There’s a lot to love about the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7. It’s got a stunning screen, slim and light design and instant access to a whole world of content. As long as the content you want is available through Amazon, of course.
And therein lie both the Kindle Fire HDX’s biggest appeal, and its Achilles’ heel. It is built around everything Amazon has to offer, from video streaming through LoveFilm to books, music and apps, with a great recommendation system that suggests stuff you might like based on stuff you already own.
Ease of use
The HDX is based on Android, but is heavily skinned with Amazon’s own user interface – and gives you absolutely no access to the Google Play store. Amazon’s app selection is improving, but there are some unforgiveable omissions – such as Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.
Of course, these can be accessed through the browser instead, but that doesn’t replace the convenience of an app.
Some games and updates take their time to filter through to Amazon’s Appstore, too – Plants vs Zombies 2, for example, is yet to make it over despite launching on Android at the end of October.
You’ll also feel a hit in the video department. LoveFilm offers streaming of some TV shows and older movies to subscribers (each tablet comes with a month’s free subscription), but there are currently no film downloads, and the service doesn’t offer the current blockbusters available through Google Play.
If you aren’t too bothered by this, the Kindle Fire HDX 7 has the potential to be a real multimedia powerhouse. The simplified operating system takes a little bit of getting used to for anyone used to Android or iOS, but it’s very straightforward to get stuck into.
All your content is presented in a large carousel for quick access, with a full menu along the top that separates it into sections such as Games, Books, Music and Video.
Swipe up and you’ll get access to all built-in and installed apps, including Amazon’s own Silk browser, email, calendar and contacts.
The screen isn’t a Retina-competitor like its 8.9in sibling, but this 7in version still has a 1920 x 1200-pixel Full HD display. For a device based so heavily on content, this was an important part for Amazon to get right, and the company has nailed it: colours are rich and vivid and outlines are crisp and clean.
Our only niggle with the screen is a blue halo that appears around the edge. It’s more noticeable in brighter scenes and particularly when reading books. This can be rather distracting once you clock it, and is a disappointing, if fairly minor, downfall for such an otherwise great screen.
Performance is snappy enough, with no stumbles or crashes during our testing period, and battery life is impressive at over 10 hours with general browsing and video playback. You can squeeze much more out of it on low-power mode, though – including around 16-17 hours of music playback.
Speaking of music, that’s good news too. The Kindle Fire HDX 7 delivers a detailed, composed and rhythmically tight performance. Instruments have scale and texture, yet still give space to one another and to vocal parts.
Movies do well from this performance too, with soundtracks backing up strong, clear dialogue. Even the stereo speakers, placed along the top edge so you don’t cover them in landscape mode, sound good and clear if you’re short of a pair of headphones.
Video tech support
Amazon’s Mayday feature is worth a mention. It’s a 24-hour video customer service feature (you can see them, they can’t see you) – we tried it out several times during our test and were greeted online by a friendly Amazon customer service representative within a few seconds.
You can tell them your problem or query and they can then take over your tablet to help you solve it, showing you step-by-step how to do it yourself next time. That’s a definite plus for tablet newcomers, but a genuinely helpful feature we could see even tablet know-it-alls getting some use from once in a while.
With its fantastic screen, fast navigation and excellent multimedia performance, the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 is a fantastic tablet that impresses in so many ways but fails in one big one: choice.
The closed nature of the Amazon ecosystem makes us long for the airy openness of Google Play, with its wide selection of apps, games and movies. Give us this tablet with full access to that and it could even give the Google Nexus 7 a run for its money…