New External Design
From the front, the Kindle Fire HDX tablets don’t look that much different from the previous Fire HD. The difference is in the back of the case. Instead of the rounded edges, they now feature slated edges that give it the appearance of being much thinner, which it is, and also helping to make it a bit easier to hold. The speakers have moved up higher towards the top of the screen to make it easier to hear while holding the tablet. It also features discreet volume buttons on the back which were not present on the Kindle Fire HD.
The body itself is made of a mix of magnesium and glass and nylon composite materials. The result is a dramatic reduction in weight especially for the 8.9-inch version of the tablet. It now weighs just 13.3 ounces which is a third less than the previous generation. The 7-inch version has also lost some weight at just 10.7 ounces compared to the previous one at 13.9 ounces.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the original Kindle Fire HD was its very sluggish performance. Some of this was from the very fancy user interface that Amazon built for its Fire OS which was based on Android 4.1 but it also was the result of the dual core TI OMAP processor. The Kindle Fire HDX gets a whole new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with 2GB of memory. The processor even features an incredibly high 2.2Ghz speed which makes it one of the highest on the market. This provides it with what is estimated to be a three times improvement in overall performance. This makes the system much more suitable for action gaming than its predecessor the Kindle Fire HD not to mention just more responsive overall when using the tablet UI.
Higher Resolution Displays
The HDX name is actually derived from the fact that the displays for the Amazon tablets are getting upgraded. The previous Kindle HD 7-inch featured a 1280×800 display and the 8.9-inch version a full 1920×1080. Both of these get a huge boost with the HDX 7-inch version getting a 1920×1080 display and the 8.9-inch getting a very detailed 2560×1600 display. This gives the larger version some of the highest pixel density available in a tablet and puts the smaller one in the same league as the recently updated Google Nexus 7.
Rear Camera (8.9-inch Version Only)
While the original Kindle Fire HD models both featured a forward facing camera so that they could be used with video chat applications like Skype, they did not feature any rear facing cameras like the other tablets on the market. Amazon decided that this was a feature that would be added to their higher end HDX 8.9-inch model. Included now is an 8 megapixel image processor that allows for high resolution still images with a built-in LED flash for low-light or for 1080p high definition video. It will be interesting to see this feature in action as this greatly expands the capabilities of the tablet but the software features are quite unknown as the cameras were not a prominent feature in the older Kindle Fire HD.
Kindle Fire OS 3.0
To coincide with the launch of the new tablets, Amazon is also updating the Kindle Fire operating system to the new Fire OS 3.0. It is still based on the Android operating system just as before but with an overly skin that essentially restricts it to Amazon’s services. There are a huge list of new features added into the system so I will just summarize some of the most important ones.
For those that use their Kindle primarily as a reader, there is a new Book Mode function that can be activated. This supposedly will power down certain functions within the tablet to help conserve the battery life. This means that that tablets should provide extra running time when used exclusively as an ebook reader. For the 8.9-inch model, this is estimated to extend the running time from 11-hours of mixed used to 17-hours of just reading.
The Carousel view on the Kindle Fire OS was pretty much a hit or miss feature. It made browsing somewhat easier but as my wife who has a huge eBook collection found, it was extremely difficult to navigate through a huge library of books. The update to the operating system brings in a Grid View option that can help somewhat with those who might have difficulty trying to browse through such a large library. In addition to this, there will be an expanded use of customizable collections to help sort users libraries which can then be synched across the cloud between devices but it won’t be available till mid-November.
For those that frequently move between applications on their tablets, the Fire OS 3.0 will also be adding in a new quick switch function. Before it was required to move to the Home screen to do this. Now a side swipe motion will enable the Quick Switch will switch between content or applications.
Second Screen is another new feature that is going to be added in November after the devices launch. This feature will supposedly allow users to shift a movie or video from their Kindle device to a television for easy viewing. It also would then allow the tablet to be used as a second screen for the X-Ray features. It is not quite sure how this feature is going to work as the Kindle Fire HDX tablets do not have HDMI connectors or a specific streaming to consumer devices protocol like AirPlay on Apple devices. It will somehow work with the cloud but will need some compatible service or device that can connect to the TV.
Finally, there is going to be a 1-Tap Archive feature that will appear after launch. This function will be useful to any individual who tends to keep their tablet devices at their storage capacity. If you are limited on space, using this feature will look through your media and applications for items that have not been used for some time and automatically back them up to the cloud and then remove them from the tablet to free up space for new media or apps.
In addition to the new tablets, Amazon is also launching a new style of case for the tablets. The Origami covers get their name from the unique v shaped folds in the cover. By folding these back and in, it ends up creating a fold for the tablet to sit upright either in the landscape or portrait orientations. This is a nice addition to make the cover a bit more flexible as it also acts as a stand. The drawback is that the portrait orientation of the origami case may not be as stable since it tends to rest more on the left side of the back due to the shape.
The covers also differ from the previous version as they are now magnetic for holding the tablet in the cover. This also allows an additional feature to be present in the 8.9-inch version. While the tablet is in the case, shifting the tablet up in the case when it is folded open will automatically activate the camera appIt remains to be how well this holds up with use as the original Fire cover was one of the most sturdy and durable on the market.
The covers will be available in polyurethane for around $55 while the leather versions will be priced at $70.
Both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch versions of the Kindle Fire HDX are available for preorder now but will not ship until the middle of October. The 8.9-inch version is the premium model and offers a starting price of $379 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only version. It should be noted that this is the pricing with Amazon’s Special Features enabled which is similar to the easy to overlook feature in past models. It is $15 to disable this feature at purchase or can be turned off after purchase as well by paying the fee. Capacity pricing goes up around $50 for each step to 32 and 64GB. The LTE versions compatible for AT&T or Verizon’s network add an extra $100. That pricing is of course just for the hardware to use the LTE networks and data rates are extra.
The 7-inch version of the tablet is very affordable with a starting price of just $229 for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only model. This puts it at the same price as the Google Nexus 7. Just like the larger version, this is with the special features enabled which costs an extra $15 to disable either at the time or purchase or whenever you don’t really want to see them anymore. Surprisingly, increasing the storage capacity is actually a bit more affordable on the 7-inch model even though production costs should be the same. It is just $40 per upgrade to the 32GB or 64GB capacity levels. It still costs an extra $100 to add the LTE feature for either the AT&T or Verizon wireless networks.
An Updated Kindle Fire HD 7-inch
In addition to launching the completely new Kindle Fire HDX lineup, the company has also announced a revised version of the Kindle Fire HD 7-inch tablet. The changes are more cosmetic than anything else. What they have essentially done is take the original Kindle Fire internals and placed them into the case design of the new Kindle Fire HDX case. So while it looks very similar, it still uses the dual core processor, 1GB memory, 8GB storage and 1280×800 display. There is a bit more physical difference between the new Fire HD and the HDX though as the casing is a bit thicker at .42-inches compared to just .35-inches and also heavier at 12.2 ounces versus 10.7 ounces. The price has dropped to just $139 making it even less expensive than the previous Kindle Fire HD that was priced around $159. It is available for preorder right now but won’t be released till October 2nd.
Overall, the Kindle Fire HDX tablets are an impressive upgrade. The addition of the higher resolution displays is going to put a lot of pressure on the competing tablets. The 7-inch version ends up being the same price as the new Google Nexus 7that has a similar resolution display but with slower processor than the HDX. The main difference here is how people will be using their tablet. Amazon’s Kindle is a much more closed device but is excellent for anyone that happens to also be a Amazon Prime subscriber or doesn’t like the basic Android interface. Apple is certainly going to be hard pressed to release a retina based iPad Mini this holiday season as the 7-inch Kindle is certainly much more affordable and offers a better screen. Even the 8.9-inch version is going to put pressure on Google to get an updated version of its Nexus 10 out as it is more expensive yet slower performing than Amazon’s offering.