Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 review: A high watermark in tablet performance and value

Mayday
Mayday is near-instant personal customer service. Pull down the shortcut menu, tap the Mayday button, then tap Connect. And within 15 seconds -- at least that's Amazon's goal -- a customer service representative appears on your screen. The rep can't see you, but can see whatever your HDX is currently displaying and apparently none of your actual account information is visible to them.

So far, Amazon reps have been polite and helpful during interactions. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The rep can both draw on your screen or remotely control your interface, but you can take back control at any point simply by using the tablet. The window with the rep can moved around the screen, their voice can be muted, and the call can be ended by tapping End.

In my experience, the service reps were helpful, polite, and knowledgeable. Not only about the Kindle Fire and its software intricacies, but they also had knowledge pertaining to how the Mayday service works as well. They answered any question I had without missing a beat.

Of course I conducted my testing before the release of the new Kindle Fires. It's a pretty cool feature, but we'll have to see how well that 15-second response time holds up when thousands are tapping the button daily.

Mayday reps can draw on the screen or control your tablet remotely. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

It's incredibly ambitious. Not only in concept, but I would imagine logistically speaking as well. It also takes the real-time customer service rep one step further by making it nearly instant and self-contained on the product you're troubleshooting. Something that immediate and intimate likely has potential way beyond its current use.

I'll be monitoring Mayday once it launches, so check back here in a few weeks to see how it holds up under heavy load.

Hardware features
The Kindle Fire HDX 7 leapfrogs pretty much every current tablet in performance by housing a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip, with a Krait 400 CPU. That's the fastest version of the SoC we've seen so far. There's a powerful Adreno 330 GPU, dual-band Wi-Fi, gyroscope, and an accelerometer.

The screen doesn't get as bright as the Nexus 7's, but your eyes will probably be relieved when you're trying to read in the dark. Josh Miller/CNET

Performance
The Fire HDX is the second 7-inch tablet to feature a pixel-dense, 1,920x1,200 resolution screen. The screen is crisp and menu text and icons are sharp and perfectly legible.

The Kindle Fire HD (2012) had a bright vibrant screen, but backlight bleeding or "clouding" was apparent when looking at a black or dark screen. Clouding on the HDX 7 is much less severe and can only be seen in the corners when the screen displays a dark image -- like during startup.

Tested spec Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 Amazon Kindle Fire HD Google Nexus 7 (2013) Apple iPad Mini
Maximum brightness 430 cd/m2 394 cd/m2 570 cd/m2 399 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.37 cd/m2 0.41 cd/m2 0.44 cd/m2 0.49 cd/m2
Maximum contrast ratio 1,162:1 960:1 1,295:1 814:1

Unfortunately, while Amazon claims 100 percent sRGB compliance, there's a yellowish quality to the white and it doesn't look as pure as it does on the Nexus 7. Also, the screen isn't as bright as the Nexus 7's, but that fact actually works in the HDX's favor, as it's a lot less harsh on the eyes when reading in the dark.

Navigation performance is much zippier than last year, even compared with that of the Kindle Fire HD 8.9. Everything feels more immediate and a lot less frustrating, making for an overall much more enjoyable experience.

This newfound pep is in part thanks to the optimizations to the Fire OS, but credit can also be given to the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-chip. It delivers the necessary push so you're not waiting around to access menus that should have been up seconds ago.

Device CPU GPU RAM OS tested
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 Adreno 330 2GB Amazon Android Mojito 3.0
Google Nexus 7 (2013) 1.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro Adreno 320 (single-core) 2GB Android 4.3
Apple iPad Mini 1GHz dual-core Apple A5 PowerVR SGX543MP2 (dual-core) 512MB iOS 7.0.1

Speaking of which, polygonal gaming performance was excellent as tablets go, delivering performance about on par with the Nvidia Shield and clearly ahead of the new Nexus 7.

Asphalt 8 runs as smoothly as you're likely to see currently on an Android tablet at this resolution. It's not as smooth as on the Nvidia Shield, but Nvidia's handheld has the advantage of running at a lower 1,280x800-pixel resolution.

Riptide GP 2 ran at a silky-smooth frame rate with all graphical features turned to max and didn't chug when things got busy onscreen. I haven't yet had an opportunity to test games like N.O.V.A. 3; the Kindle Fire version of the game was unavailable from the HDX's interface.

GFXBench

Nvidia Shield
39
24
Kindle Fire HDX 7
22
23
Apple iPad 4
12
17
Google Nexus 7 (2013)
15
16
Apple iPad Mini
7
4

Legend:

GFXBench (native resolution, T-Rex HD, C24Z16)
GFXBench (1080p, T-Rex HD, C24Z16)

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark isn't yet available for the Kindle Fire, so I used GFXBench instead. It's a similar benchmark that tests the tablet at both 1080p and its native resolution. Here the HDX about matched both the Nvidia's Tegra 4-toting Shield and Asus' PadFone, which houses a 2.2GHz Snapdragon 800.

The HDX's speakers aren't quite as loud as the HD's, but sound is a lot cleaner and in comparison, the older speakers sound distorted and tinny.

As front cameras on tablets go, this one isn't too bad. Eric Franklin/CNET

The front camera delivers relatively clear colorful images for a tablet camera. It's not necessarily something you'll want to use to capture special moments -- there's definitely visible grain -- but as tablet front cameras go, it's not bad. Especially if all you're doing is video chatting.

Here are our official CNET Labs-tested battery life results. More tablet testing results can be found here .

Video Battery life (in hours)
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 9.8

Conclusion
If you're an active Amazon Prime member, you'd almost be doing yourself a disservice not to buy the Kindle Fire HDX 7. Its deep integration of Prime features like streaming video, video downloads, and the ability to borrow books makes the HDX feel like a required Prime member companion device.

If you're not a Prime member and have no plans to become one, then the alternative 7-inch tablet options like the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini become a bit more appealing.

The Nexus 7 starts at the same price, gives you access to a much more open platform with an incredibly bright screen, a rear camera, and the promise of frequent Android OS updates. The iPad Mini is $100 more expensive, features a larger but lower-resolution screen, unimpressive gaming performance, but still has the best app ecosystem of any tablet OS. However, that tablet's due for a refresh soon, so it'd be best to wait a few more weeks to see what new Apple has in store for the Mini.

In a few weeks Amazon will release an 8.9-inch version of the HDX with an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution screen starting at $379. If you're sold on the HDX, but desire a larger screen and don't mind paying the higher premium, you should wait for the 8.9.

Also, if you're excited about the Fire's new video fling feature, it may be best to wait until it's actually been implemented. In the same vein, Mayday is an excellent and innovative customer service feature, but Amazon may have trouble reaching that 15-second response time goal once it's actually in the wild.

All that said, if you're a Prime member looking for a small tablet, the HDX is a no-brainer. If you're not a Prime member and don't mind a closed -- but vast -- ecosystem, the HDX is an excellent reason to sign up for Prime.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Weight 10.7 oz
  • Type Fire OS 3.0 "Mojito"
About The Author

Eric Franklin is a section editor covering how to and tablets. He's also co-host of CNET's do-it-yourself and how-to show, The Fix and is a 20-year tech industry veteran.