Reviewed in the United States on November 16, 2013
To sum up what I will tell you about in the details below, for $379 you are getting a good deal on a large tablet computer - especially if you compare it to the $399 for last year's base unit of the first-generation 8.9” Fire HD and the $500 or more you can spend on a Wi-Fi base version of the iPad; if your pocketbook can afford it, I would recommend upgrading to the one with 64 GB of memory. Overall, if you consider the price and the functionality I think this is a great tool / toy if you watch a lot of video or play a lot of games on your device: the video quality is outstanding and you can really tell a difference between this and last year’s 8.9” HD Fire. If you are a first-time tablet buyer looking for the larger screen size, or where price vs. value is a key consideration, I'd recommend the "regular" Kindle Fire HD that is only $269. If you're comparing last year's 8.9” model to this version and it is operating fine, I'd say save your money and continue to get your money's worth out of that one because other than screen size, for what I am using it for, I can only tell the difference between the video playback and playing a couple of games.
I’ve been playing with this for over a week now, and my review below compares a lot of the features of this version of the 8.9” Fire HDX to the original 8.9” Fire HD as well as this year's model of the “regular” Fire HDX, but also some of the features for a first-time user.
Initial setup of this year's model of the 8.9”Kindle Fire HDX was pretty easy – that’s saying a lot as this year’s versions of the various models had significant crashing issues due to operating software updates. While this unit did update the operating software, it ran quietly in the background with no issues at all.
Screen Display / Video Playback:
If video is your thing, this version of the Fire has the absolute best screen display of any Fire model to date: I’ve been comparing various episodes of the first season of the “Breaking Bad” TV show to each of the previous Fire models and I am very impressed at the picture quality. Looking at the technical specs Amazon made some major changes in the display / resolution, and the picture appears more crisp. The display on this Fire was one heck of a lot better in terms of sharpness than last year's model as well as this year's model of the Fire HD. For you technical folks out there, the display is 2,560 x 1,600 (25% better than the HD version of the 8.9” Fire) with 50% more pixels per inch at 339 ppi than the 8.9” Fire HD.
It was fairly easy to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi. My standard test for trying out new gadgets is to see how fast they run side-by-side with a known piece of equipment doing the same test at the best place of Wi-Fi in my house and the worst place where it drags. In this comparison, I had this HDX version sitting next to last year's HD version and this year's version of the 7” HDX Fire, Motorola RAZR smartphone, my iPad (yes, the Kindle guy uses an iPad for work), and the first-generation 7" Fire (the model from two years ago) all just using a Wi-Fi connection vs. cellular connectivity.
My "normal" website test is to hit the mobile websites of CNN, FoxNews, my personalized Yahoo page, Google, and the Houston Chronicle. The ones that were usually slow on the other devices were faster on the HDX (Houston Chronicle and CNN), and for the other sites I couldn't tell a difference in speed at the location closest to my router. When I went to the slowest / worst reception location of my house, the speed did have a slight difference in the other devices as this one was a little bit faster than all but last year's model of the 7" Kindle Fire HD; yes, it was also faster than this year's model of the Fire HD but I attribute the increase in speed to the dual antennas on the HDX.
Sound / Music Playback:
The two speakers are located in the back of the Kindle Fire in two not-noticeable ports: one on the top and one on the bottom. My usual test of this feature is cranking up Van Halen's Panama to maximum volume (I always want to see if it could really play the guitar licks and hear the bass), and I would alternate covering one speaker up over the other: you have true stereo sound with no degradation of the sound that makes you think you are about to blow the speaker. The Dolby speakers sound nice and you do get to hear the bass. However, I am still of the opinion the speakers aren't going to do very well being placed in the back as I am in the front: I want to be able to hear whatever I am listening to without really having to crank it up and disturbing someone else in the room (that's what happens when you start losing your hearing like I am). To have the sound throw back at you, you need to have a cover on it as the sound reverberates from the back of the Fire off of the cover back to you (hopefully, you followed that).
One thing to point out is there is not a default equalizer with this Fire: everything sounds the same. To get the most out of the bass and treble, as well as to turn down the mid-range, I highly recommend you downloading and installing one of the many free equalizer apps here from the Amazon app store as it makes a huge difference, especially if you are listening with headphones.
The X-ray feature is pretty neat as it displays the lyrics on the screen if you are so inclined; if you are not, it is as simple as the tap of an icon to make the lyric feature go away.
Consistent with previous versions of the Fire, email setup was very easy for my main Gmail account with the software came with the Fire. Previously, I had to install and use an existing app called Enhanced Email I purchased here in the Amazon app store because like many of you I have more than one email account: Amazon eliminated the need for this aftermarket app because you can now switch back and forth between your various email accounts and it was very easy to setup my particulars. The lazy person in me appreciates that as I don't like getting out of the lazy chair once I'm settled in!
New Tabs and Screen Layout:
In addition to the normal tabs Amazon has continued to make tweaks with the look and feel to the overall display such as more things to scroll through to find what you are looking for in an easier manner. Interestingly, and consistent with my experiences with this year's model of the Fire HD, I purchased the one with special offers and the only ad I have seen so far is on the main screen saver vs. being overwhelmed with ads like last year's model. The last tab on the top right contains a link to various deals on Amazon you can tap to open (or not) as you see fit.
Turning pages is pretty darn easy - just tap the side of the screen to go to the next page or back a page, or you can swipe your finger across the screen to do the same. Amazon did add the feature to see the book's description for books on your device like they have with the e-Ink Kindle (always an annoyance with last year's model), which is a plus as I can't remember what each book in my digital to-be-read pile is about; getting to the book description, requires several taps on the screen to eventually get to where you want to be. If there is an easier way to do it, I can't find it and maybe I should be one of the first guys, ever, to crack open the electronic user's manual to figure it out (doubt it). For those of you who have wondered, you still can't organize your books into categories unless you purchase a third-party app here in the Amazon app store.
There is a Bluetooth connection, and I did my usual test of this feature by taking it out to my car and having the Fire stream music through my car stereo. There were no delays or skips with the connection, and it paired up in about a minute. Just make sure you give it a device name so you can recognize it and be recognized.
There are two cameras on this model - one faces the front or toward the user / reader and one in the back. Focusing and taking a picture is pretty easy, and Amazon will by default store your pictures in the Cloud - which counts against your storage allotment. I'd recommend turning that automatic storage feature off unless you are sure you want it, because if you go over the limit that will provide Amazon another opportunity to collect a monthly revenue stream from you.
I really don’t like the positioning of the back facing camera – primarily because if you use the Origami cover purchased here from Amazon (about the only one available as I type this review), the cover hides not only the camera but the LED flash. That makes the back camera essentially worthless to me.
Playing most of the games I play on my tablet is a much better visual experience than the 8.9” HD model. Now if this device would help me move up faster with Candy Crush I would be even happier!
Unlike previous models of the Fire, this one DOES include a charger! Better yet, it is the “power fast” charger that charges your Fire faster. If you're scratching your head with that comment, in previous models you had to purchase a charger separately for $20 which always seemed kind of silly for Amazon to do. Amazon touts it takes about 5 hours to charge this version of the Fire when the battery is completely empty. I’ve charged it several times when it was in the 20% - 22% remaining charge, and it took about six hours.
A new feature with this model, and not included on this year's "regular" model of the Fire, is the introduction of the "Mayday" button. Basically, you can touch the button and a video screen will pop up and you can actually see - and talk to - a live customer service agent. I pressed the button but felt pretty dumb: when the person who answered asked me how can they help, I basically said "Hi, I just wanted to see if this works and just stopped by to say `hi' for purposes of this review." They laughed and I promptly let them get back to work answering other “I just wanted to try this out” queries.
What I Wish it Had: a screen protector that was ready to go. With all of the tapping, sliding, etc. on the screen, you can easily scratch the unit. The screen protectors have been out of stock for a while now and I hope mine gets here soon.
Overall, I think this is a good deal for someone who really uses the video / apps feature. Kids will love it as they can read books, play games, watch TV and movies, and a whole lot of other things. Adults should like it for the exact same reasons, but while I try to minimize the amount of work-related stuff I do at home with the business apps that are available here in the Amazon App store and other places around the Internet I can also work on Excel and Word-compatible files when I have to without having to fire up my work laptop or whatever the case may be.
If you've never owned a tablet before, or are looking to upgrade from an earlier model Fire, I would recommend this one if video and apps are your thing - but I would recommend you purchase the higher memory one vs. the minimum 16 GB. If you're comparing last year's HD model to this version and it is operating fine, or looking for a tablet for your younger children, I'd say save your money and continue to get your money's worth out of last year's model or get this year's model of the 8.9” Fire HD at $269.