Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7" full review
Choosing which tablet to buy has never been harder than now, when there are so many high-quality models at very different prices. Tesco's £119 Hudl has proved amazingly popular despite not having the best screen in the world.
Amazon's Kindle Fire range is ever expanding, and the new HDX models are the latest additions. The screen sizes haven't changed, giving you a choice of either 7- or 8.9in (shown above). Here we take a look at the smaller model.
Kindle Fire HDX review: design and build
The 7in HDX has exactly the same design as the Fire HD, with angular chamfers at the back. The flush-mounted buttons are much easier to find and use than on old Kindle Fires, which had buttons on their edges. See also Kindle Fire HD review: now cheaper, but is it a good buy?.
Build quality is excellent - at least on a par with the new Nexus 7 - and we love the soft-feel back. The 'sharp' edges mean it's not comfortable to hold in one hand like the Nexus, and it's considerably wider in portrait mode.
It weighs just over 300g, making it technically heavier than the Nexus. In practice, though, it's impossible to tell the difference between the two.
There are just two ports: a headphone socket on the right (when in landscape mode) and microUSB on the left. Unlike the camera-less Fire HD, the HDX has a webcam which can capture 720p video and be used for Skype calls.
At the top on the back is a glossy strip which houses stereo speakers. These are surprisingly good for watching videos or catch-up TV from iPlayer, and even listening to music. They're loud, too.
Kindle Fire HDX review: screen and hardware
The HDX moniker refers to the new Kindle's screen. It has a higher resolution than the HD (1920x1200) and, importantly, is able to reproduce 100 percent of the sRGB gamut. Amazon says that means 'perfect' colour accuracy.
We're not denying that the HDX has a fantastic screen. Photos look almost hyper-real, with vibrant - but realistic - colour. It's very bright, too, just like the Nexus 7's screen, and has great viewing angles.
However, there's a problem. In order to get that sRGB coverage and not compromise battery life, Amazon has used blue, rather than white, LEDs. For the most part, you won't notice but any screen with a white or light-coloured background at the edges has prominent blue strips. This is blue light 'leaking' through from the LEDs, and it can't be avoided.
If you're thinking of buying the Fire HDX primarily as an eReader, this might put you off. The blue strips are just as noticeable whether you dim the screen or run it at full brightness.
It's a phenomenon Amazon freely acknowledges on its website, explaining that it's a feature rather than a fault.
Storage-wise, there's a choice of 16-, 32- and 64GB models. You can't add storage via a microSD card, so nothing has changed there.
You've also the option of those capacities in a Wi-Fi + 4G model, with the top 64GB version costing £329. Add £10 to any model and you won't see adverts on the lock screen from time to time.
Bluetooth is standard on all models, but only 4G versions have a built-in GPS for accurate location services.
Older Kindle Fires had useful HDMI outputs, but none of the new models do. The new Fire HD has no video output, while both HDX models support Miracast. However, although wireless video streaming is convenient, it requires a relatively expensive adapter to plug into your TV, or a TV with built-in Miracast support.
As with the new Kindle Fire HD, you now get a mains charger in the box, something that was sorely missing from previous-generation Kindle Fires.
Kindle Fire HDX review: performance
Equipped with a Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor running at 2.2GHz, the Fire HDX is an outstanding performer. It's faster than the Nexus 7, beating its score of 41fps in our Egypt HD by 10fps.
It was the same story in Geekbench 2, where the HDX eclipsed the Nexus with 3717 points versus 2651. In Geekbench 3, Amazon's tablet scored 2067.
Web-browsing speed, as measured using SunSpider 1.0.2 was also quicker: 697ms against the new Nexus 7's 1020ms.
Figures such as these shouldn't be taken too seriously, though. How slick and speedy a tablet feels in general use is as important as synthetic benchmarks. Fortunately, the Fire HDX feels supremely fast.
We saw no hesitation or stuttering at any point during testing, and the new dual-antenna Wi-Fi also appeared to be paying dividends with snappy app downloads and quick web-page loading times.
Amazon says you can expect 11 hours of mixed use from the non-removable battery, or 17 hours when reading books. Running our usual video-looping test, the HDX lasted for six hours and 38 minutes. That's at full brightness, half volume and with Wi-Fi enabled: a tough test. Still, other tablets have lasted longer, including the Nexus 7.
Even if you can eke out 17 hours of reading time (a figure that's likely to be possible only at the lowest brightness with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth disabled), it's nothing compared to a Kindle with an E-Ink screen which lasts for weeks and weeks before needing a recharge.
Kindle Fire HDX review: software
As we noted in our review of the new Kindle Fire HD, the updated Fire OS software is a triumph. A lot of niggles that tarnished the older versions have been addressed and it's even easier to use.
Pretty much everything can be stored in the cloud, which is why there are buttons at the top of each section marked 'Cloud' and 'On device'. By default you see the Cloud view, and tapping on an item downloads it immediately, and there's hardly a delay before you can listen to a music track, read a book or use an app.
If anything, it's easier to use than some aspects of Apple's iCloud, but it can still be improved. There are still two separate services: Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, and various apps and plugins that you need to download on your various computers and devices to get it all working.
When it is working, you can easily send a web page to your Fire HDX for reading later or upload documents including Microsoft Office files and PDFs that you can view on your Kindle. Plus, there are apps for Android and iOS that automatically upload photos taken on those devices to your Cloud Drive, which are then viewable on your Amazon tablet.
Good as these improvements are, the Fire HDX is exactly like all other Fire tablets: it locks you into Amazon's world. It's no hardship being limited to buying ebooks and audio books from the well-stocked libraries, but the choice of apps in Amazon's Appstore lags behind plain Android devices.
BBC iPlayer is still the only UK-specific catch-up app, and you can't watch shows through other providers' websites because there's no Flash support in the Silk web browser.
You won't find Google apps, either. There are third-party paid-for apps that let you access Google Maps, Gmail and YouTube, but it's a shame the free, official apps aren't there. In the settings you can allow installation of apps from other sources, so anyone with a little bit of technical knowhow can install these and other Android apps using a process known as side-loading.
With the choice of LoveFilm Instant or Netflix, we've no gripes about streaming TV shows and movies.
A feature exclusive to HDX tablets is the new Mayday button. If you need help with your Kindle, you swipe down from the top of the screen to see the menu and tap Mayday. Tapping the Connect button puts you in a queue to speak to one of Amazon's Tech Advisors. We tried out the service and were impressed that our Mayday call was answered in under 10 seconds.
You can see a small video window of your helper, but they can't see you: it's like a Skype call where you mute your webcam. The window can be moved around the screen so you can carry on using the tablet, following instructions from the Advisor. Alternatively, they can remotely control the tablet for you.
Given that this is a free service available any time of day or night, it clearly adds value especially if this is your first tablet. (It's also great if you're giving a Fire HDX to a relative and you don't want to be the first port of call when they can't figure out how to watch EastEnders.)
User profiles: FreeTime
An imminent software update promises to add user profiles, which will make the HDX (along with the Fire HD as well) much more child friendly. With the new FreeTime feature you will be able to create a profile for each kid and select which content you want them to be able to access. They can’t get out of FreeTime mode until you enter the password.
It’s called FreeTime because you can limit screen time according to the type of content. Maybe you want to limit gaming or watching videos, but allow unlimited reading time.
Fire 3.0 also gains support for VPN services, Kerberos authentication, and remote device management. Enterprise email and on-device encryption are here, too. That feels odd for a consumer consumption device, but perhaps we'll see Kindle Fire tablets in the enterprise.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7": Specs
- 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU
- Adreno 330 GPU
- Customised Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
- 7in IPS touchscreen LCD, 1920x1200 pixels
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage
- Front-facing 720p webcam
- 802.11 b/g/n dual-band, dual antenna 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- GPS (in 4G LTE versions only)
- Micro USB 2.0 port accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light sensor
- 9W mains charger, USB cable 1-year warranty
- Dimensions: 186 mm x 128 mm x 9 mm
- Weight: 303g (4G version 311g)