Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Tablet Review

Much more than a flicker

by hodg100
Tech Review

11

Recommended
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Tablet Review
SRP: £329.00

What is the Fire HDX?

This is Amazon’s latest flagship device, coming from their fourth generation of tablets and it comes in both 7-inch and 8.9-inch screen size options. Further choices exist, in terms of in-built storage and network connectivity, with 16, 32 & 64GB versions available, each having choices of Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi plus 4G LTE. Prices start at £100, for the lowest spec 7-inch model, rising to £479 for the fully-loaded, 64GB 4G flagship product. So, at least as the upper echelons of the range is concerned, these are definitely not budget slates but then the specifications are very promising. Let’s see how all that on-paper promise holds up with lots of day to day use.

Design & Connections

In our humble opinion, Amazon has nailed it with the design of the Fire HDX with a tablet that sits extremely comfortably in the hand(s). It’s not so much the fact that is so comparatively lightweight, its more the distribution of weight throughout the chassis that makes it so nice to handle. The rear features chamfered edges, to all sides, that allow it nestle that bit more easily than some tablets, too. The bezel, which measures 16mm all around, should be great for most, although perhaps those with chubbier digits might find their thumbs occasionally obscuring the display,
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Assuming the front-mounted camera is at the top, when in landscape orientation, then you have the power button to the left and volume buttons at the right, each fashioned subtly into the sloping rear sides. In all honesty, we don’t think they’re the easiest to intuitively locate but we got used to them within a few days. The mini USB connector is positioned right on the edge, just above the power button, whilst the headphone jack is on the opposing side, slight above the volume buttons. Also at the back is a rear facing camera and we guess the most noticeable omissions would be a mini SD card slot – for expandable storage – and an HDMI out for connection to an HDTV.
Lighter than Air (and Air 2)

Origami Case for Kindle Fire mini Review

Since Amazon was good enough to send us one of these to use with the review sample, it seems only fitting that we pay it some heed. Firstly, it doesn’t come cheap; the UK Amazon store has it priced at a fairly hefty £49; and that’s for the non-leather version which is another £10 on top of that. It’s undoubtedly a very nice cover and the innovative folding design – which works equally well when used horizontally or vertically – is very sturdy but we’re not sure if we’d be willing to shell out the best part of fifty pounds for its services. Assembling the case in to its locking position can be a little tricky in that the bottom portion has a tendency to want to point down, rather than up, but you know you have it right when it resembles a bat hanging upside down.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

The Origami cuts out the rear facing camera when locked in placed on its strong magnets but compensates for that by launching the camera app when you slide the Fire upwards and lock it in the shooting position. That certainly works well when you have the tablet resting on a flat surface but it becomes a much more cumbersome operation if you’re trying to do it in-hand. We do really like the overlaid power and volume buttons, however, and the magnetised lock/unlock works flawlessly as you open and close the cover. This is a great case, overall, but we’d want to see at least £10 shaved from the asking price before we’d hand over the money.

Fire HDX 8.9 16GB WiFi Specification

The HDX range sports a Qualcomm 2.5GHz Quad-core processor, backed up with 2GB of RAM. The graphics are taken care of by a 600 MHz Qualcomm Adreno 420 GPU. The 8.9" backlit LCD display has a highly impressive 2560x1600 resolution, providing 339ppi, making it the highest resolution found on any currently available tablet (March 2015). They come with 16, 32 or 64GB of internal storage and are available with either Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE. The WiFi capability supports 802.11 a, b, g, n @2.4/5 GHz with WEP, WPA or WPA2 encyption.

Fire OS 4 Sangria

We have mixed feelings here; on the one hand Fire OS 4 (Sangria) has lots of nifty features built-in but on the other, the interface is very heavy in pushing Amazon products and services at you. This is not so bad if you’re an Amazon Prime customer, as most of what is there is available to you at no extra charge but it will undoubtedly grate, with some, who have no interest. The launcher screen features a carousel of recently used apps and content – such as Prime Video or Kindle books – and below that is a bookshelf system where official (Amazon App downloaded) apps reside. You can access all those, plus any you’ve side-loaded (more below) via a shortcut placed at the top of the home screen which provides the ability to order by title or recently used with further options of a list or grid view.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9


Fire HDX Sideload Apps


In all honesty, however, this doesn’t give us anything like the level of customisability we’re used to with the Android OS. Sangria is a forked version of Android 4.4.2 so shares lots of what’s good about the OS while, with the other hand, strangling its diverse capabilities because of the lack of available apps. There are perfectly legitimate ways to get apps outside of the scope of the Amazon store, however, with the caveat that we’re only talking about free ones! There are a number of third party app stores you can put on the HDX and there are plenty of organisations who make their .apk’s freely available to download through a browser so you might just find all your key apps are available. Out of my twenty, or so, most used Android apps, there was only one that wouldn’t run. You can also use something like Airdroid to extract apps from your other Android devices and plonk them on the Fire HDX or hook up directly to a PC, via USB, for any you have stored on there. We’ll not get in to pushing apps using ADB from terminal commands as there should be enough there for you!
Not quite the walled garden that is iOS, there are easier workarounds

Freetime, Firefly & Silk Browser


For me, these are the three standout features of Fire OS 4. Freetime is an excellent way to personalise the HDX for all the family – in particular the kids. You can allocate which apps, and what content, is available to each user very easily and it works far better than Android’s native profiles features in keeping things water tight. Firefly is something totally different and, actually its capabilities took us by something of a surprise. It basically will listen to music, TV shows and movies and then attempt to identify the content but it does so with an uncanny accuracy. We first tested it out watching Charlie Brookers’ Weeklywipe on BBC 2 and Firefly identified it within a matter of five seconds, or so, and so the pattern followed with pretty much everything else we tried. With movies and TV, a link to the IMDb webpage is also provided and, in all cases, if the content is available to buy through Amazon, you can bet Firefly will let you know. The Silk Browser is a definite rival to Apple’s Safari, too, in how it’s been optimised for the Fire HDX. It really is silky smooth and, for the most part, incredibly quick to load web pages whilst also featuring an easy-on-the eye reading mode and several other genuinely useful, if not unique, features. We certainly favoured the Silk experience over our usual preference to Chrome on Android so it has to be doing something right.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Can you Root the Fire HDX 8.9?


This is not something we would do with a review sample, in any case, but for those looking to harness the power and finesse of the HDX whilst obtaining a less Amazon-centric environment, the answer is, ‘it depends.’ Amazon clearly isn’t keen on the idea of the end-user escaping their clutches and the latest software update - 4.5.3 - has no exploit at the moment. Even if you are in a software version that can be rooted, developer support is lacking and there’s not much in the way of Custom ROMs, and the like, available but it might be worth it for some to change the launcher alone. I’m an Amazon Prime customer, at present, and even for me the pushing of Amazon content is too much so it’s something I would definitely consider if were my money on the line. Just a tweak here and there would be enough. The usual warnings that rooting your device will invalidate warranty and may leave you with a bricked unit apply, of course!

Fire HDX 8.9 Video Review

Fire HDX 8.9 4th Gen Display & Camera

Given that we have some very fine colour measuring equipment and software (Klein K-10 & Calman 5 Pro), it would be a shame not to set it to good use on the Fire HDX. Before we get in to the technicalities, we will just say that we think the screen is great and the 2560x1600 pixel resolution, at 339 ppi (pixels per inch) really does give the Fire HDX superb clarity of image. Add in to that, really good black levels (0.05 cd/m2) and a peak light output topping 500cd/m2 – we measured 518cd/m2, actually – and you have quite a formidable display capable of holding its own, in even the most challenging environments. Amazon has equipped the Fire HDX 8.9 with an impressive anti-glare filter, too, so even in bright sunlight you might be able to read it.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

We routinely measure the TVs and Projectors we review for colour accuracy so we thought we would put Amazon’s claims of, ‘perfect colour accuracy that hits 100% of the sRGB standard’ to the test. Looking at the charts below, you can see their confidence is not misplaced, at least not by a lot. Greyscale accuracy could be better as there’s a noticeable green tinge to whites but the primary and secondary colours certainly have no issues hitting full saturation levels, which is very impressive for a mobile device. To be finicky, you can certainly see that yellow leans toward green, which itself is too bright and garish at maximum levels but we certainly had no issues with a spot of second screen video watching during our time with it. All in all, this is a highly impressive screen that would be even better without a green tinge and the small amount of backlight spill we spotted coming from one corner.
Whilst the display was very pleasing, neither of the cameras got close to its quality. The rear-facing 8MP camera, in particular, was a big let-down with poor colour tone, apparent resolution and the inability to accurately focus in anything other than ‘ideal’ lighting conditions. There are no white balance options, either, so it’s down to pot luck whether your image will look faithful but at least you get a LCD flash built-in. The front-facing 720p camera is good enough for small window video calling but the same apparent lack of quality sensors as the rear facer means that selfie lovers might not find themselves looking their best. Yes, I snapped a few!
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
The display is excellent but the cameras aren't

Audio & Bluetooth

Believe it, or not, the Fire HDX 8.9 is the first tablet to support Dolby Atmos which, on the face of it, sounds a bit odd. Atmos, after all, delivers audio from speakers placed above, in front and all around – with up to 64 used in a cinema - which is clearly beyond the scope of the built-in stereo speakers, decent as they are. So the Atmos support comes via the headphone jack and is enabled by processing supplied by Dolby but it does, of course, rely on you having a Movie with an Atmos soundtrack to try it out. To our knowledge, there is no such available to mobile devices at this time so nice as it sounds in theory, we aren’t able to comment on its efficacy. What we can say, however, is that the headphone output is very good indeed and well able to power a set of Audio Technica ADT-900s, which aren’t the most sensitive cans out there.

Bluetooth performance was also impressive, with support for 4.0 so energy consumption was very low when streaming audio and we had no trouble getting the HDX 8.9 to deliver FLAC content to a media renderer using a UPnP app. Unfortunately, there’s no aptX support so it didn’t sound as good as might have but it was very good, nonetheless. For those interested, we were able to sideload Bubble UPnP without any issues but unfortunately we can’t say the same for Tidal which crashed once it went past the intro screens. Still, for those with a lot of lossless audio stored locally, or on networked devices, the news is good. We might just contact Tidal to see if they have plans to get it up on the Amazon App store! One thing we don’t like is the fact that there is no dedicated shortcut to the Bluetooth settings from the drag-down settings menu so you’re forced to navigate to the Wireless & VPN settings when you need to pair/un-pair a device; Amazon should really look at that

Fire HDX 8.9 Battery Life

The HDX 8.9 has an excellent battery, which not only gives you plenty of on-time but also recharges relatively fast. We did a quick bit of region switching in order to download the YouTube app from the US app store – it’s not available in the UK – and we were able to stream Full HD (1080p) content at 50% brightness (which is plenty in home) for a grand total of 10hrs13 mins. That should keep all bit those who interact with their slate 24/7 happy and when it does eventually expire, you can be back up to 100% battery in about 2hr30. Excellent stuff!
Dolby Atmos, on a tablet? Yes, that's right

Performance

We sideloaded the Antutu benchmarking app, which ran perfectly incidentally, and as the specs would suggest, the Fire HDX 8.9 performed extremely well against most of the competition, ranking third overall on their current database of Android devices with a score of 47,963. Comparing its Passmark Benchmark to recent tablets we’ve covered, the Fire HDX again ranks third on overall scoring with a total of 5506, so below the 6412 that the NVIDIA Shield Gaming Tablet and a smidgen beneath the 5841 achieved by the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5.

Benchmarking tests aren’t the be-all and end-all, of course, but we can report that the impressive scores achieved by the Fire HDX were reflected in day to day performance. Switching between apps was generally an instantaneous process and scrolling through screens was fluid, with little to no screen tearing or judder. The Fire HDX 8.9 is also a great choice for tablet gamers and putting it through its paces with the likes of Beach Buggy Racing and Minion Rush proved it was well able to handle fast paced action whilst maintaining framerates without tearing or slowdown.

Verdict

Pros

  • Superb screen
  • So light to handle
  • Extremely snappy processing
  • Solid audio output
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Too Amazon content heavy
  • Mediocre camera
  • No expandable storage

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Tablet Review

Should I buy the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9


The more I’ve used the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9, the more I’ve grown to appreciate it. If you can get over the Amazon content heavy interface and work around its apparent limitations on the Android operating system, you’ll be rewarded with high-grade performance, based on premium specifications backed up by an OS that has some genuinely useful unique features. The design is mostly great – save for some awkward side-mounted buttons – and incredibly light in the hand(s), whilst the screen is fairly glorious, in terms of colour, contrast and clarity.

The audio output is also impressive, via both the headphone jack and Bluetooth, while the stereo speakers are decent enough, if naturally lacking in low end extension. You can even listen to Dolby Atmos encoded content via your headphones, thanks to built-in spatial audio processing. Battery life is also excellent and it recharges pretty quickly as well. Aside from our gripes over the Amazon-centric UI, the only other real weak point would be in the camera performance, especially the 8MP rear facing option, which lack quality sensors and can really only be effective in (near) perfect light.

Personally, I would have absolutely no issues in the Fire HDX 8.9 being my everyday tablet but then I am an Amazon Prime customer, which certainly helps with the overall experience, but I would still certainly countenance it, if I weren’t. At £329, we would definitely consider it good value for what’s on offer but you would need to weigh up how it would suit your needs before committing. In any event, the Fire HDX definitely merits an AVForums Recommended Award and higher if you’re in the Prime gang!

What Else could I Consider?


For these kind of premium specifications, you’re going to need to look up the foodchains of the various tablet manufacturers out there. In terms of display and lightness, the obvious alternative would be the Apple iPad Air or Air 2, with the outgoing model still available at comparable prices to the Fire HDX, whilst the 16GB Air 2 WiFi is priced around £400 – still it does have a bigger display and lots more easily available apps to choose from. For the Android experience, we would suggest perhaps looking at the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 which, again, carries a similar price to the HDX 8.9 but brings the goodness of OLED to the table.



You can buy the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 here.
Recommended

Scores

Design

.
9

Usability

.
.
8

Operating System

.
9

Display

.
.
.
7

Email, Browsing, Calendar, Contacts

.
.
8

Media Support

.
.
8

Value For Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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