Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 (2014) Tablet Review

Design & User Interface

Our biggest criticism with the Fire HD 7 was that it felt cheap at just about every turn, whether you're talking about the feature-set or actual construction. In terms of the latter, the plastic casing on the Fire HD 7 was a departure from the Kindle Fire we reviewed a few years ago, as well as Google's recently discontinued Nexus 7. Had Amazon forgotten how to make a well-built tablet?

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Front

The answer to that question is "no," as the Fire HDX 8.9 feels like a premium tablet. It's not quite as well built as Apple's iPad Air 2, as it isn't made of aluminum and unicorn dust, but this time around the only plastic you'll find is a glossy accent on the back.

Like its smaller brother, there are no physical buttons on the front. You won't find any on the side, either -- they're on the back, a decision Amazon may have made in order to keep a slim profile. Whether or not that's the case, it's a thinner tablet than the Fire HD 7 at 7.8mm versus 10.6mm, albeit slighter heavier at 375 grams versus 337 grams. More on that in a moment.

The real bright spot here (literally) is the 8.9-inch IPS display with a 2560x1600 resolution. Viewing angles are excellent, and Amazon claims 100 percent coverage of the sRGB color space, along with max brightness of over 400 nits. Specs aside, it's a fantastic looking panel that excels where it needs to -- movies, games, and photos.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Back

Gone is the chintzy and colorful plastic found on the Fire HD 7, replaced by a rubberized back with a glossy strip along the top that houses the speakers and rear-facing camera. Amazon's logo in the center is also glossy, adding a bit of elegant branding to the Fire HDX 8.9 without being obnoxious about it.

The rubberized design might not scream royalty, but it's definitely an improvement over the Fire HD 7, both in look and feel. The downside is that it picks up fingerprints more easily, which seem to resist quick wipes, at least in our case (maybe we should wash our hands more often).

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Power Button
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Volume Buttons
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Speakers
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Camera

As previously mentioned, the physical buttons rest on the back of the Fire HDX 8.9. This works well if you're holding the tablet in landscape mode, as your fingers will naturally lay over the indented power button on the left and up/down volume rocker on the right. However, it's a bit awkward to access the physical controls if you're using the Fire HDX 8.9 in portrait mode. As for the sides, there's a micro-USB port on the upper left side and a 3.5mm jack on the upper right (in portrait mode -- otherwise they're on the top and bottom sides).

The top strip is home to the rear-facing 8-megapixel camera with LED flash and built-in stereo speakers that pipe out serviceable audio. A small crowd might be able to drown out the tablet's speakers at full blast, but otherwise they do a good job of pelting your ears with distortion-free sound that doesn't come off as tinny. Yes, bass is lacking, though we've yet encounter a mobile device where it's not.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Compared
The Fire HDX 8.9 is noticeably thinner than the Fire HD 7, and that's mainly because there's a hump in the latter tablet's back. There's also a slight hump in the Fire HDX 8.9, though it's nowhere near as pronounced.

So, how does it stack up in terms of raw numbers? Let's have a look:
  • Amazon Fire HDX 8.9: 0.3 inches (7.8mm) thick, 13.2 ounces (375 grams)
  • Amazon Fire HD 7: 0.4 inches (10.6mm) thick, 11.9 ounces (337 grams)
  • Apple iPad Air 2: 0.24 inches (6.1mm) thick, 15.4 ounces (437 grams)

Overall, we don't have any complaints with the thickness or weight of the Fire HDX 8.9.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Accessories

While Amazon doesn't include a bunch of extras with the Fire HDX 8.9 (just the tablet itself, USB charging cord, and power adapter), there are a number of add-ons you can purchase separately. Shown above is a Leather Origami Case in blue ($70), Fire Keyboard ($60) with shortcut keys for email and shopping apps, and an HDMI Adapter ($25).

Fire OS 4 (Sangria)

We already covered the more important highlights of Amazon's Fire OS 4 (Sangria) in our Fire HD 7 review, so we won't go over the customized Android 4.4 KitKat build in detail. However, there are some features worth pointing out that are not available on the smaller sized slate.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Mayday

The first, and arguably most important, is Amazon's Mayday feature. Mayday is what Amazon calls its integrated tech support -- just tap the Mayday button in Quick Settings and you'll quickly be connected with a tech advisor who can help troubleshoot a problem or guide you through a task remotely. It's available around the clock every day of the year and is an excellent value-add, especially if you're purchasing the Fire HDX 8.9 as a gift to a less savvy family member.

We gave Mayday a try and though it told us our wait time would be 16 seconds, a polite gentleman named Dervin appeared on screen before we could count to three. As with all Mayday sessions, we could see and hear him, though he could only hear us. So no, the person on the other end will not be bothered if you initiate a session in your skivvies.

There's no cost for this service, and though it's not reason alone to purchase the Fire HDX 8.9, it could be a deciding factor when comparing the tablet to other options. It's much easier to mom and pop to hit the Mayday button than to try and talk them through a task they're clearly not understanding.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 Firefly

One of the more unique functions of the Fire HDX 8.9 is Firefly, a sort of cross between Shazam and a barcode scanner. Using the built-in camera, Firefly can recognize over 240,000 movies and TV episodes, songs, and over 100 million items.

In our time testing it, Firefly was hit or miss, with a lot of misses when scanning real world objects. It works much better with barcodes. Regardless, it's a novelty feature that, even if it worked well, probably wouldn't be utilized all that much by most people.

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