Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7

Armed with a powerful processor and Amazon's exhaustive content library, the Kindle Fire HDX delivers incredible value for its price.


8.3
CNET Rating

About The Author

CNET Editor

Nic Healey can usually be found on a couch muttering about aspect ratios and 7.1 channel sound - which is helpful given that he's the home entertainment guy at CNET.


Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX 7 is powerful, comfortable and it boasts enough new and refined features to more than earn its AU$329 asking price.

Apple arguably created the tablet market, and the iPad still rules the high end; an endless array of Android clones fight it out at the low end, with both sides squeezing the middle.

Enter Amazon and its new Kindle Fire HDX tablets. The new HDX tablets, the third generation of the Kindle Fire brand, shoot toward the top of the tablet hierarchy, thanks to three notable features: excellent pricing that's competitive with the best premium tablets on the market; an awesome content ecosystem that goes toe to toe with iTunes; and real-time customer service with the new Mayday button, which brings a live Amazon rep on a video screen within seconds, for free.

Unfortunately, the video sling feature, where you can "kick" video from your HDX to a compatible device or smart TV, isn't ready, although Goodreads integration has been enabled. Also, 16GB is fast becoming too small to store HD content, and without access to the Google Play store, HDX owners are still missing out on plenty of Android apps.

Still, the HDX is the strongest evolution of the Kindle Fire brand yet.

Design

Last year's Kindle Fire tablets were bulky, substantial and seemed to prioritise durability over comfort. The Fire HDX 7 is much more thoughtfully designed. Its corners aren't as rounded as we usually like, but it's well-balanced and really comfortable to hold in one hand. At 303g it's light without feeling too airy.

There's an obviously higher degree of specificity to the HDX's design compared with last year's Fires.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Both the power button and volume rocker have been moved to the back, and while they're easier to find and press compared with the old Fire HD, we're not sure it's the best solution. It's fine when held in landscape mode, since the rear edges can be used as a tactile guide, but it's annoying when we want to quickly wake it from sleep, but have to pick it up first to reach the back instead of just tapping a button on its side.

There's a micro-USB port on the left edge and a headphone jack on the right. The micro-HDMI port from last year's Fire has been exorcised in favour of a new video fling feature we'll get to later. The front-facing camera returns, along with an actual camera app this time, but there's no rear camera.

While the power button is now much more tactile compared with last year's Fire HDs, it's also now located on the back, which presents its own set of issues.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Mojito

The new version of the Kindle Fire OS, dubbed Mojito, is based on Android Jelly Bean, and is more of a refinement over last year's OS rather than something completely new.

The carousel returns, allowing you to swipe through a line-up 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.

Both the carousel and the app array are now accessible from the same page.
(Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)

Swiping down from the the top still brings up the shortcuts menu and the settings button. The menu now includes new entries Quiet Time, which turns off all notifications (this needed its own button?) and Mayday, which we'll delve into shortly.

The Silk browser finally feels like a useful, welcoming tool for accessing the web and not a clunky, low-rent app struggling to keep up with our web-based proclivities. Pages loaded quickly and whizzed by when swiped.

Silk is finally a fast competent browser and the Fire HDX's pinpoint-accurate screen makes the whole experience far more pleasurable than ever before.
(Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)

Amazon also took a critical eye toward other native apps like e-mail and calendar as well as adding a new contacts app. E-mail has been redesigned to require fewer steps to set up and is now compatible with threaded conversations, so instead seeing a single e-mail from each person in the conversation, you now see a message from the last person to contribute to the thread.

Calendar includes a number of sensible improvements that for the most part makes the interface a more efficient and gratifying experience.

Managing your storage is now a lot easier, as items can be located by type and each deleted on the fly.

16GB is fast becoming too small for storing HD content. Thankfully, managing your storage on the Kindle Fire has never been easier.
(Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET)

While the vast majority of the changes work, there's also a missed opportunity here to add more customization. Samsung does this to great success on its latest version of the TouchWiz UI, last seen on the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. Samsung's shortcut array behaves in much the same way as Amazon's, but also scrolls to the left to include more options and can even be customized to add more choices.

It's difficult to talk about how great the new OS is without mentioning the Snapdragon 800 processor, whose inclusion makes it clear that Amazon finally got the horsepower-to-interface overhead balance just about right. Accessing different sections of the interface feels much more immediate and it's an all around a less stressful and frustrating experience.

What we've always liked about the Kindle Fire interface is how the content is organized. Instead of pages and pages of app icons like other OSes, on the Fire, each type of content is siloed into its respective section. When we tap Audiobooks, we know we're seeing all the audiobooks we own and by tapping Store we can easily add more. There's just something comforting about having all your content automatically organized for you.

Hardware features

The Kindle Fire HDX 7 leapfrogs pretty much every current tablet in performance by housing a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip, with a Krait 400 CPU. That's the fastest version of the SoC we've seen so far. There's a powerful Adreno 330 GPU, dual-band Wi-Fi, gyroscope, and an accelerometer.

The screen doesn't get as bright as the Nexus 7's, but your eyes will probably be relieved when you're trying to read in the dark.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)

Performance

The Fire HDX is the second 7-inch tablet to feature a pixel-dense, 1920x1200 resolution screen. The screen is crisp and menu text and icons are sharp and perfectly legible.

The Kindle Fire HD (2012) had a bright vibrant screen, but backlight bleeding or "clouding" was apparent when looking at a black or dark screen. Clouding on the HDX 7 is much less severe and can only be seen in the corners when the screen displays a dark image, like during startup.

Unfortunately, while Amazon claims 100 percent sRGB compliance, there's a yellowish quality to the white and it doesn't look as pure as it does on the Nexus 7. Also, the screen isn't as bright as the Nexus 7's, but that fact actually works in the HDX's favor, as it's a lot less harsh on the eyes when reading in the dark.

Navigation performance is much zippier than last year, even compared with that of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9. Everything feels more immediate and a lot less frustrating, making for an overall much more enjoyable experience.

This newfound pep is in part thanks to the optimizations to the Fire OS, but credit can also be given to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip. It delivers the necessary push so you're not waiting around to access menus that should have been up seconds ago.

The HDX's speakers aren't quite as loud as the HD's, but sound is a lot cleaner and in comparison, the older speakers sound distorted and tinny.

As front cameras on tablets go, this one isn't too bad.
(Credit: Eric Franklin/CNET)

The front camera delivers relatively clear colorful images for a tablet camera. It's not necessarily something you'll want to use to capture special moments, since there's definitely visible grain, but as tablet front cameras go, it's not bad. Especially if all you're doing is video chatting.

Conclusion

The Nexus 7 starts at the same price, gives you access to a much more open platform with an incredibly bright screen, a rear camera, and the promise of frequent Android OS updates. The iPad Mini is more expensive, features a larger but lower-resolution screen, unimpressive gaming performance, but still has the best app ecosystem of any tablet OS. The iPad Mini Retina might also appeal, but you're paying a premium for that.

However, with Amazon making its push into the Australian market, buying the Kindle Fire HDX 7 finally makes a lot more sense when stacked against alternative 7-inch tablet options like the above. Being able to purchase books and apps in Australian currency, as well have having curated collections for the Australian audience make this a more compelling experience than before. You can also now finally purchase the Kindle Fire HDX 7 (and it's sibling the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9) in-store at Dick Smith and Big W.

It's early days, but assuming that Amazon continues to build on its local presence, the Kindle Fire range of tablets are going to get better and better in terms of content and services. Couple this with a very strong hardware offering and the Kindle Fire HDX 7 emerges as a very strong alternative to other similar sized tablets on the market.

Via CNET.com.


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