Regardless of your mobile OS of choice, it’s hard to deny that the modern tablet market was built on the back of the noble iPad. Yet since its inception other manufacturers have sought to wrest the top spot from Apple’s grasp. The search for an iPad killer has taken many forms, from the Nexus to the Galaxy to the Surface, but none have managed to surpass the iPad’s astounding market share.
Late last year online retail juggernaut Amazon again tried its hand at a consumer-friendly tablet. The Kindle Fire HDX, the third generation of their Kindle Fire line, not only makes Amazon’s specialized environment a viable option for mobile computing, it makes for a fine device in its own right.
So this is an Android tablet, right? Well, sort of. Kindle Fires run a custom distribution of the Android operating system, which Amazon has come to call Fire OS. The HDX’s Fire OS 3.0 has a look that Android owners will recognize, like the typical slide-to-unlock function and the gridded app icons of its home screen, but its main features like the prominent carousel (which shows recently accessed apps, documents and media) give it a very specific feel. Plus, the absence of things like wallpaper personalization options and SD card support make it feel a little less Android-y.
Ok, so what exactly does that mean? Make no mistake, the Kindle Fire HDX exists to shepherd you toward Amazon’s content. A series of top-docked menu commands make it easy to access, browse or buy books, music, videos and applications all directly from Amazon. This has its advantages – specifically the ease with which you can access previous purchases from Amazon’s cloud – but it does rather limit your options.
So I’m completely limited to Amazon app purchases? Not exactly. It’s pretty easy to find the APKs for many well-known freebie apps that might not be available via Amazon’s official store. Installing them is as easy as turning on the ability to install “Apps from Unknown Sources” from within your system settings and executing the APK installation using a readily available file explorer app. There are also secondary app marketplaces like 1Mobile, which I used to install Marvel Unlimited on my Kindle, but access to Google’s own Play service isn’t possible without rooting your device – and likely invalidating your warranty in the process.
So how does it handle? I pre-ordered the original Kindle Fire, and I actually adored its squat, blocky form factor. What I hated was its molasses-slow, perpetually chugging interface. The HDX is both sleeker and much, much faster. With a 2.2 GHz quad-core processor, it has get-up and go to spare – so much so that its cloud-accelerated Silk browser, an application that I honestly considered a bit of a joke on the earlier device, truly works as advertised. This bump in horsepower not only serves to make the HDX’s touch response properly speedy, but, whether you’re typing a document or switching between apps on the fly or even capturing video via its dual cameras, the Kindle Fire HDX performs beautifully.
How about the screen? In a word? Gorgeous! The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ model runs at an overall resolution of 2560 x 1600 with 339 ppi (pixels per inch). For comparison, the iPad’s 9.7″ Retina display comes in at 2048 x 1536 and 264 ppi. Now things like pixel density aren’t the be-all and end-all of visual fidelity, but what I’m saying is that the HDX is obviously no slouch in that department.
Is it safe to let my kids play with it? While Amazon has spent a lot of time talking up the Mayday button – a 24×7 onboard help solution that connects you with an Amazon Tech Advisor in seconds – not as much has been said about the Kindle FreeTime functionality. FreeTime lets you setup separate managed accounts on the same device with access to only the apps and media you deem appropriate. You can easily add or remove content, set daily goals or time limits and even lock the Kindle down after bedtime. Amazon does tend to plug Kindle FreeTime Unlimited, a specialized Amazon Prime-like service for kid-friendly digital content, a lot within administrative side of the application, but you can hardly blame them for that.
But can I work on it? Though I’ve yet to explore the options fully, the Fire HDX does offer VPN and enhanced device policy support, so Amazon is obviously attempting to court the business community, even if timidly. Easy access to apps like WordPress and Dropbox have made it a solid solution for a little quick GeekDad-related work for yours truly, and the device does offer limited out-of-the-box Microsoft Office support. OfficeSuite Viewer comes pre-installed, and it had no problem opening my Word or Excel documents. If you want to edit them, however, you have to pony up $14.99 for the full Professional version, an app that’s saved my bacon a couple of times when I needed to make quick, last-minute changes to documents.
So what do you do on yours? Honestly, a lot more than I thought I would. While it’s not my preferred platform for content generation, I’ve hammered out the occasional blog post draft using the aforementioned OfficeSuite Pro. It’s also great for light web browsing, but the HDX really shines in games and multimedia. While the lack of some big-name titles *cough*Shadowrun Returns*cough* certainly smarts, I’ve lost many an hour to Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes, Doctor Who: Legacy and Tin Man’s Gamebooks. Video quality has been universally amazing across the board – from the native Prime Instant to HBO Go and Netflix – though the integrated X-Ray feature and Second Screen support for my Fire TV certainly give PIV the edge. Though I still do most of my listening on my trusty iPhone, the X-Ray features extends to my Amazon music library, offering quick access to things like song lyrics. Similarly, while my Kindle Paperwhite is my preferred ebook reader, the HDX does offer a better reading experience than all other tablets I’ve tried. Mostly, though, I read a lot of comics on my new Fire. Like, a lot a lot. The recently-acquired Comixology works flawlessly (and looks amazing) on the HDX, and, though I’ve had some issues, the side-loaded Marvel Unlimited app has also served me well. Of course, I likely owe a lot of my favorable impressions to the perks included in my Amazon Prime account.
Amazon Prime, huh? Yeah, between the free streaming library of Prime Instant Video and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library I tend to tear through a lot of content. Whether or not it’s enough to warrant your own $99 per year membership fee depends on how often you’d plan to take advantage of these features, not to mention whether or not you make enough physical purchases to reap the rewards of the free two-day shipping.
Well, should I buy this over an iPad? That really depends on whether you mean “iPad” as in an iPad or “iPad” as in a tablet. If you’re in the market for an iPad for yourself (or the man in your life for Father’s Day) and you’re already heavily invested in Apple’s tech and marketplace, then by all means buy an iPad. If, instead, you’re simply looking for a slick mobile entertainment device that also has enough flexibility to let you get a little work done – in-between games of Angry Birds Star Wars, of course – then the Fire HDX is rock-solid option. If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber or have a pre-existing bounty of Amazon digital content (and don’t mind the lack of easy access to Google Play), I’d go so far as to say it’s the best choice. Starting at $379, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ tablet is $20 less than a comparable iPad with Retina Display and $120 less than the new iPad Air. Much to my surprise, my HDX has not only replaced the iPad Mini I’d been using, but it’s earned its own special spot in my daily travel bag – a feat that hasn’t been achieved by a tablet since I adopted my original iPad all those years ago.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Amazon