For this year’s update to the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, Amazon has given the tablet a processor upgrade as well as updating it to Fire OS 4 Sangria, its latest version of the customised Android operating system. The tablet otherwise retains the original’s excellent 2,560×1,600 resolution display.
As with the old model, Amazon claims the new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 can produce 100% of the sRGB colour gamut; a bold claim that the 2013 model didn’t quite live up to, scoring 92% in our tests. Disappointingly, this year’s Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 performed slightly worse and even further adrift of Amazon’s 100% claim. Our colour calibrator showed it could produce 88.7% of the sRGB colour spectrum, but this is still impressive.
Black levels were respectable at 0.38cd/m2, although not as high as we would have liked for a premium tablet. The screen’s contrast ratio, however, was an excellent 1,224:1. The display produced very natural, saturated colours without any noticeable colour cast. The display is certainly one of the Fire HDX 8.9’s strongest elements, and makes it a real pleasure to use for watching movies and looking at photos.
The tablet feels well-made and is comfortable to hold with one hand. There’s a soft-touch plastic back that is easy to grip, and glossy trim across the top surrounds the stereo speakers and rear camera.
The HDX 8.9 weighs just 375g for the non-4G version; 4G bumps the weight up to 390g and the price to £439 with Amazon’s Special Offers (see below), but also gives you 32GB storage. We’d prefer to use our current mobile as a Wi-Fi hotspot rather than pay such a hefty price for a SIM slot.
As with previous HDX models, Amazon has moved the power and volume buttons to the rear of the tablet rather than placing them on the side or top. You soon memorise where the buttons are, but if you’re holding the tablet the wrong way up you’ll find yourself pressing the volume key instead of the power button.
There’s no microSD port for expanding the built-in storage, so you’ll need to decide how much is sufficient at the time of purchase. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is available in various configurations. There are 16GB (£339), 32GB (£379) and 64GB (£419) models and each is offered with or without Amazon’s Special Offers. This pushes deals and sponsored screensavers to the tablet lockscreen and opting in knocks £10 off the price of each model.
Although browser speed was slightly behind the older model, the new HDX’s gaming performance has seen a healthy improvement. The Adreno 420 graphics processor acquitted itself excellently in our 3DMark Ice Storm benchmarks. It managed to max out the Ice Storm Extreme test and scored an excellent 18,349 in Ice Storm Unlimited, which is nearly 6,000 points more than the older model. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 will be able to play any graphically intense game you might throw at it (or can find in Amazon’s limited ‘Appstore’ – see below).
Amazon hasn’t changed the cameras from the old model, so there’s still a 1-megapixel front-facing camera and 8-megapixel camera on the back. There’s also an LED flash; a rarity on tablets that will help with low-light photography. Provided sufficient lighting, the rear camera was a respectable performer, capturing good levels of detail and sharpness. It’s one of the better tablet cameras we’ve seen.
The new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 has improved massively in terms of battery life. While its predecessor only managed 9 hours and 8 minutes in our continuous video playback test, the 2014 model’s 6,000mAh battery lasted an astonishing 16 hours and 25 minutes playing a video at half brightness, half volume and with airplane mode turned on. This makes the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 an excellent device for catching up on a few movies or television shows while on the move.
Like its predecessor, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 has great hardware, but it’s badly hampered by the Fire OS operating system. Fire OS 4 Sangria looks and runs well on the tablet but, although the OS is based on Android, you have to use Amazon’s own app store for adding content. This isn’t as well stocked as Google’s Play Store and also means you miss out on some staple Google apps such as official apps for Maps, Chrome and Drive. There are also no 4OD or ITV Player or apps for any major banks. If you’re considering any models from Amazon’s Fire range, bear in mind that they’re really just for consuming content and browsing the web, and are nothing like as versatile as a real Android tablet.
Amazon’s own products and services are well integrated into the operating system, as you might expect. The tablet acts in part as a shop window and the number of shortcuts directing you to Amazon content can begin to feel intrusive. Amazon’s parental control setting, called Free Time, offers a good degree of control, allowing you set up individual accounts and control how long the tablet can be used for and even set goals for activities such as reading. The HDX 8.9 also has Amazon’s Mayday service for technical support from a live Amazon operator that could be a useful feature for inexperienced users who might run into difficulties. We were connected very quickly to technical support each time.
There’s also Amazon’s Firefly function, as found on the Fire Phone. This uses the tablet’s camera and microphone to identify products by scanning barcodes or television shows or music through audio recognition. The camera can also identify web and e-mail addresses and phone numbers, saving you from having to type them in. In reality, Firefly proved hit and miss, occasionally struggling to pick out details from a business card or identify a product.
In the end, if you’re not dissuaded by some of the limitations of Amazon’s Fire OS and, better still, if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber or buy a lot of content from Amazon such as Kindle eBooks, the new Fire HDX 8.9 is by far the best tablet Amazon has produced to date. Its battery life is incredible, its display is fantastic and it looks and feels great in your hands. It is expensive considering its limitations, however; if you need a proper Android tablet computer as opposed to a content viewing device, buy a Google Nexus 9 instead.