Kindle Fire HDX: Only for Amazon diehards

November 7, 2013: 12:29 AM ET
amazon kindle fire hdx
The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX is a good tablet ... but many other Android tablets are better
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX is a magnificent piece of hardware, but you can only reap the full rewards of it if you're fully invested in the Amazon ecosystem.

Like the Nexus 7 from Google (GOOG) -- a tablet that's hard not to mention in the same breath as the latest from Amazon (AMZN) because it's so similar -- the $230 Kindle Fire HDX has a 7-inch display with a resolution of 1920x1200 (323 PPI). That makes it equally pleasing for reading and movie watching.

At roughly a third of an inch thick and weighing 10.7 ounces, the Kindle Fire HDX is slightly bigger than the Nexus 7 ... but not in a detrimental way.

The device is very fast. The UI feels hardwired into your finger, reacting to your every move without so much as a hitch. No video is too strenuous on the Kindle Fire HDX, and few web pages can cause the Silk browser to hiccup.

In benchmark tests, the Kindle Fire HDX bested the Nexus 7 handily every single time.

Related: Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is the best e-reader ever

But there's still little perceivable difference between the two devices when it comes to general use.

On the design front, the combination of glass and black plastic on Amazon's new tablet isn't breaking any new ground. But it does forgo the gracefully curved lines many tablets adopt for their shells, and instead opts for a harder, faceted look. That works to good effect.

Compared to the Nexus 7, the wider side bezels make the tablet more comfortable to use with one hand while reading, as there's room for your thumb to sit on the device without covering the screen. And the stripe of glossy plastic that spans one of the tablet's sides also provides a little extra grip against your palm. That makes it less likely for it to fly out of your hand unexpectedly.

Kindle Fire HDX lacks some of the top apps. But the Kindle Fire HDX also runs a custom version of Android. It is not simply slapping a skin on top of Google's OS, but using it as a foundation to turn it into an entirely different beast. This is most noticeable in the OS interface. The Kindle also has its own App Store, which is completely separate from Google's.

A lot of the major apps and games -- Yelp, Spotify, Hulu Plus, Temple Run, Madden -- can be found in the Kindle App store. But others, like Netflix and Dropbox, are nowhere to be found. And Google's own apps, such as Gmail, Chrome, Maps, YouTube, Hangouts and Drive, are all absent. That diminishes the benefits to owning an Android-based device.

Bezos' approach to tablets, newspapers

Instead, the Kindle Fire HDX, like the Kindle Fire devices before it, is committed to keeping you locked into its own universe. Books, albums and movies you've acquired from Amazon are presented in the same manner as the apps themselves, further emphasizing Amazon's desire for its users to consume media.

If you're looking for the latest and greatest mobile games, this also is not the device for you.

Related: The Nexus 7 is the best Android tablet

Many of the Angry Birds-esque usual suspects are present, but those more serious about games will find better luck on a proper Android device, and the best luck on an iPad. That's a shame, because graphics benchmarks show the Kindle Fire HDX to be on par with serious, hardcore portable gaming devices like Nvidia's Shield.

There are perks to owning an Amazon-made device. Amazon Prime subscribers not only have access to free movies and TV shows, but can also download select films for offline viewing. Still, this is a feature with more potential than current value. Not every title on Amazon Prime is eligible for downloading, and many of the films currently available are older, lesser known ones.

Buy the Kindle if you love Amazon, but other Android tablets are better. At the end of the day, the Kindle Fire HDX offers the best raw hardware performance. But the best overall experience on an Android tablet still belongs to the Nexus 7. Its OS is better designed, and Google's own apps and services are superior to Amazon's replacements.

Amazon does offer a bigger tablet as well: the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9. But the bigger screen is the only difference between the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 and regular Kindle Fire HDX.

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And while the larger tablet has a beautiful screen and performs every bit as well as the Kindle Fire HDX, the only reason to buy this is if you plan on consuming a lot of movies from Amazon or have terrible eyesight and need everything magnified.

Magazines would be another good reason to pick up the bigger Kindle Fire, but most of them aren't formatted for the 16:10 aspect ratio, which makes the reading experience less than optimal. And if I were buying one for books, I'd rather have the more traditionally book-sized device.

So if you just want a big tablet, the iPad Air and Nexus 10 are capable of more.

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