Do you like to watch? Amazon's Fire HDX ($379, 16GB) is the ideal media tablet, designed for lots of reading, listening, and watching TV and movies especially (but not always) if you purchase that media from Amazon. Performance is decent for games and okay for basic productivity, but the Fire really stands out when you're sitting back.
The Fire HDX starts at $379 for 16GB (with 10.5GB available), heading up to $429 for 32GB and $479 for 64GB. Like all Amazon tablets, it comes with ads on the lock screen; it costs $15 to kill the ads. Want 4G LTE with AT&T, T-Mobile, or Verizon? Add $100 to the price of the 32GB and 64GB models. There is no memory card slot.
Physical Features, Wireless Connectivity
The Fire HDX 8.9 is light, slim, and durable. It's made of magnesium with a soft-touch nylon back that makes it easy to grip and unlikely to slip around on a table. At 13.2 ounces, it's two ounces lighter than the iPad Air 2. And at 9.1 by 6.2 by 0.3 inches (HWD), it's not exactly pocketable, but it's certainly portable. The Power and Volume buttons are in an unusual place, on the back, which is surprising considering the tablet has a considerable bezel around its screen.
Like last year's 8.9-inch tablet, the Fire HDX packs a 2,560-by-1,600 LCD screen. It's fine. It has excellent viewing angles and it's very sharp, but it lacks the insane saturation of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 10.5 (288 pixels per inch) and isn't quite as bright as the iPad Air 2's 264ppi screen. It's denser than the Air 2, though, at 339ppi.
Amazon doesn't include?a case with the tablet, but you can get a folding Origami stand/case for $54.99 and a Bluetooth keyboard for $59.99.
The tablet integrates 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which Amazon claims is faster than previous generations. I found it unimpressive when compared side by side against an iPad Air 2, though. While the two tablets did about as well at each other within 25 feet of aMeraki MR16 router, the Fire's performance drops off much more sharply with distance. At about 50 feet, the Fire dropped to about 8Mbps down while the iPad maintained 25Mbps, and at 100 feet the Fire saw 4Mbps down where the iPad saw 14Mbps.
OS and Performance
The Fire HDX runs Amazon's Fire OS 4.1 Mojito, which is based on Android 4.4.3. We've reviewed it several times recently, so I won't go into the details yet again: This is very similar to the OS on the Amazon Fire Phone and on Kindle tablets.
Three features are worth calling out. FreeTime works with Amazon's new Family Library and the HDX's support for multiple user accounts, which makes this a great tablet for families. It lets you set up protected children's accounts and fill them with a huge, rotating library of vetted, continually refreshed, subscription content. That makes the HDX a gorgeous backseat-entertainment tablet. (If that's all you want, though, the cheaper Fire 7" Kids Edition will probably do.)
The Fire HDX 8.9" also has an office suite built in, in the form of WPS (formerly Kingsoft) Office. Oddly, it's initially hidden it pops up when you open an email attachment but it's a full, Microsoft Office-compatible editing suite. That certainly helps the Fire's case as a productivity tablet, although the Amazon Appstore has nowhere near the rich depth of productivity apps the iPad has on offer.
This tablet has the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor I've seen, a quad-core chip running at 2.46GHz. The advantage here is mostly in the GPU. The Snapdragon 805 showed major improvement over the Snapdragon 801-powered Galaxy Tab S on the GFXBench graphics benchmarks, at least doubling some of the frame rates. It's a little bit of a pity, then, that I couldn't find games on the Amazon Appstore which really pushed that GPU.
There's no GPS, but the Fire HDX 8.9" does location services based on Wi-Fi networks. This works, as long as you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Bluetooth is on board, but not NFC, as Amazon has no services that would work with NFC anyway.
Battery life is better than that of the Apple iPad Air 2, even while being lighter. I was able to manage 7 hours, 59 minutes of video streaming with the screen turned up to max brightness, as compared with 5 hours, 45 minutes on the iPad Air 2.