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Hands-on with Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon's next-generation 7 and 9-inch tablets

Andy Ihnatko | Sept. 26, 2013
The new Fire tablets include 'X-Ray' features for second-screen TV viewing and a 'Mayday' button for real-time video tech support.

Two years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire. It was the first affordable color tablet offered by a major hardware manufacturer, and certainly the first respectable tablet that fit in a coat pocket.

But it was also a Version 1. The first Fire was thick and heavy, and poor responsiveness was a common complaint—even among long-time Android users, who were already used to a certain gap between Thought and Action where multitouch was concerned.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced the Kindle Fire HDX. "We've learned a lot in the past two years," I was told by an Amazon rep during an afternoon of demos. And that learning is reflected in the feature sets of two Fire HDX versions, shipping in the middle of October.

Not only are Amazon's tablets faster and prettier than ever before, they're also loaded with nifty new features for "second screen" video viewing, as well as a real-time video tech support feature that must be seen to be believed.

More pixels than you'll know what to do with

The 7-inch edition has a 1920-by-1200 display boasting 323 pixels per inch, and will sell for $229 for the base 16GB model. The 8.9-inch version will run you $379, and sports a 2560-by-1600, 339 ppi display. The new screens are easier to read in harsh sunlight thanks to brighter displays, as well as a new dynamic contrast control that kicks in to increase the brightness of shadow areas in onscreen images (it works in both photos and HD video).

Alas, my hardware hands-on took place in Amazon's Seattle HQ, where bright sunlight was not in abundance. But shining an ultra-bright flashlight into the light sensor while a photo of the Grand Canyon was on the display caused the highlights of the image to remain steady while the HDX increased the levels of the shadows.

Another welcome addition: True, 100 percent sRGB color accuracy. I wasn't able to load my own content on the sample devices, but I'm familiar with the color performance of the 2012 Kindle, and I saw an immediate improvement. Amazon also reduced the distance between the pixels and the top cover. Put it all together, and the result is a crisp, saturated, lively screen with plenty of detail and no visible pixels to be found anywhere, even in web content.

Faster CPU, 11 hour claimed battery life

Both of the HDX models use the new quad-core Snapdragon 800 mobile CPU, running at 2.2GHz. Amazon says that the new Fires' overall performance is three times faster than that of the previous-generation hardware. The company also doubled the tablet's application memory to 2GB, which speeds multitasking.

Amazon says the HDX has the lowest touch latency of any Android tablet. That's a hard claim to prove, but I'm not inclined to scoff at it. The improvements were immediately obvious the moment I took the 8.9 incher for my first spin. Between the Snapdragon CPU and the tablet's OS upgrade to Android Jelly Bean, the Fire's touch latency issues have disappeared. The interface was zippy, even when scrolling through carousels of HD images.

 

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