablet is a no-brainer. The price is low, particularly for what you get, and it's a small, light, high-quality, high-powered, tablet with a stunning display and superb sound. This really is one of the top tablets in its class.
Note: As others have noted, the tablet will update its software when you first turn it on and connect to wifi. Unlike some others, I had no trouble with this operation, no glitches or crashes. It took several minutes but the process ran smoothly, as did the tablet when everything was done.
Now that I have a Kindle Fire HD and a Kindle Fire HDX tablet, I'm in a little better position to talk about which one I'd recommend:
You should get the Kindle Fire HDX if:
- You're a techie who wants the latest and greatest, the best display, the fastest processor.
- You need a camera for Skype or other video app.
- You play graphics-intensive games (e.g., racing games).
- The size and weight matter to you, even in such small increments as this.
- You think you will need the Mayday technical support.
You should get the Kindle Fire HD if:
- Price is a factor. $90 cheaper is not an insignificant amount. This really is an excellent value for the money.
- You want an inexpensive tablet for a child (and, for this case, the lack of a camera might well be a plus)
- All you want is a basic tablet for reading books, playing music, watching the occasional video, playing Words with Friends, and the like. While the screen on the HD isn't as stunning as is it on the HDX, this is still a true HD screen and it is very good.
I check back pretty regularly, so if you have a question, please feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer it.