The Kindle Fire HDX: Strong Improvement Short of Perfection

By Rob Enderle October 25, 2013

I’m a big Kindle fan and I own nearly every Kindle ever made so it was with great anticipation that I opened up the new Kindle Fire HDX when it arrived last Friday. I’ve been playing with it over the course of the week and the hardware is a nice, but not critical, improvement over the Kindle Fire HD. Also, the software/UI improvements should migrate to the older product but there were some issues.   Let’s talk about my first impressions. 

Hardware

The screen is noticeably brighter and sharper if you put the HDX next to the old HD and the speakers are vastly better though I’d still recommend using headphones or external speakers if you really want to enjoy music or a movie.   The product is better looking though it looks more fragile to me, and the button placement is vastly better than the old HD where differentiating the power and volume up/down buttons was never particularly easy or intuitive.   There is also less likelihood that you’ll hit any of the physical buttons by accident. 

The HDX uses one of Qualcomm’s most powerful and power efficient processors and here is where you may want to consider replacing your older Kindle as the battery life can be up to twice what the old Kindle used to have.   Having a dead battery is never fun and given how much I use my Kindle this alone justified getting the upgrade.  

Like the Google Nexus 7, the Kindle is sold near cost - so the price is aggressive for what you get and I’d recommend getting at least the 32 GB version if you want to download and watch movies on plane trips.   16GB just isn’t enough.  

Be aware that cases for older Kindles will not fit this one and that you’ll need a new case for the HDX. My new case for this Kindle hasn’t arrived yet making carrying it a bit of a challenge (a little worried I may drop and break it). 

Software: Looking For Improvement

Like all new products, there is a little instability at first and my new Kindle HDX has rebooted (crashed) two times.   Now. the system reboots relatively quickly but it clearly didn’t like some of the apps I have and the first crash came after downloading some of the ones I had on older Kindles.    Often it takes a bit to go through the app database and assure that most work with any new operating system and while they all seem to work, so far, these two crashes make it clear that some tuning still needs to be done.  

One nice thing about all of the current generation platforms is that there is a much more powerful sync which gives you access to everything you’ve already purchased.   However you still have to select each app, each piece of music, and each movie you want downloaded to the new device and this can be a bit of a tedious process particularly with music.   What I find interesting is that when you sync Amazon music to a PC all of the music just appears, with the Kindle you have to select each song or album likely to assure you don’t blow out your limited memory but the process could be faster, say an initial check list of apps and music you want on the new device with a memory utilization gauge so you don’t overload it. 

With books, I still think Whisper Sync should automatically download every book you haven’t read and automatically delete a book you have read from every device on request.   As it is, if you have multiple Kindles, you can often grab a Kindle only to discover that when you are on a plane and there is no Wi-Fi that you have the image of the cover of a book on the carousel but the book itself still has to be downloaded. Managing multiple Kindles can be rather painful as a result.   Not a big deal if you just have one.   I’m clearly going to need to give a couple of mine away.    

All said, it took me about an hour to fully configure the Kindle HDX which isn’t much (and I was watching TV at the same time so it could have gone more quickly).   But with a few changes this could be cut down to just a few minutes.  

To my eye the Kindle interface is simpler and more modern than either Android or iOS provide, the Android UI is very similar to iOS and icon based where the Kindle uses a tiered carousel which prioritizes things by how recently they’ve been used. The Kindle remains easier to use from start than either an Android or iOS device but is dissimilar enough from both that users coming from either platform may struggle a bit with the differences.   

One unique improvement is the Mayday button which up with settings, if you get into trouble you hit the button and if you are connected you get a video chat with a real person who helps you. This alone is almost worth getting the new Kindle for. 

Wrapping Up: Should you buy One?

If you are a Kindle user and are on a first generation Kindle Fire or are unhappy with the battery life of your Kindle Fire HD you are prime customers for the HDX and will find the money well spent.    Kindles generally make better gifts (particularly now with the Mayday button) than Nexus or other pure Android tablets because they are easier to use and are very high quality for the price.   They are a better value than the iPad mini but don’t integrate well with Apple’s ecosystem. Given the 7” class of tablet is mostly used as a reader this may not be a huge problem but be careful giving one to an Apple user as they may prefer the more expensive Apple product and be disappointed (Apple refreshed their iPad line this week).    Be aware that if all you do is read - then the Kindle Paper White is still the best tablet for readers, it costs far less, it has far more battery life, works better outdoors, and it is far lighter than a full featured tablet-  but it is just for reading.   

All in all, I remain impressed with the quality of the Kindle Fire HDX with my only lasting complaint being that if you have several of them keeping them all up to date could be easier.   With over 15 hours of battery life in this new one, maybe I don’t really need to have more than one now anyway.  




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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