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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.

Despite the pixel-packed display and faster CPU, the Fire HDX still delivers roughly 11 hours of mixed-use operation, according to Amazon. The company has also optimized the book reader app for low-power consumption by using only a single CPU core, and by shoving content into special low-power memory. Result: 17 hours of battery life as an e-reader, Amazon says.

The 8.9-inch HDX gets a new 8-megapixel, f2.2 rear-facing camera that shoots stills and video, enhanced with an LED illuminator. A new custom camera app supports HDR shooting and panoramas. Though one's expectations of a tablet camera ought to be low-ish, the component on the 8.9-inch HDX seemed to take decent, smartphone-grade photos, based on my observation of Amazon's sample pix.

(That said, their gallery didn't include any images of squirrels. Clearly, the jury is still out.)

Sharper edges, but feels great in the hand
Amazon has traded the conventional rounded-edges motif of last year's Fires for sharper angles. The engineers have also thankfully decided that the Fire's power and volume buttons should no longer be closely guarded secrets. Those buttons are now big, clearly labeled, and mounted on the back plate of the tablet, where my fingers instantly found them.

The styling of the HDX tablets reminded me of the old Motorola XOOM tablet—but much, much slimmer and more stylish.

One element of the physical design made such an impression on me that I ended the word on my notebook page with an exclamation mark and embellished it with a circle: LIGHT! The 8.9-inch HDX feels almost bafflingly lightweight at 13.2 ounces. That makes it almost 10 ounces lighter than the 9.7-inch iPad, and only barely heavier than the 10.88 ounce iPad Mini.

It feels great in the hand. No doubt some people will think it feels "cheap," but anybody who spends hours reading books or watching movies on a tablet will love the overall lack of the sensation of heft. The HDX is "gloriously, unapologetically plastic," to steal a line from someone getting a lot of press this month.

Amazon is also rolling out a set of Origami-style covers for both Kindle HDX models. These are ultra-slim cases that can be folded and re-folded into portrait and landscape-type stands with deep or shallow angles, thanks to embedded magnets that hold the various folds together.

Software renovation
Amazon claims to have given the Fire's software a floor-to-ceiling rehab. You might say that the Fire team uses Android as inspiration for its own work instead of as a library of code that must be ported. Its made substantial back-end improvements, particularly in the graphics pipeline: It's clear that Amazon wanted to kill the latency problem with weapons far more substantial than harsh language.

 

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