Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" tablet

A stunningly thin and light design and excellent screen, let down by the lack of access to Google's Play Store

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Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire HDX 8.9"
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire HDX 8.9"
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire HDX 8.9"
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire HDX 8.9"

Pros

  • Extremely thin and light
  • Excellent display
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • No access to Google Play Store
  • Fire OS limited compared to Android
  • No expandable memory

Bottom Line

Amazon's 8.9" Kindle Fire HDX boasts a stunningly thin and light design and has an excellent screen, but the lack of access to Google's Play Store means there's a heavy reliance on Amazon's limited apps.

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Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets have been on sale in the US for a number of years, but the company has previously ignored the Australian market until now. The top of the range 8.9" Kindle Fire HDX boasts a stunningly thin and light design and has an excellent screen, but the lack of access to Google's Play Store means there's a heavy reliance on Amazon's limited apps.

Super thin, super light

One of the thinnest and lightest tablets on the market.

The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" looks both unassuming and unremarkable at first glance. The front has a gloss black bezel and a matte black plastic edge surrounding the display. The back of the device is also a non-event visually, though the bevelled edges and gloss black strip across the top do attempt to distinguish it from the wealth of other black slabs on the market. The large Amazon branding on the back is unmissable and perhaps a little over the top.

The most remarkable aspect of the 8.9" Kindle Fire HDX's design is just how thin and light it is. Weighing just 374g and measuring 7.8mm thick, it's one of the thinnest and lightest tablets on the market. The weight is evenly distributed so the device is very comfortable to hold and use single handedly. The bevelled edges also make it feel inviting to hold.

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The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" uses back mounted power and volume buttons, the only physical buttons on the tablet. Both are well positioned when using the device in landscape orientation, but not very intuitive when holding the tablet the other way around. Given most users will read books in portrait orientation, we're not sure this is the best implementation. On a better note, the dual speakers on the back produce reasonable sound quality and volume for a tablet, even if they do lack bass.

The rear-mounted volume buttons are easily accessible in landscape orientation, but not in portrait.
The rear-mounted volume buttons are easily accessible in landscape orientation, but not in portrait.

A standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the right side and a micro-USB port for charging on the left are the only two ports on the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9". The device sold through Dick Smith retail stores comes with 16GB of storage, though Amazon also sells 32GB and 64GB models online. There's no microSD card slot, so if you store plenty of local media on your tablet, it may be worth investing in a larger capacity model.

Every bit as good as Apple's Retina display.

As its name suggests, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" model has an 8.9in display with a resolution of 2560x1600. This gives it a pixel density of 339ppi — higher than the Apple iPad Air. The screen is excellent and every bit as good as Apple's Retina display, offering super crisp text, vibrant colours and excellent brightness. It also has impressive viewing angles and good sunlight legibility, though we found the automatic brightness setting erratic. When using the device in a low lit environment, the setting constantly sets the brightness too high.

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Fire OS smooth but limited

Highlight is a large, rotating carousel of content on the home screen.

The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" is technically an Android tablet but the operating system, called Fire OS, has been heavily modified by Amazon. It provides access to the Amazon Appstore for Android, but not Google's Play Store or any other Google services like Google Search and Google Maps.

The Fire OS interface looks very different to Android. The highlight is a large, rotating carousel of content on the home screen, and the ability to swipe from the bottom to the top of the screen to view all installed apps. The carousel is intuitive as it not only includes apps but all content on the device including camera images, videos, and books purchased through Amazon's Bookstore.

Swiping down from the top of the screen drops down a notifications panel which includes handy toggles for auto-rotate, brightness, Wi-Fi, and Quiet Time (which turns off all notifications). There's also access to Amazon's Help portal and the settings menu through the notifications drop down, though the Mayday Video help feature, which allows you to see a remote tech support person on the screen, is not available in Australia.

The Fire OS home screen carousel.
The Fire OS home screen carousel.

It can't access Google's Play Store just like any other Android tablet.

The Fire interface is easy to use and is well suited to users who may have never used a tablet before. However, it lacks the customisation options that regular Android tablets provide — you can't change the order of app icons or content in the carousel, for example, nor can you prevent apps from appearing there. There's also no way to edit any of the quick settings toggles in the notifications panel, no access to home screen or lock screen widgets, and no way to

The Fire OS powering the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" uses Amazon’s Silk Web browser. The company claims it uses its servers to compress webpages for faster loading, though we didn't notice it loaded any faster than Safari running on an iPad Air, or Google Chrome on a Nexus 7.

The biggest issue of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" is the fact that it can't access Google's Play Store just like any other Android tablet. Instead, Amazon uses its own Appstore which houses a (limited) selection of Google Play content made available for the tablet. Popular apps like Facebook, Twitter, Candy Crush Saga, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Pinterest and Real Racing 3 are all available, but many apps simply aren't available. Further, many of the apps that are available that are take longer to receive updates than regular Google Play apps.

The Fire OS app drawer, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.
The Fire OS app drawer, accessible by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

Performance is largely excellent. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" is powered by a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor along with 2GB of RAM and both keep the device ticking along nicely. Apps open and close quickly, there is no evident lag during basic user navigation and performance is smooth and fast. We did experience some slight stuttering in graphically intense games like FIFA 14 and Real Racing 3 but for most part, the tablet performs as well as its impressive internals suggest it should.

Average camera, excellent battery life

The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" has two cameras, but both are predictably average. The rear-facing 8-megapixel camera has a single LED flash and a wide-aperture lens, but photos captured suffer from excessive image noise and dull colours. The front-facing 720p HD camera works reasonably well for video calling apps like Skype, as long as you don't expect exceptional quality.

A photo we captured with the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9
A photo we captured with the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" (click to enlarge).

Battery life is perhaps the strongest aspect of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9". Amazon claims users should be able to use the device for up to 12 hours of reading, surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music, and up to 18 hours of battery life when only reading. In most instances, we managed over 10 hours of use for all tasks, which betters the iPad Air's 10 hours of battery life and is a very strong result.

The 16GB version of the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9" is available now through Dick Smith and Big W stores across Australia for $479. Amazon also sells 32GB and 64GB models online.

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