My first 7 inch tablet was a Kindle Fire import from the USA, which was a very solid device with a 200$ price tag that was unheard of for any non-china-trash tablet back then. This was also the device which convinced me that 7 inch tablets do work and are not dead on arrival as Steve Jobs famously said. Two tablet generations later I’m taking another look on the current Kindle Fire HDX which you can get starting from 229$, to see if Amazon can keep up with the latest competition from Google and Apple.
Kinde Fire HDX Hardware Design
My first impression of the Kindle Fire HDX was a mixed bag, while it is very compact and feels even smaller than the Nexus 7 due to its form factor, the general hardware design looks like it was taken from an old enterprise movie since it works with hard edges and different angles on the back. This retro-futuristic design choice is more unique than most of the anonymous hardware design decisions of other tablets, but in the end I’m not sure if this is a good thing.
The Kinde Fire has soft buttons which are displayed on the screen, so there is no hardware button on the front. The back is made of soft touch material which feels good to the grip, and is less slippery than the iPads aluminum casing.
Kinde Fire HDX Build Quality
Contrary to most reviews of the original Kindle Fire I was very happy with the build quality, and even more so when considering the price tag. But times have changed and now there are many tablets out there which have competitive prices and good hardware. So this combination is not as impressive anymore as it was a few years ago, even though we get some good build quality here with nice buttons that don’t wobble around and have good pressure points.
There is also no creaking whatsoever and the Kindle Fire HDX makes a pretty solid impression overall. Amazon decided to place the power button and the volume buttons on the back. This feels especially uncomfortable when you hold the Kindle Fire HDX in portrait mode, as the device and the button layout were clearly meant for landscape usage. Since I switch the orientation of my tablet all the time I prefer the hardware buttons on the sides which makes them easier to find.
Kinde Fire HDX Display
So up to here the Kindle Fire HDX doesn’t stand out with anything particular, and the question is why you should consider it anyway. Luckily one of the strong points is the display. The HDX comes with a Full HD screen with very impressive viewing angles, deep blacks and generally very natural color reproduction.
So Amazon apparently knows where to put their money at, as the screen is the most important single piece of a tablet. Especially when you want your customers to consume a lot of media on that device like Amazon does. In fact there are display tests out there which see the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 (not the 7 inch version though) screen as best overall screen for a tablet at this time.
Kinde Fire HDX Software/ Performance
The Kindle Fire HDX comes with the latest version of Amazons Fire OS 3.0 which is based on Android. You won’t get any Google services though as this is no Google experience device, which means that there is no official way to get the Google Playstore either. And while there are ways to flash other roms, I don’t think that anybody should really do this because if you really need Google services you should go for something like the Nexus devices anyway.
Amazon still uses the book shelf UI concept instead of a regular homescreen and even though they updated their apps from email to calendar, I just can’t help to feel that this is a pretty crippled experience if you want more out of your tablet than optimized Amazon services support. You can’t really do much with the bookshelf and the whole UI looks pretty boring and static by today’s standards.
In the end everything that Amazon does on the Kindle Fire HDX which isn’t directly connected to some kind of potential Amazon purchase from the customer feels like an afterthought. Amazon doesn’t aim for the perfect tablet experience, but for the perfect Amazon experience. This is something you need to be aware of before getting one. At least everything is working very fast and without much delay because of the solid hardware specs, and when it comes to gaming the whispersync service is really handy to keep your progress synchronized between your devices.
Kinde Fire HDX – The Verdict
The Kindle Fire Tablets are currently in a very weird space, especially in countries where the Amazon streaming services are not nearly as rich as in the US. You get pretty good hardware with pretty awful software and the Amazon App Store with a smaller selection of apps than the Google Playstore, while losing all native Google services. On the other hand Amazon can’t afford to pull their apps from the Google Playstore, so if you get i.e. an Nexus 7 you will have full Google services and all Amazon services (albeit not as deeply integrated into the OS). No matter how you look at it, the only reason to get a Kindle Fire HDX is if you primarily care about Amazon services and can live with a subpar experience in every other category.