Kindle HDX 8.9 Australian Review: A Half-Remembered Dream

Kindle HDX 8.9 Australian Review: A Half-Remembered Dream

Last night I woke up, thinking that perhaps the world had changed while I was sleeping. Content was freely available in Australia, gadgets were cheap and tablets were impossibly thin and beautiful. What I was remembering was a dream, and that dream is personified by the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9: a beautiful mirage you wish was fully realised for those Down Under.

What Is It?

It’s the new Kindle Fire, and the first one to land in Australia without the aid of third-party shipping services or dodgy middlemen.

This thing packs power like you read about. It’s an 8.9-inch tablet with a beautiful 2560×1600 pixel panel with an incredible 339 pixels per inch. It weighs in at a shockingly light 374 grams, measuring just 7.8 millimetres at its thickest point. It’s running Amazon’s Fire OS 3.0; an operating system that essentially started its life as a fork of Android.

Under the hood, you’ll find a whopping quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, 2GB of RAM and your choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage.

Other bells and whistles include Dolby Digital Plus sound enhancement, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and Amazon’s optimised Silk browser.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX will set you back $479, while the 7-inch HDX will cost an impressive $329. That’s pretty spectacular. Both will be available from Big W and Dick Smith from December 10.

Amazon will also trot out last-generation’s Kindle Fire HD to the Australian market, making it $189 with a dual-core 1.5GHz processor under the hood to cater to the lower end of the market

What’s Good?

You realise just how special the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is the second you pick it up and hold it in your mits.

Apple has spent the remainder of this year and will spend most of next year telling you how light the new iPad is, but the Kindle Fire will beat it in a weigh-in every day of the week.

For some perspective, the iPad Air weighs 469 grams, and it’s Apple’s lightest tablet ever. The Kindle Fire HDX 8.9, however, weighs just 374 grams. That’s not something that sounds terribly impressive on paper, but the difference is stark when you hold both tablets. Now, I know that the iPad Air is almost an inch bigger than the 8.9-inch HDX, but Amazon has still managed quite a design coup here, and they certainly know it.

The screen is also a marvellous achievement. Amazon call it the Kindle HDX because it’s meant to go “beyond HD”. Kind of gimmicky, but also startlingly accurate. The screen has an incredible 2560×1600 resolution with 339 pixels per inch. To put that in perspective, the iPad Air packs in a resolution of 1536×2048 and 264 pixels per inch, while the 2013 Nexus 7packs in a 1200×1920 display with 323 pixels per inch. The only display to really match the HDX we’ve seen is the unfathomably good Nexus 10 made by Samsung, which also has a 2560×1600 display and a pixel density of 299 pixels per inch, merely by virtue of having a 10.1-inch screen rather than a smaller, denser, 8.9-inch panel. It’s seriously impressive work from Amazon, especially considering how much that panel must cost to manufacture versus the relatively paltry price it’s selling it for.

It’s certainly nice to have the option to take photos with the passable 8-megapixel camera on the HDX, but it’s still something we don’t encourage. Mainly because you look like a git doing it.

Amazon’s Fire OS is now more capable than ever as a tablet operating system, giving you access to everything from the Amazon App Store, access to arguably the best e-book store on the planet, fast web browsing though the optimised Silk browser, as well as access to your documents in the cloud.

It’s even getting easier to use as well as more capable. Fire OS used to see you just spool through an endless carousel of apps, books and documents, but now you can scroll upwards on the home screen to reveal a traditional app drawer, where all your stuff is stored.

The battery is also very impressive, with the HDX getting around 10 hours worth of battery life in our tests.

What’s Bad?

It’s a shame that the Kindle Fire HDX shipped into Australia still with key features missing.

First of all, no video or audio store. If you want video or audio content, you’re going to have to connect your device to your PC to transfer it onto there, which means it better not be DRM-protected or in the wrong format.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 Review: Bigger Is Still Beautiful

The Kindle is a dream to watch content on, so why didn’t Amazon release the Instant Video store to Australia at the same time as the device designed to take best advantage of it?

Second of all, the Kindle Fire HDX’s big claim to fame in the US is just how simple it is to use. It’s simple here, but when Australian users get stuck, they can’t call into the Mayday helpline to instantly get assistance from Amazon staffers via video chat. Instead, the Mayday button for Australian users is replaced merely with a crappy User Guide and troubleshooting FAQ section. I could get more info from a Google Search.

For all the kudos Amazon garners for the unfathomably light chassis, it loses points on general style and overall liveability from a design perspective. The bezel is gigantic on the screen, to the point that it’s slightly distracting when viewing content. The rear of the tablet is also accented with some pretty ugly trapezoidal grilles that are textured differently than the rest of the tablet to aid Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The power and volume rocker buttons are both in fairly awkward places, too, especially considering the tablet is meant to be held in portrait-mode most of the time for all your book-reading.

This Is Weird…

It’s an exciting time in the Gizmodo offices when we get to open up and start using a hot new gadget, and receiving the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 on our desk was no exception. We ran into problems almost instantly, however, as the registration process seemed to consistently bork out.

We had to contact Amazon customer service directly via the very helpful Live Chat feature and have them manually register the Kindles to our accounts. It happened with two different Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 models we got in.

It can be fixed with a quick holler to Live Chat assistants, but it’d be nice if it didn’t happen at all.

Should You Buy It?

Buying a tablet as a consumption device is meant to be a full-service experience. You’re meant to have amazing hardware (check), access to great apps (check), great books and magazines (check), and a top collection of music, TV and video content (massive, ugly, unadulterated fail).

That last missing checkbox is what lets the Kindle Fire HDX down so spectacularly in Australia: it’s missing crucial elements of the content experience that make a consumption tablet so good.

Sure, you can load your content onto your tablet from your PC, but is that how it should be in the so-called post-PC era? If you have your video content on your laptop, why not just watch it there and save a few hundred bucks?

The Kindle Fire HDX is beautiful and brimming with opportunity but wastes it with an inability to access services like Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu. In the end, the only bonus this thing does over the Kindle Paperwhite, for example, is support magazine content (paper can do that), and use apps you could otherwise get on Android.

The Kindle Fire HDX is an unrealised dream, and that makes us Aussies sad.