Amazon has announced two new tablets in its Kindle Fire line: the Kindle Fire HDX and the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, featuring faster processors, a slimmed-down design, and a new operating system that brings a variety of enhancements aimed at making the Kindle Fire more competitive with Apple’s iPads.
The Kindle Fire HDX starts at $229, and features a 7-inch screen with a resolution of 1920 by 1200, a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 720p front-facing camera, Dolby Digital Plus audio, Wi-Fi, and up to 17 hours of battery life. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 starts at $379, offering an 8.9-inch screen running at a resolution of 2560 by 1600 and up to 18 hours of battery life, and adding an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera.
Either tablet can come with or without lock-screen ads and be equipped with optional 4G LTE cellular connectivity and 16, 32, or 64 GB of flash storage, making the maximum price $424 for the Fire HDX and $594 for the Fire HDX 8.9. The base models of the Fire HDX are scheduled to ship 21 October 2013 and the HDX 8.9 on 7 November 2013, though build-to-order configurations will be delayed by several more weeks.
The physical design remains similar to previous models, but one annoyance has been addressed. The power button, which was awkwardly placed on the bottom of the device, has now, along with the volume buttons, been shifted to the back, which may not be an improvement. Both Fire HDX models are slightly thinner and lighter than the previous Kindle Fire HD models as well.
A feature that will be of interest to readers is dynamic contrast adjustment, which optimizes the color of each individual pixel based on ambient light to increase readability. According to The Verge, an Amazon executive demonstrated the feature by shining a bright flashlight on the screen.
Along with the HDX tablets comes Fire OS 3.0, dubbed Mojito. Existing Fire owners will be happy to hear that the sluggish carousel interface is now optional, with a grid-based alternative. The calendar and email apps have reportedly seen a massive improvement. You can now download Prime Instant Videos for offline viewing. A Quiet Time feature acts like Apple’s Do Not Disturb, and a global Quick Switch gesture enables moving between apps without returning to the home screen. Email has been enhanced, printing support has been added, and Amazon has improved the Kindle Fire’s accessibility tools.
One of the more interesting features is Amazon’s expansion of its X-Ray search and data feature. It can now show auto-scrolling song lyrics, identify songs playing in videos, and provide trivia from IMDB.
With the new Second Screen app, due with a scheduled mid-November update, the Fire gains AirPlay-like media beaming, which will be compatible with the Sony PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and some Samsung smart TVs. With Second Screen, you can mirror your Kindle Fire’s screen to your TV, just like mirroring an iPad’s screen via an Apple TV.
That update will also bring integration with the Amazon-owned Goodreads book recommendation site, let you organize your content into collections that sync across all Kindle devices and apps, allow you to free up space by moving infrequently used items to the cloud, and further enhance printing.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the new Kindle Fire models is Mayday, which is like a built-in Genius Bar for your device. Tap the Mayday button and within 15 seconds you’ll enter a video chat with a support representative, who can control the device to show you how to use it and help solve problems.
Fire OS 3.0 also offers native Android compatibility, which should bring more Android apps to the Amazon Appstore, and it supports HTML5 apps.
Unfortunately, Amazon says Fire OS 3.0 is exclusive to the new Kindle Fire HDX models, so older Kindle Fire devices won’t be able to upgrade.
I was never impressed with the original Kindle Fire tablets, which were sluggish and felt cheap. However, with significant hardware upgrades and a streamlined interface, the HDX models push the Kindle Fire closer to being a true iPad competitor. And if it works, Mayday could be a godsend for the technically challenged and their beleaguered geek relatives.