In the fleeting moments I had with Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet, I noticed one major thing: It lost a lot of weight. The engineers at Amazon managed to slim down their flagship tablet in every dimension.
(Also see: Refreshed Amazon Kindle Fire HD tablet unveiled at lower price)
new Kindle Fire HDX is lighter by 23 percent for the smaller model and
34 percent for the full-sized one. The slimmer profile is made possible
by a new, lighter magnesium alloy body, a touch screen with fewer layers
than before and a frame that is about one-quarter narrower all around
the edge of the screen.
Add to that the company's claim that the
processor is three times as fast as last year's Kindle Fire HD, and
Amazon.com Inc. seems to have an attractive holiday gift option on its
In my hands, at an event for reporters Tuesday, the weight
reduction is noticeable. I own a year-old 7-inch Kindle Fire HD and find
it chunky. Trying to read a book on it with one hand is like doing so
with a big hardcover book. Eventually, your wrist will need a break.
new HDX with a 7-inch screen, measured diagonally, is now lighter than
the iPad Mini, at 10.7 ounces compared with 10.9 ounces. Google's new
Nexus 7 is lighter than both, though, at 10.2 ounces. The HDX has a
starting price of $229, a $100 less than the Mini.
reading, you might prefer a lighter e-reader, such as the Kindle
Paperwhite, at 7.3 ounces. But my tendons appreciate the effort Amazon
has made to slim down the Fire. And you need a tablet if you want to do
more than read.
The 8.9-inch HDX is also significantly lighter, at
13.2 ounces, than a full-size iPad, at 23 ounces. Of course, the
smaller screen - 0.8 inches shorter on the diagonal - contributes to
Amazon's under-sized achievement here. The larger HDX starts at $379, or
$120 less than the iPad.
The new Kindle devices sport a
"unibody," compared with the previous model's casing made of many parts
put together. The back still has a rubbery feel like the old Kindle Fire
HD. There is still shiny plastic covering the camera area, so fans of
Apple's aluminum casing might not be impressed. But this is in fitting
with the kind of holdable feel of the overall Kindle line.
also gave last year's HD an update and a price cut, though the new model
drops a front-facing camera and microphone and reduces the amount of
storage. The base model with 8 gigabytes costs $139, compared with $199
for the 16 gigabyte version before.
I didn't get a chance to test
on my own a new "Mayday" button on the HDX models. With that feature, a
few taps summons a live video chat with a customer service
representative. I saw a demo enough times to believe that, yes, there is
indeed an actual person able to assist you if you need help navigating.
neat part about this: The representative has the ability to scribble on
your screen to point you to where you should tap. If you've watched
televised football games, you might have seen these virtual chalkboards,
in which the announcers draw arrows over the screen as they comment on
plays and strategies. Here, instead of the representative telling you to
tap the second button on the left, he or she can circle it for you. The
representative can even take over your device temporarily to put you on
the right path.
Don't worry about looking presentable, though.
The representative can hear you but can't see you through the one-way
video window. But that person can see whatever is on your screen, so
hide that love note before summoning help.
CEO Jeff Bezos surmised
that the "Mayday" button will make a fun Christmas Day conversation
starter. I'm sure Amazon will ensure they respond promptly to the flood
of inquiries around gift-opening time from people who just want to try
I noticed the speakers are now positioned on top of the
device when held horizontally, instead of being on both sides. This
seems designed so you can still hear in stereo without headphones when
the new "origami" cover is attached. In the previous version, I found
headphone-less listening quality was patchy because the speakers faced
away from you. Even with the new speaker location, they point away. I
feel like people who want the stereo effect should just use headphones.
for the screen quality, I think the improvement is nice, but perhaps
not as stunning as the improvement from standard definition to HD.
a scene from the pilot of Amazon's original series, "Alpha House," on a
7-inch HDX alongside the updated Kindle Fire HD, I found the colors on
the new model a bit more vibrant. Both HDX models now have a higher
pixel density than Apple's vaunted Retina screen: The smaller one is at
323 pixels per inch and the full-sized one is at 339 pixels per inch. By
contrast, the iPad Mini is at 162 pixels per inch and the full-sized
iPad at 264 pixels per inch.
Although app developers still have to
make use of the improved screens, they are needed to make the most of
Amazon's video signals, which are sent out at up to 1080p. The older and
the updated Kindle Fire HD are capable of handling only up to 720p
The 8.9-inch HDX now comes with a rear-facing camera and
dedicated photo-editing software, although I have always felt taking
pictures with a big tablet seems silly, especially if you have a
smartphone in your pocket that does the same job.
include an improved X-ray on-screen trivia service, which now features
musical data. Amazon's Prime Instant Video service now features
downloads for offline viewing rather than just streaming, which requires
a constant Internet connection. I'll need more hands-on time to try
them out, though.
With HDX, Amazon is making key improvements in
areas where I feel it lagged behind its competitors the most: on weight
and with its processor, as the old Kindle Fire HD felt laggy and slow to
respond. I don't think Amazon will ever be the brand for, say, gamers
looking for high performance from a tablet. But for people who use
Amazon a lot for books, video and other services, it'll be nice to have a
bit less wrist strain and a bit more zip when flitting around the