New Amazon Kindle Fire HDX tablets offer better displays and 24/7 help

Amazon looks for the 'intersection of customer delight and deep integration,' says CEO Bezos

Published: September 25, 2013 12:01 AM
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Photo: Amazon

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In the race to pack the most pixels into an inch of tablet-display real estate, Amazon is about to place itself on top: One of three brand-new Kindle Fire tablets, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, boasts 339 pixels per inch stuffed into its 8.9-inch, 2560x1600 display.

In addition to the larger Kindle Fire HDX ($380 for the 16GB Wi-Fi version), Amazon introduced the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (16GB, Wi-Fi, $230). For either model, adding 4G capability costs an additional $100.

In a nod to the popularity of low-priced tablets, Amazon also upgraded the Kindle Fire HD—and lowered its price to $140.

Of course, there’s more to a great display than pixels per inch. Accurate color is important, too. Amazon claims it achieved “perfect color” (with 100 percent sRGB accuracy, a specification that other tablet manufacturers, including Apple, also claim) via a combination of pixel density, a bright backlight, and a well-designed display.

To achieve that, the new display adjusts the picture on the fly, depending on the surrounding lighting conditions. Other brands of tablets do adjust screen brightness depending on surrounding conditions. When we test these new Kindles in our lab, we’ll see whether they make adjustments that distinguish them from other brands.

We'll test the new models as soon as they're available, but in a hands-on demo to a small group of journalists that I attended at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters yesterday, those qualities all shone through.

The HDX models are also thinner and lighter than the previous Kindle Fire HD tablets. At 13.2 ounces, the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, for example, weighs about one-third less than the Kindle Fire HD 8.9. Its magnesium unibody, blended with glass and nylon, helps keep the weight down.

Battery life should also be better, Amazon says, with 11 hours of mixed use. And the new tablets should be able to extend battery life to 17 hours for reading books by adjusting battery consumption when they detect that all you are doing is reading.

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Beyond the hardware

Still, it’s not all about the hardware, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. "Hardware is still getting better, but the things that really wow customers are much more likely to be things like Mayday," he told me. He was referring to a new button built into the tablets' user interface. Press it, and a box with a live video of a customer-service rep pops up on the tablet’s screen.

The Mayday rep will help you with any questions you have about the tablet, from simple things such as recommending the latest hot games to complex tasks, including configuring the tablet for more-secure enterprise use. The Mayday rep can draw arrows on your screen to show you which buttons or menu items to press, or take over the tablet remotely to accomplish a task for you.

There’s a mute button in case you don’t want the rep to hear you say something. Let her know when you’re about to enter a password or other secure information, and she can temporarily pause screen sharing to protect your privacy. The Mayday rep will be available 24/7, 365 days a year, and access is free with the Kindle tablet. The goal, according to Bezos, is to maintain a 15-second response time.

The HDX tablets feature a new version of the user interface that Amazon is calling Fire 3.0 Mojito. Part of Amazon’s strategy, Bezos said, is to identify the “intersection of customer delight and deep integration.” Several features of the new operating system are all about that strategy.

For example, the there’s an expanded version of a feature called X-Ray, which lets you delve deeper into certain types of content. With this new version, play a song and the lyrics automatically pop up on your screen. You can jump wherever you want within a song by tapping on a lyric.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Photo: Amazon

Amazon also added new features to X-Ray for movies and TV shows. Love that song playing in the middle of Under the Dome? When you’re using X-Ray, info about it pops up on the side of the screen, along with data about other songs in that episode. Tap the song to buy it, or tap another song on the list to jump to where it’s playing in the video. Also fun: Trivia related to the show or movie you’re watching, including goofs turned up by IMDb (the Internet movie database owned by Amazon).

The Second Screen feature turns your tablet into a display just for the X-Ray features while you watch the video itself on your TV. You can also use the tablet to do other things while the video plays on your television set. The feature will be available for Samsung TVs and PlayStation 3, as well as the upcoming PS4. The new user interface also lets you display your apps and content in a grid format instead of the carousel.

Cameras and specs

For the first time for Kindle tablets, the new models feature a rear-facing camera. The 8-megapixel camera supports HDR and can take panoramic photos; it's accompanied by a variety of editing tools.

Both Kindle Fire HDX tablets have 2GB of RAM and use a 2.2GHz quad-core processor. The new Kindle Fire HD is a 7-inch model with a 1280x800 display that shows 216 pixels per inch, a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, and the new version of the Fire operating system.

Amazon also introduced a new cover for the Kindles called the Origami. As its name suggests, it folds into a stand that can display the tablet in both portrait and landscape mode. And if you want to use the camera, gently push the tablet up from the bottom: It exposes the lens and causes the tablet to launch the camera app.

All the new tablets are available for preorder immediately at The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX models will ship on November 7. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX will ship on October 18. And the upgraded Kindle Fire HD will ship on October 2.

—Donna Tapellini

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