Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review

Doing it Amazon's way on a bigger screen

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Our Verdict

An accessible, competitively-priced window into Amazon's world for the whole family, the Fire HDX 8.9 has a class-leading display and excellent speakers. Sadly the performance, the choice of apps, and the quality of what's there let it down.

For

  • 8.9 inch HD display
  • Fast performance
  • Parental controls
  • Dual speakers

Against

  • Fire OS
  • Amazon app store
  • Limited storage
  • Firefly is buggy
Ratings in depth

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 2014 review

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 2014 review

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 2014 review

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 2014 review

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 2014 review

The new Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is an update that improves on its predecessor in a number of tangible ways. It combines a gorgeous display with stunning sound and silky smooth performance. The design is solid, the parental controls have been beefed up, and Firefly joins Mayday on the exclusive feature list.

If you're looking for a catch then here it is – the Fire HDX 8.9 is primarily designed to sell Amazon content. If you're a big fan of Amazon and you're already invested in the ecosystem, or you don't mind that idea, then come on in the water's lovely. If not perhaps you'd be better looking at something else.

Starting at £329 (US$379) for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only version "with special offers" (adverts) the Fire HDX 8.9 is competitively priced and aimed squarely at the mass market. At the top end it goes up to £489 ($595) for the 64GB, LTE, ad-free model, but you can bet Amazon won't be shifting nearly as many of those.

The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 goes head-to-head with the big tablet king, Apple's iPad Air 2, and the latest challenger from Google, the Nexus 9. It's a touch more expensive than the Nexus 9, but a lot cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and it boasts a few specs that put both of its major competitors to shame.

Has Amazon got it just right? Is the Fire HDX 8.9 the perfect tablet for content consumption? That rather depends on what you're looking for.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
If you're already invested in the Amazon ecosystem then the Fire HDX 8.9 will be packed full of features for you

The original Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 won plaudits for being slim, extremely light, and sporting an unusual angular design on the back.

The new Fire HDX 8.9 looks identical at first glance. It has exactly the same measurements of 231 x 158 x 7.8mm (9.1" X 6.2" X 0.3") and has put on just a single gram, at 375g (13.2 oz) for the Wi-Fi version (389g/13.7 oz for LTE).

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is lighter than its rivals the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air 2 meaning less strain on you when holding it for long periods

It's not as impossibly svelte as the 6.1mm iPad Air 2, but it is slightly slimmer than the Nexus 9, if a little taller and wider. In terms of weight the Fire HDX 8.9 is the lightest of the three as the Nexus 9 is 425g (14.9oz) and the iPad Air 2 is 437g (15oz).

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
The matt, soft-touch finish provides extra grip

The Fire HDX 8.9 is very comfortable to hold and the matte, soft-touch finish provides a bit of extra grip.

It's lighter than you expect and you can hold it one-handed for short periods without getting a strain, however, it is clearly designed to be held in two hands in landscape view. That way your fingers naturally find the concave volume controls on the right and the power button on the left.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
The buttons are easy to find when holding the HDX 8.9 in landscape view

Holding it two handed this way also makes operating the central camera very easy.

The left edge, in landscape, is home to the micro USB port, which is slightly angled up the way. I found it a little fiddly to get the cable in at first because of this.

The right edge is home to the headphone port, which seems to make sense next to the volume buttons.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review

Flip the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 over and you'll see that black gloss panel at the top, with a speaker grill at each side, and the camera lens and flash in the centre. There's a glossy, embossed Amazon logo in the middle.

It's a unique look and it feels quite classy, though the glossy panel really does pick up smears and smudges easily.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
It's thin, but not quite as thin as the iPad Air 2

Turning back to the display we find an 8.9-inch screen that boasts a stunning 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution. That gives it a 339ppi rating, which is fantastically sharp. Consider that the identically-sized Nexus 9 display, and the larger 9.7-inch display on the iPad Air 2, both have a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels and you'll start to get a feel for how nice the Fire HDX's display really is.

The design is good and the quality fits the price, but it's not perfect. A couple of things bothered me about the design.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
The design quality lives up to the price tag

My son was playing a hidden object game while he ate his breakfast toast and he managed to get crumbs in the gap between the bottom of the display and the frame.

As I painstakingly removed them with the corner of a piece of paper I was reminded of the recent Note 4 "gapgate" fuss. There is a clear gap between the screen and frame all the way round the HDX 8.9 and it's bigger along the bottom.

Amazon Fire HDX 8 9 review
Be careful not to get crumbs caught in the gap around the display

The other thing I have to mention, because I don't recall ever noticing it on another tablet, is the fact that there's a grid of black points, which I believe is the touch sensitive part of the display, that sometimes become visible from certain angles. I noticed it playing Game Dev Story in a darkened room where there was a big white portion of screen.

I never saw it during a movie, but having seen it once, every time I was playing a game or reading after that, whenever there was a big white patch on screen, I couldn't help but notice it.