Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

With everything that was great about the HDX 7 and more, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 isn't just great value, it sets the standard for a media-consumption tablet.

CNET Rating

Like its smaller brother, the HDX 7, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 shoots toward the top of the tablet hierarchy thanks to three notable features: excellent pricing, an awesome content ecosystem and real-time customer service with the new Mayday button, which brings a live Amazon rep on a video screen within seconds for free.

The HDX 8.9 offers all that and improves on the 7 incher by including an 8-megapixel back camera and a sharper, more colour-accurate screen. It's also the lightest large tablet currently on the market.


Last year's Kindle Fire tablets were bulky, substantial and seemed to prioritise durability over comfort. The Fire HDX 8.9 is much more thoughtfully designed. It weighs just 372g, which is incredibly light for something I consider a large tablet. It feels well-balanced and is easy to hold in one hand. It's light without feeling too airy. 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 8.9, I'm not sure it's the best solution.

Buttons on the back take a lot of getting used to.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

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 Fires has been excised 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, and there's an 8-megapixel back camera.

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

Amazon added plenty of interface improvements to the Fire OS.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

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 my web-based proclivities. Pages loaded quickly and whizzed by when swiped. Taps also are much more accurate now.

Every option you'd ever want from a Kindle Fire tablet is only a tap away from the home screen.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)


It's difficult to talk about how great the new OS is without mentioning the Snapdragon 800 processor, the inclusion of which makes it clear that Amazon has 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 less stressful and frustrating experience.

The Fire HDX 8.9 is a fairly comfy e-reader.
(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

The Fire HDX 8.9 is one of the most pixel-dense tablets around. It has an 8.9-inch, 2560x1600-pixel-resolution screen, equalling an impressively high 339 pixels per inch. The screen is crisp, and menu text and icons are sharp and perfectly legible. Also, the HDX 8.9 displayed none of the yellow tint problems I saw on the HDX 7.

This newfound pep is in part thanks to the optimisations to the Fire OS, but again, credit can also be given to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system on chip. Speaking of which, polygonal gaming performance was excellent as tablets go, delivering performance better than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition.

The game Asphalt 8 runs smoothly but not quite as smoothly as it does on the HDX 7. This is likely due to the HDX 8.9's higher resolution, which requires the Snapdragon 800 to work harder to fill the screen with pixels. Riptide GP 2 ran at a silky-smooth frame rate with all graphical features turned to max but does chug slightly when things get busy on-screen.

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. The front camera delivers relatively clear, colourful images for a tablet camera, and the rear camera captures a good amount of light but not quite as much as the iPad Air's. It does have a fast focus though, capturing sharp pictures and videos.


In the current pantheon of high-end tablets, I'd put the 8.9 right up there with the iPad Air. While it lacks the premium feel of Apple's latest large tablet, they're pretty much a match performance wise. As for software features, if you consider apps alone, Apple has that on lockdown, with the most and best apps of any tablet OS. However, taking into account the entire media ecosystem, Amazon is second to none.


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