To look at the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX
third-generation tablet to bear the Fire moniker, you wouldn't know
much has changed.
Yes, it's a little thinner, a little lighter, and a little
easier to grip than its predecessor, the Fire HD, but physically
they're almost dead ringers.
Look a little closer, though, both inside and out, and you'll
find lots of small improvements that add up to a great overall
For starters, the HDX (which Amazon sent me for review) solves
several embarrassing design flaws that still annoy me about the HD.
First, the volume and power buttons are no longer side-by-side and
flush-mounted into one edge of the tablet, where they were almost
impossible to find just by touch and annoyingly difficult to
Now, they're larger and located at the rear, though
unfortunately at opposite ends. And although you can find them by
touch, that's still a little harder than it should be.
Another welcome fix: no more side-by-side ports. On the Fire
HD, you could barely distinguish between the microUSB port used for
power and the nearly identical microHDMI port used for connecting
the tablet to a TV. On the HDX, the latter port is gone (though you
can still sling content to your TV thanks to Amazon's new wireless
Second Screen technology, which is coming soon). Problem
With the HDX, Amazon can (for the moment) tout a much faster
processor and higher screen resolution than the iPad Mini, which
costs $100 more. The former's 2.2GHz quad-core processor makes
everything silky-smooth, while the 1,920 x 1,200-pixel screen
produces razor-sharp images.
That said, I consider all this overkill in a 7-inch tablet. In
everyday use, the HDX seems no faster than the HD, books and movies
no sharper. I don't think those features alone are worth buying the
tablet, and certainly don't make the case for upgrading.
However, Amazon has baked in so much other good stuff that
you'll find yourself coveting this model even if you do already own
an HD. I'm not going to cover everything, which would take forever,
but I will tell you which extras really stand out.
First, the HDX promises better battery life: 11 hours of
"mixed" use and up to 17 if all you're doing is reading (in which
case the tablet switches off various power-consuming
Second, your Amazon Prime subscription (still $79 annually)
now lets you download some movies and TV shows for offline viewing,
a great perk for frequent travelers. The only rub: Not all movies
and TV shows can be downloaded. Indeed, the first few I tried
(including "The Natural" and "Duck Dynasty") were not. But lots of
good stuff is, including "Downton Abbey" and "The Good Wife."
Finally, I'm thoroughly intrigued by Mayday, the free
tech-support service that works on the device. When you tap
the Mayday icon, you're quickly connected to a live remote tech who
can see your screen and whose visage appears in a small window.
(They don't see you, however, though it's hard to wrap your brain
around that fact.)
I tested this by asking where I could find the apps I'd just
downloaded, and the friendly, helpful tech walked me through the
(very simple) steps of finding them, complete with little onscreen
arrows and circles that popped up (and then disappeared) to
illustrate where I was supposed to tap.
This is nothing short of genius. If Microsoft adopted a
similar system for Windows 8, it would change the face of
computing. And the fact that this amazing support is included with
the price of the tablet makes it all the more incredible. I feel
like I could buy one of these for my parents and not have to worry
about non-stop tech-support calls. I'd simply tell them, "If you
run into trouble, tap Mayday."
The Fire HDX includes dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi, which
promises faster downloading and streaming, fewer interruptions, and
better range. What's more, for $100 extra you can get the HDX with
built-in 4G LTE courtesy of AT&T or Verizon, an option
typically reserved for larger tablets. You won't get stuck with a
service contract, but you will have to pay for a data plan at
THE ULTIMATE ACCESSORY
My favorite new feature of all is Amazon's Origami case, which
uses magnets not only to hold its cover closed, but also to keep
the Kindle itself secured inside. Plus, the cover can fold
(Origami-style) to serve as a stand for both landscape and portrait
viewing, the latter my preference for reading. Even at a rather
pricey $44.99, it's a must-have
Amazon has also made a number of tweaks to the Kindle
operating system (now known as Fire OS 3.0), though I maintain it's
nowhere near as intuitive as, say, Apple's iOS. For example,
there's an option in the pull-down settings bar called Quiet Time,
but toggling it has no immediate effect. (Turns out it disables all
notifications, a nice little perk for uninterrupted reading.)
But, hey, if you get stuck, there's always Mayday.
The Kindle Fire HDX is without a doubt Amazon's best tablet to
date, and a fierce competitor to other 7-inch models--especially
for users who like to consume a lot of books, movies, TV shows,
games, photos, and other media.
Next month, Apple will almost certainly fire back with a
faster, higher-resolution iPad Mini. But it won't offer anywhere
near the Kindle's level of extras, and it'll almost certainly still
cost more. Save for a few minor annoyances, the HDX is the best
7-inch tablet you can buy right now.Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC