Review: Kindle Fire HDX tablet

photo_1380798607_temp.jpg.pagespeed.ce.zCM4VsaER1Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HDX tablet resembles Google’s Nexus 7 in many ways – from its light weight to its sharp display. Both tablets run a version of Google’s Android operating system, and they even have the same starting price of $229.

The similarities end when you turn them on.

Amazon.com modifies Android so much that it no longer resembles Android. The company calls it Fire OS 3.0, or Mojito. Amazon’s services are front and center on the Fire, and Google’s are nowhere to be found. It’s the other way around on the Nexus 7 and other Android devices. For a day or two, I even forgot the Kindle Fire can do much more.

Regular customers of Amazon will appreciate that integration. A row of tabs at the top of the screen offers quick access to various Amazon services, including e-books, music, videos and audiobooks, the latter from the Audible business that Amazon bought in 2008. Another tab gets you Amazon’s shopping site, where you can buy television sets, vacuum cleaners and tennis rackets. The Kindle is already tied to your Amazon account, so it’s easy – perhaps too easy – to just click and buy.

You also get Amazon’s excellent recommendation technology. Browsing the e-book section, “The Great Gatsby” came up, likely because I had just added a movie version to my video watch list. Kindle versions of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” comic books came up, likely because I own the entire television series on DVD. Under music, digital copies of physical CDs I had purchased were waiting for me, along with recommendations for other songs and albums from artists in my shopping history.

If you spring for Amazon’s $79-a-year Prime membership, you also get quick access to thousands of free movies and television episodes and the ability to borrow one e-book a month from a select list. For the first time, you can download the free Prime video to watch on a plane or anywhere else lacking an Internet connection. On older Kindle Fires and other devices, you’re limited to streaming, which requires a constant Internet connection.

Amazon plans to start shipping the smaller version of the Kindle Fire HDX on October 18. Like the Nexus 7, it has a 7-inch screen, measured diagonally. A larger, 8.9-inch version is expected Nov. 7 and starts at $379. Amazon is also updating last year’s 7-inch HD model, lowering the price to $139 but cutting a few features including the camera.

All three models expand on an X-Ray feature that Amazon introduced last year. While watching a movie or TV show on older Fires, you can get a list of actors appearing in that scene. Click on one for more information, mostly culled from Amazon’s IMDb celebrity-database service. With the new devices, you also get summaries on major characters and opportunities to buy songs played during the show. You also get trivia and goofs, such as a lottery ticket having the wrong code in one scene of “Breaking Bad.” You can jump directly to that scene with a click. When playing music, you also see lyrics for selected tunes, perfect for sing-alongs.

My favorite new feature is Mayday on the HDX. It’s free, live technical support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A tech adviser appears in a small window on your Kindle, but the adviser can only hear you and see what’s on your screen. Advisers can guide you by highlighting certain settings and buttons with a virtual orange marker. Advisers can also take control of your device and do the task for you, though you’re better off learning to do it yourself.

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