Amazon Kindle is the pioneer of eBook reading tablets in the world. They have earned numerous accolades in the form of Kindle Paperwhite, which was the best eReader by a country mile. But Kindle Fire HDX is much, much more than an eBook reader.
There was some minor overhauling of design of the Kindle Fire HDX in order to differentiate it from its predecessor, Kindle Fire HDX. The 7 inch display still looks shiny, but unlike Kindle Fire HD, which was curvaceous, this eReader is a bit angular. The sloped narrow design enables the reader to read it with two hands properly, but not in portrait mode. A slight change is made in the position of speakers done to make using this reading tablet easier.
The HDX is less of a device and more of a portal, so the more the hardware gets out of the way and lets Amazon’s software and content shine, the better. That all starts with the 7-inch screen, a gorgeous 1920 x 1200 panel with excellent viewing angles, amazing color reproduction, and that wonderful feeling that whatever’s on the screen is leaping out toward you. It’s as spectacularly reflective as any other tablet, no matter what Amazon might want to tell you, but it’s a massive upgrade over last year’s model, and puts the HDX right on par with the Nexus 7. And with no big, mismatched bezels like the Nexus 7, the screen even looks a little bigger and brighter.
The carousel returns, allowing you to swipe through a lineup of your content, but now swiping up from the home screen reveals an array of your installed apps. And thanks to the higher-resolution screen, all menu items are visible at once from the top of the home screen.
The company’s not talking megapixels on this one, but it does say that the camera can shoot in 720p, just like its predecessor. That means it’s sufficient for video calls (Skype is available through the Fire’s app store), but it isn’t ready to replace your point-and-shoot. Unlike the Nexus 7, which sports a 5-megapixel main camera, there’s no rear-facing shooter here. For that kind of dual-camera action, you’ll need to upgrade to the new 9-inch Fire.
Amazon gets points for moving the Fire’s speakers up top, where the sound has much less chance of getting muffled. Like before, the sound is helped along by Dolby Digital Plus, though, as you’d imagine, you’re not going to get theater-quality output on speakers this size. They get surprisingly loud and will work in a bind, but the sound is still a bit tinny, and turns muddy when things start to get loud. If you have a Bluetooth speaker, now is the best time to use it.
At first glance, Fire OS 3.0 (codenamed Mojito, in keeping with the sugary goodness of Jelly Bean) bears a striking resemblance to earlier versions. Understandably so. After all, if the goal here was to provide a user-friendly experience for casual users, a full refresh would be pretty counterproductive. The centerpiece is, as ever, the content carousel, a swipe able river that offers up movies, albums, apps, books, and the like, in order of the last time you opened them. At the top is a toolbar featuring a search icon and links to specific content categories.
As ever, there’s no Play Store access here. Amazon’s unquestionably got enough to offer in the way of movies, music, and (especially) books. But while the app store is certainly growing (and will no doubt continue to do so as long as the Fire comprises a third of the Android tablet market), it still pales in comparison to the selection you’ll find on Android and iOS. Still, the company is talking up support for HTML5 apps and the ease with which developers can port titles over from Android. Amazon does offer up a number of high-profile apps already though, which may prove more than sufficient for many casual users.
The Kindle Fire HDX does its primary job brilliantly — with a great display and fast internals it’s the best way ever to consume all of Amazon’s content, from books to movies to music to banana slices. It’s also a much more broadly capable device, finally able to replace your computer in places and not just complement it. For $229 (with 16GB of storage and Amazon’s Special Offers ads), that’s a pretty great deal.