Amazon’s smallest tablet can be had for as low as $229, significantly undercutting Apple’s ubiquitous device by over $100.
But cost only goes so far. How is it to use, how is it for content, and in typical HD Guru fashion… how’s the screen?
Answers to these questions, plus full TV-style color and contrast measurements, after the jump.
When it first came out, the Fire was sort of tablet-lite. It was more of a media enjoyment device than a true laptop-replacing tablet, like the iPad. I say this with love, as I actually bought the original Fire at launch, and loved it.
Now on its 3rd generation, the Fire has grown and advanced to be a serious iPad (or in this case, iPad Mini) competitor.
Let’s get this part out of the way first: it’s not an iPad. If you’re looking to replace your laptop with a tablet, the Fire doesn’t quite offer that level of functionality. This isn’t a knock, it’s a different type of product (and a lot cheaper).
However, the Fire can get you pretty close, and is a great option for those times you don’t want or need a laptop.
For instance, the Fire plays movies/TV shows, music, books, and has apps like Facebook, Twitter, and others. It has a web browser (of course) and a 1.2 megapixel camera for Skype, but no camera on the back for pics/movies of other people (well, I suppose you could turn it around to face them).
Most hardware specs for tablets are meaningless (who cares what a “Snapdragon” is?), but the two important specs are the hard drive space (16, 32, or 64 GB) and the screen. Even though it’s only 7-inches diagonal, the HDX’s screen has a 1,920 x 1,200 resolution. It’s beautiful to look at, but we’ll talk about that later.
I wasn’t a fan of the Kindle HD (the previous Fire). I found it bulky and boring looking. The HDX, though is great. It’s thin, with a cool angular design on the back that’s an attractive contrast to Apple’s curves. Think Giugiaro vs Scaglietti. It’s also got a soft rubberized texture that’s great to touch.
On the entertainment side, most of the apps I can think of are here: Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and of course, Amazon Instant. There are also channel-specific apps, like ABC, A&E, Discovery, PBS, and so on.
Amazon’s movie and TV selection is roughly the same as iTunes. One might have something the other doesn’t, but both are good (actual content licenses are always changing). If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can stream movies/shows for free.
However, because the Fire is its own ecosystem, there isn’t the widespread app availability that you’d get on an iPad, and even a “regular” Android tablet (the Fire runs on bespoke version of Android). Does this matter to you? It doesn’t to me, but again, if you’re looking for a single do-all device, that’s not the Fire.
One of the new features with the HDX is Amazon Second Screen, which allows the HDX to display additional info for any program you’re watching on Amazon Instant Video. You can even control what you’re watching from the tablet. Want to select a specific scene or actor monologue? Select it on the Fire and it shows up on the TV.
This isn’t, however, streaming from the tablet to the TV. It’s a synchronization of streams from Amazon to your TV and the tablet. So you can pick up where you left off, or switch from one to the other, but there’s no direct connection. You tell your tablet, the tablet tells Amazon, Amazon tells your TV.
Right now it’s only available on Samsung TV and the PlayStation 3. We’ll have a full report on this functionality (and how it compares to similar technologies) next week.
There will also be Screen Mirroring, if your display (or adapter) has Miracast.
Everything moves fast and precisely on the HDX, the way a tablet should be. Swiping and typing all feel as they should.
As mentioned earlier, the screen is excellent. Seriously good. The wee tiny pixels do a fantastic job showing tremendous resolution, even if you perch the Fire on your chest while in bed or on the couch.
As you can see in the chart below, the Fire HDX’s color accuracy is pretty decent: better than most tablets/phones, and even better than many inexpensive full-size displays. The secondaries are a little off, as is green, but overall it’s pretty spot on. Color temp is a little minus blue, but not too bad.
Off axis performance is excellent. I wish more LCDs were like this.
The contrast ratio is also pretty good, for a tablet. With a maximum light output of 109.7 footlamberts and a black level of 0.071, the Fire HDX has a contrast ratio of 1545:1. We’ve measured full-size LCDs that measure worse than this.
There have been some reports of blue light bleed around the edges of the screen. My sample (purchased last week) had no such issues (well, no more than normal for an edge-lit LED LCD). Amazon has this to say on the Fire’s page “To achieve the perfect color accuracy on Kindle Fire HDX 7″ at the lowest possible battery consumption and device weight, we used blue, not white, LEDs. Blue LEDs allow for a much more accurate and rich representation of color and result in an up to 20% improvement in power efficiency.”
OK, so there’s a lot of the usual marketing BS in that statement, starting with “perfect color accuracy” and ending with “white LEDs” (there’s no such thing). I measured the spectrum and got this:
Yep, there are blue LEDs in there (the blue spike). What I wasn’t expecting was the sharp spikes at green, and a little less so at red. Interesting. This is not what the larger Kindle Fire’s spectrum looks like, and is more “spikey” than a traditional blue LED-with-phosphor. Check out our review of the Sony W900A for more on LED lighting spectra.
It also plays pretty loud, and sound surprisingly good doing it. It’s got “Dolby Digital Plus” audio, which is a rather odd marketing description since DDP is a compression codec, but whatever. The little speakers on the top/back of the HDX produce a decent listening volume. While headphones will always sound better, if you’re stuck without headphones, or tired of wearing headphones (as I can be after a long flight), the internal speakers are a reasonable alternative.
I like the Kindle Fire HDX a lot. If you’ve got your heart set on an iPad, go for it and get one. Otherwise the Fire offers most of the functionality for much less money. If you don’t need what the iPad adds, then the Fire is a great deal.
Depending how you’re going to use it, the 16 GB might be a little small. If you just plan on using it on a commute, or domestic flights, it’s probably fine. But for international flights, and international travel (where you might not be able to download new content), I’d recommend the 32 or 64 GB models.
Then there’s the pricing. The 16GB, Wi-Fi only version, with ads (that display on the lock screen), is $229. Remove the ads, and it’s $244 (probably worth it). 32 GB is $284, 64 GB is $324, and now you’re in the realm of the smallest capacity iPad mini. Adding 4G capabilities adds $100 to the price (plus the cost of a monthly data plan).
So I don’t expect it to be the perfect tablet for everyone, but for someone looking for a small content playback device, without the extra cost of an iPad, the Fire HDX is a great piece of kit. We award the Fire HDX four and a half hearts (out of five).
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