But if you’re a faithful Amazon customer looking for something more substantial than the 7-inch Fire, the lightweight 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX is the tablet to consider. The bigger screen is worth the extra money, and you don’t lose any performance, just some portability. And even though it’s more expensive than its smaller kin, it’s still a great value among full-size tablet options.
The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is a solid device and an improvement over last year’s model. It's fast, light, and has a great display, but it doesn't really measure up to an iPad Air or even a modern 10-inch Android tablet when it comes to actual functionality. Watching video on the high-res display is awesome on the 8.9, but it's too big to be truly portable, and other than video, doesn't offer a great reason for the larger screen to exist. The same argument can be made between the iPad mini with Retina Display and the iPad Air, but Apple’s robust accessory ecosystem, better productivity apps, and vastly superior selection of games at least give the Air more than just a big screen to work with.
With the Fire HDX, the Kindle acquires the first early pangs of an identity crisis. If it has the form of a full-size productivity device, shouldn’t it try to be one? Naw. It has its own identity and it has a valuable role to play.
Apple described the case of the iPhone 5c as not just “plastic,” but “unapologetically plastic.” Amazon should do the same with the Kindle. It’s unapologetically content-driven. They’ve improved the screen and the sound and the OS features to make this the most pleasant device for enjoying other people’s creativity.
It’s definitely not the best full-size tablet for sweating through a full day of work. But it might be the best tablet for recovering from one.
In the current pantheon of high-end tablets, I'd put the 8.9 right up there with the iPad Air. While it lacks the premium feel of Apple's latest large tablet, they're pretty much a match performance-wise. Also, Amazon's tablet starts at $120 cheaper, and increases its value as storage configurations increase -- you can get a 64GB Wi-Fi-only HDX 8.9 for $479 versus $699 for a 64GB iPad Air. As for software features, if you consider apps alone, Apple has that on lockdown with the most and best apps of any tablet OS. However, taking into account the entire media ecosystem, Amazon is second to none.
If you're an active Amazon Prime member, the HDX is a no-brainer. If you're not a Prime member and don't mind a closed -- but vast -- ecosystem, the HDX is an excellent reason to sign up for Prime.
At $380 (16GB, special offers) the 8.9 is a steal versus the comparable $500 iPad Air; the 8.9 is cheaper, lighter, has a better screen, and is almost as big. But hold on. Hooooold on.
The 8.9 is not a slam dunk against the upcoming $400 retina iPad mini, a tablet that will offer roughly similarish screen quality, a barely smaller screen, premium hardware, and a way more robust ecosystem for just $20 more than the comparable HDX 8.9. For just $6 more than the comparable HDX 8.9 if you pay the extra $14 it costs to remove special offers. And the iPad mini is right around the corner. You can hold your breath for the reviews, but from everything we know so far, it's going to be the better deal by a fair margin.
The limiting factor, then, is not the hardware but Amazon itself. So closely is the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 tied into the retailer’s digital ecosystem – whether it’s with books, videos, music, Prime membership, or just shopping through the store – if you’re not willing or able to devote your e-shopping to Amazon, the whole experience falls apart. Yes, it’s a great tablet for browsing on, and you can sideload content via USB, but it’s hardly taking advantage of what the Fire HDX 8.9 is capable of.
If you’re already an Amazon customer, or are willing to make it your ecosystem of choice, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is our choice of the company’s tablets. Priced from $379 for the WiFi-only model (add $100 if you want LTE support) it’s competitively priced, and it could handle anything we threw at it; Amazon’s roadmap of feature updates like second-screen support will only make it better, particularly if you’re a Prime customer.
Overall, I like the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and can heartily recommend it.
If I had to choose, though, I would still go with the iPad Air. First of all, the Air has a better, cleaner design. Second, the iOS ecosystem and associated apps are still better. A good example is Twitter for the Kindle Fire. It looks like they took mobile phone software design and simply stretched it. I see this far too often on Android tablets, even extremely well-thought-out ones like the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. This is something I have never seen on an iPad. Every piece of software looks like it was custom designed for Apple’s platform, probably because it has been.
If minor nits like that do not bother you, then, by all means, get an Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. It’s good-looking, light, fast, endlessly entertaining and a very, very good value.
The Fire line just keeps getting better. Just as the HD marked a big improvement over the first generation, the HDX brings a number of premium features that puts Amazon's offerings on par with some of the best tablets. The screen is great; processing power has been bumped up considerably; there's finally a rear-facing camera; and the hardware is markedly slimmer. On the software side, additions like Mayday tech support and Second Screen offer a compelling user experience. That said, the limitations of Fire OS versus regular Android will almost certainly continue to dissuade some shoppers from taking the plunge.
As for pricing, we can think of more expensive tablets, including the $499 iPad Air and $399 Galaxy Note 8.0. But with an $80 price hike over its predecessor, the high-end section of the Fire line has moved well beyond the budget category that first defined it. And at the end of the day, the $150 price increase from the 7-inch version doesn't bring that many additional features. Priced anywhere from $379 to just under $600, it's a pretty big splurge for a holiday gift, but it's a reasonable sum to ask for a tablet that hardly cuts any corners.
The Kindle Fire is not a hard-core productivity tablet; it's designed mostly for consuming media from Amazon. While it's certainly possible to load it up with your own content and office apps, that isn't what its super-simple interface is made for. You might notice that in general, the HDX has better specs than the iPad Air at a lower price. It's just less ambitious from a software perspective, which makes it a better tablet for some people but makes the iPad a better tablet for more people.
If you want to surf the Web, play games, read books, and watch Amazon Instant Video on a big screen, the HDX is absolutely perfect. And thanks to FreeTime, it's a great kids' tablet, too. All of these things can also be said for the $229, 7-inch HDX, a very similar tablet. You're primarily paying more for the bigger screen and longer battery life here (as well as the rear camera, which isn't much of a prize.)