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Kindle Fire HDX 7-inch review: Third time's the charm

Andy Ihnatko | Oct. 3, 2013
Considerable hardware and software improvements make Amazon's third attempt one of the best content-consumption tablets around.

The screen of the 7-inch HDX is a super-detailed 1920 by 1200 at 323 ppi; the 8.9-inch version is 2560 by 1600, 339 ppi. Watching movies on the 7-inch HDX is a pleasure, once you get past the distraction of seeing every flyaway strand of hair on the head of every actress in close-ups.

A major complaint of mine remains: inconsistency in the display's illumination. The iPad's screen is the same paper-white in every dimension. The 7-inch Fire HDX dims a bit at the very edges of the display. The effect is barely noticeable, and it's evident only when the screen is full white. But "white screens" are not by any means an unusual circumstance on a device that works so well as a book reader, you know?

The bass and the stereo separation of the speakers inside this 7-inch tablet are impressive. In casual desk use next to my laptop, the audio was loud and clear enough that getting out of my chair and fetching a Bluetooth speaker didn't seem worth the bother.

Faster, smoother, and longer battery life
Inside, both the 8.9-inch and 7-inch Fire HDX have a new Snapdragon 800 CPU running at 2.2GHz, plus 2GB of RAM (double the previous edition). Those components, in addition to the FireOS development team's aggressive work to improve the device's graphics pipeline, have virtually eliminated the latency issues that plagued the UI of previous Fires. Scrolling is smooth, controls respond immediately, and even when the Fire HDX is playing 1080p HD video with graphical overlays, the device feels snappy.

Battery life is excellent. In mixed use, it took me about 6 hours to run the battery down to 50 percent. The book-reader app is optimized for CPU power consumption and RAM access. I made 2 hours of progress into Infinite Jest, and if my math is right, the Fire HDX consumed about 35 percent less power in doing so than last year's model.

The 7-inch HDX has a front-facing 720p HD camera for video chat and stills. The 8.9-inch model also has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera that takes "smartphone-quality" pictures, given the understanding that the "smartphone" isn't a Lumia 1020 or even an iPhone 5s.

These are all features that can be compared against the iPad, the Galaxy Note, or the Nexus 7. But it's the HDX's relationship with its content that truly sets it apart from the competition.

Content at the center of everything
After spending several days with the Fire HDX, I have to say that it no longer makes any sense that the iPad forces you to launch an app before letting you read a book. Why doesn't it present me with a carousel of all of the books, movies, music, documents, and photos I've been using, in chronological order, as the Fire does? I tap a book cover, and I neither know nor care what app is launching; I just start reading, which was the intent behind my tap.

 

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