Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 tablet review


WhistleOut
03 April 2014

The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 inch tablet is a powerful slate for an affordable price. Generally situated somewhere between the iPad Mini and iPad Mini with Retina display in cost, the Fire HDX delivers a top-end tablet experience for what you’d expect to pay for a mid-range device.

Weight and feel

4/5

The 8.9 inch Fire HDX weights just 374g, which is a full 95g or around 20% less than the iPad Air. It’s also only 7.8mm thick, making it slim enough to fit in to your carry bag with relative ease.

Most of the back is coated in a soft-touch material – something that you don’t usually see on affordable tablets. This makes it look and feel a lot more expensive than it is. Interestingly, rather than adding to grip it’s actually a little slippery, which is not usually the case with this kind of finish.

The bezels are fairly thin and the buttons are of the virtual on-screen variety. This opens up more real-estate on the front panel for the screen. Considering the awesome nature of the display we’re happy to see as much more of it as possible.

Display

5/5

The 8.9 inch display boasts a dense 2560x1600 resolution, giving it 339 pixels per inch (ppi). Compared to the 2048x1536 Retina display of the iPad Air, the Fire HDX ends up offering a good 75ppi more, which definitely shows.

It’s one of the most beautiful and crisp displays we’ve ever seen on a tablet. It’s also responsive and smooth, which is not something that all Android tablets can claim.

Play-time is over

The Amazon Android experience in a strange one. It’s a heavily customised version of the Android operating system, on top of which Amazon has built its own user interface (UI). As such, you would expect to be able to use your already-owned Android apps from the Google Play store on the Kindle Fire HDX. You would be wrong.

The Amazon Fire UI does not allow access to Google Play. Instead, you buy everything -- apps, books, games -- through the Amazon App Store. This shouldn’t be a problem for non-Android users, who would need to buy all new apps anyway, because the Amazon App Store has a huge range of applications for reasonable prices.

It will be a problem for any Android user who’s built up a collection of Google Play apps over the years that they now cannot use. In this respect it may as well not be an Android tablet at all, because you’ll end up re-buying all of your apps just as if you’d switched to Windows or an Apple iPad.

Thanks to an ongoing dispute between Google and Amazon, you also can’t get Google branded apps on the Amazon store. This means no default Gmail app (although you can sync Gmail), no Google calendar and no official YouTube app. If you want YouTube you’ll have to use it via the browser.

The lack of Play store access is supposed to be made up for by potential access to the Amazon Prime Video streaming service, which is a subscription system similar to Netflix. The only hitch is that it isn't available to most users outside of the US. But hey, at least the Kindle e-Reader app works.

User experience

3.5/5

Once you get to terms with the lack of Google Play, the Fire HDX is an awesome tablet. It’s one of the fastest, smoothest Android tabs we’ve ever used. Switching between menus is effortless and things like browsing, app-switching and app usage are all lag-free.

The UI itself is a little odd. Once again on an Android device you become accustomed to a certain level of customisation. This is totally lacking form the Amazon UI. The monotone grey background is there to stay, and your apps are all organised for you without too many options to switch things up.

That being said it’s a fairly intuitive system. All of the separate sections are named along the top and you can switch between them by tapping on another section heading.

Any app or individual book that you have recently been using is displayed in a side-scrolling slider near the top of the default screen. Your individual apps are all collated down the bottom. The applications menu can be expanded by swiping upwards on the Home Screen.

The familiar Android notifications tray also makes an appearance. Sliding down from the top of the screen will reveal it. This is also how you adjust brightness, WiFi, Auto-Rotation and access the Settings menu.

Camera and battery life

4/5

The 8MP camera is passable, but not amazing. Cameras aren’t usually a big selling point on tablets so this shouldn’t be an issue, but at least you know you can grab a decent image or two if you find yourself in need.

The battery lasts a good day if you’re watching a lot of video or playing games. We found that when we restricted ourselves to general browsing, music and book reading then it often made it to the end of the work week.

Magnetic Origami cover

3/5

The Origami cover is a unique approach to the cover stand. The back folds up to create a surprisingly sturdy back to the HDX. It also wraps around the front to protect the screen.

The magnets holding the case in place are unexpectedly strong, and we didn't have any problems with the tablet separating at any point.

The one real down-side is that the Origami case is quite heavy. It significantly increases the weight of the Fire HDX, which is one of its best features. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide if this will be an issue for you, but we'd prefer to go with something a little less hefty.

Verdict

4/5

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX is an absolutely fantastic tablet, but it would be even better if you could access Google Play and get Google service applications like YouTube.

It’s very portable, thanks to its super lightweight design and thin profile. The screen is one of the best we’ve used on a tablet in both image crispness and responsivity.

Other than the lack of Google's Play Store, the biggest issue is that the Amazon Prime Video streaming service is yet to hit UK shores. Essentially this makes the Kindle Fire HDX a very powerful tablet with a seriously curtailed user experience.

If you’re after an affordable tablet, and aren’t fussed about Google Play access, then we can absolutely recommend the Kindle Fire HDX. On the other hand, if you want to use your Android apps, or if you think you’ll get an Android phone in the future, then we’d suggest going for something like the Google Nexus 7.


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