Friday, November 28, 2014

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review

Doing it Amazon's way on a bigger screen

By Simon Hill

"An accessible, competitively-priced window into Amazon's world for the whole family, the Fire HDX 8.9 has a class-leading display and excellent speakers. Sadly the performance, the choice of apps, and the quality of what's there let it down."


  • 8.9 inch HD display
  • Fast performance
  • Parental controls
  • Dual speakers


  • Fire OS
  • Amazon app store
  • Limited storage
  • Firefly is buggy


The new Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is an update that improves on its predecessor in a number of tangible ways. It combines a gorgeous display with stunning sound and silky smooth performance. The design is solid, the parental controls have been beefed up, and Firefly joins Mayday on the exclusive feature list.
If you're looking for a catch then here it is – the Fire HDX 8.9 is primarily designed to sell Amazon content. If you're a big fan of Amazon and you're already invested in the ecosystem, or you don't mind that idea, then come on in the water's lovely. If not perhaps you'd be better looking at something else.
Starting at £329 (US$379) for the 16GB, Wi-Fi only version "with special offers" (adverts) the Fire HDX 8.9 is competitively priced and aimed squarely at the mass market. At the top end it goes up to £489 ($595) for the 64GB, LTE, ad-free model, but you can bet Amazon won't be shifting nearly as many of those.
The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 goes head-to-head with the big tablet king, Apple's iPad Air 2, and the latest challenger from Google, the Nexus 9. It's a touch more expensive than the Nexus 9, but a lot cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and it boasts a few specs that put both of its major competitors to shame.
Has Amazon got it just right? Is the Fire HDX 8.9 the perfect tablet for content consumption? That rather depends on what you're looking for.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
If you're already invested in the Amazon ecosystem then the Fire HDX 8.9 will be packed full of features for you
The original Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 won plaudits for being slim, extremely light, and sporting an unusual angular design on the back.
The new Fire HDX 8.9 looks identical at first glance. It has exactly the same measurements of 231 x 158 x 7.8mm (9.1" X 6.2" X 0.3") and has put on just a single gram, at 375g (13.2 oz) for the Wi-Fi version (389g/13.7 oz for LTE).

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is lighter than its rivals the Nexus 9 and the iPad Air 2 meaning less strain on you when holding it for long periods
It's not as impossibly svelte as the 6.1mm iPad Air 2, but it is slightly slimmer than the Nexus 9, if a little taller and wider. In terms of weight the Fire HDX 8.9 is the lightest of the three as the Nexus 9 is 425g (14.9oz) and the iPad Air 2 is 437g (15oz).

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The matt, soft-touch finish provides extra grip
The Fire HDX 8.9 is very comfortable to hold and the matte, soft-touch finish provides a bit of extra grip.
It's lighter than you expect and you can hold it one-handed for short periods without getting a strain, however, it is clearly designed to be held in two hands in landscape view. That way your fingers naturally find the concave volume controls on the right and the power button on the left.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The buttons are easy to find when holding the HDX 8.9 in landscape view
Holding it two handed this way also makes operating the central camera very easy.
The left edge, in landscape, is home to the micro USB port, which is slightly angled up the way. I found it a little fiddly to get the cable in at first because of this.
The right edge is home to the headphone port, which seems to make sense next to the volume buttons.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Flip the Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 over and you'll see that black gloss panel at the top, with a speaker grill at each side, and the camera lens and flash in the centre. There's a glossy, embossed Amazon logo in the middle.
It's a unique look and it feels quite classy, though the glossy panel really does pick up smears and smudges easily.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
It's thin, but not quite as thin as the iPad Air 2
Turning back to the display we find an 8.9-inch screen that boasts a stunning 2560 x 1600 pixel resolution. That gives it a 339ppi rating, which is fantastically sharp. Consider that the identically-sized Nexus 9 display, and the larger 9.7-inch display on the iPad Air 2, both have a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels and you'll start to get a feel for how nice the Fire HDX's display really is.
The design is good and the quality fits the price, but it's not perfect. A couple of things bothered me about the design.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The design quality lives up to the price tag
My son was playing a hidden object game while he ate his breakfast toast and he managed to get crumbs in the gap between the bottom of the display and the frame.
As I painstakingly removed them with the corner of a piece of paper I was reminded of the recent Note 4 "gapgate" fuss. There is a clear gap between the screen and frame all the way round the HDX 8.9 and it's bigger along the bottom.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Be careful not to get crumbs caught in the gap around the display
The other thing I have to mention, because I don't recall ever noticing it on another tablet, is the fact that there's a grid of black points, which I believe is the touch sensitive part of the display, that sometimes become visible from certain angles. I noticed it playing Game Dev Story in a darkened room where there was a big white portion of screen.
I never saw it during a movie, but having seen it once, every time I was playing a game or reading after that, whenever there was a big white patch on screen, I couldn't help but notice it.

Key features

Amazon has made some significant improvements to its big tablet line with the Fire HDX 8.9 and these are the features that could tempt you in.

Vision and sound

We've already discussed the stunning display, and it really is gorgeous. Accurate colours and excellent contrast, combined with that high resolution, make it a real standout. Kicking back with a movie or playing a game is a great experience on the Fire HDX 8.9.
The only real problem I encountered with the display was the aforementioned black grid, but that's only an issue when the screen is white. It's also very reflective, so you can forget about outdoor viewing unless you can find some shade.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Outdoor viewing is pretty poor thanks to the highly reflective screen
To boost the cinematic pleasure, the Fire HDX 8.9 has been equipped with dual speakers featuring Dolby Atmos sound. I know what you're probably thinking – another meaningless branding title they can slap on the box. That's what I thought too, but actually the audio quality is impressive.
Because the speakers are on the back you have to make sure that you don't cover them with your hands, but creating a wee channel out of the duvet that bounces the sound back at you, as I did watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in bed, resulted in an immersive, almost surround sound experience.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The speakers are on the back
The volume goes beyond the top level on any other tablet I've used, and that includes Apple's wares. But more importantly it does so without crackling or distorting. As long as you don't place a hand or surface too close to the speakers, they produce an impressive depth of sound. You can feel the vibration in the tablet, but you don't hear it rattling through the speaker.
This is still a tablet, so headphones are better, but these are the best-sounding tablet speakers I've yet encountered. If they were front-facing I'd have nothing to complain about, but the fact they face backwards makes it impossible to listen to music or watch movies with the tablet resting on a surface, the audio just doesn't sound anywhere near as good if you lay the Fire HDX 8.9 on a table, for example.


I was a bit dismissive of Amazon's Mayday feature when it was first announced. I thought it would be perfect for my Mum, but I couldn't imagine an instance where I'd want to use it. In the process of testing the Fire HDX 8.9 I learned otherwise.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Amazon Instant Video is obviously a big part of the Fire HDX 8.9's video offerings
I plugged the tablet into my PC and moved the video test file into a folder called "Movies" on the HDX. When I went to play it on the tablet I tried tapping "Videos" at the top of the screen which brings up the Instant Video screen with all the content you'll get access to with a Prime membership. I opened the menu and figured I'd find my video in "Your Video Library", but it was empty.
I'm used to being able to find an answer on Google pretty quickly. The tech support calls that I get from my family usually consist of me searching for their issue on Google and reading the page to them. (I've never really understood why they can't do this themselves, but I digress.)
I couldn't find an instant answer to where the video was so I decided to try Mayday. It took around ten seconds for Richard to pop up on screen. He listened and then drew circles on screen to show me where to tap (the entry I wanted was down at the very bottom of the menu in the "more" section labelled "Personal Videos").

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Here's Richard helping sort out where personal videos are. You're the best Richard.
He was jovial and very easy to deal with. I decided, while I was there, that I'd ask him why my Chromecast doesn't appear as an option when I run the Netflix app. I know this is because Amazon forked Android, it's the same reason why you don't find the Play Store or Google apps on Fire tablets, but I wanted to see what he would say.
Without missing a beat he apologized that it wouldn't be possible and then segued into a pitch on the solutions that Amazon does offer for screen mirroring. If you're listening Amazon, give Richard a performance bonus, he's earning it.
Mayday was definitely faster than trying to solve the problem on my own and a lot more pleasant. It's a valuable service and it chimes with Amazon's customer-centric mantra.


If you've not yet heard of Firefly it's a strange app that comes on the Fire Phone and the new Fire HDX 8.9 that allows you to scan things like books, movies, music, food, and other products.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Firefly can scan media and find it for you on Amazon
It scans pictures, reads text, and it can also listen for dialogue and music which helps it identify TV shows, music tracks, or movies.
When you fire it up there's an option on the left to tell it to listen for music or to listen for a TV show or movie. If you're trying to identify the book Super-Cannes by JG Ballard or a bottle of HP Sauce you just hold the camera in front of it and wait. I tried both and it worked perfectly.
It takes a few seconds as the little onscreen fireflies (bright dots) congregate round the target and scan the image, which is then uploaded to Amazon servers and compared to the catalogue of products. If it finds a match amongst the millions of things in the Amazon product database then it returns a link to buy it on Amazon. With movies and TV shows you also get an IMDb link and some information.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Sometimes Firefly struggles to find what you're watching, even if it's really obvious like Spongebob Squarepants
I can't really see the purpose of this feature beyond trying to sell you more stuff. Apparently it will return information for things without a link to buy, if it recognizes them and they aren't sold by Amazon, but it never did that when I was testing and I'd guess that's a pretty small list anyway.
Aside from the lack of an obvious use case, it is pretty buggy. The first time I used it was to identify SpongeBob which the kids were watching on TV. It's one of the most instantly identifiable things in the world, but the app crashed on me. It just hung for 30 seconds until I got annoyed and mashed some buttons whereupon it rebooted.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Well, it is Friday the 13th, but it's not quite right...
The next thing I tried was Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and it couldn't identify that at all. I gave up after three attempts.
I also noticed that it will wrongly identify things that are quite close. For example, I held it up to my Friday the 13th print and it brought up the original movie score on vinyl. Is that useful or not? I can't really decide, but on the whole I think not really.


Amazon is keen to secure family tablet status for the HDX 8.9 and the fact that most families share tablets is well catered for. You can set up separate profiles to keep things like your email and social media accounts separate, but still share apps and content. It's easy to set up a new account, but it means you'll need to use a PIN to gain access to your own account.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Adding different profiles is a great family friendly feature
FreeTime is a new service that offers detailed parental controls. There are apps that handle this kind of thing, but Amazon's service is genuinely comprehensive and it compares favourably.
You can set a bedtime so your child can't use the tablet beyond that time and also a wake time that they can't use the tablet before in the morning.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
You can adjust how long your kids can spend playing games, or just using the tablet in general
Going deeper there's the option to break down time limits by type of use, so you could say unlimited reading is fine, but restrict games to a half an hour a day. You can also set different limits for weekdays and weekends.
When your child does log in to their account by tapping their profile picture, the HDX 8.9 tracks their activity, so you can review it later. You can dictate exactly what they have access to and Amazon suggests suitable content on the tablet based on your child's age.
It's a great system for families and well thought out. It's also pleasing to see that two adults can link their Amazon accounts (if they have separate ones) on the Fire HDX 8.9 and share their content.

Interface, performance and battery


The Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 is running Fire OS 4.0, which is nicknamed Sangria. It sits atop a forked version of Android 4.4 KitKat, but it looks and feels completely different.
I can't escape the feeling that Amazon is patronizing me with Fire OS. It's a big ugly carousel featuring gigantic icons of your last used apps in order. The odd example that has taken care to optimize itself for display on a Fire HDX 8.9 screen looks good, but it's a rarity, and that's a problem that crops up quite frequently on this tablet.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Not everything is optimised for the Fire HDX 8.9
The standard status bar along the top shows remaining things like battery and Wi-Fi connections and you can pull it down to access some quick settings and get your list of notifications. This is as close to stock Android as Fire OS gets.
Above the carousel you'll find the search option and Amazon's impressively wide array of services.
Beneath the carousel there's a list of your most recently installed apps and games. If you swipe up on it you'll expand that list. Tap Apps at the top to get your full list of installed apps.
You can't customize your home screen at all, except by installing and using apps. That's one of the major strengths of Android and it has been stripped out and discarded by Amazon.
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The lock screen cycles a random assortment of nice imagery, unless you decide to save yourself money and accept a bunch of adverts and special offers.
Access to the settings menu is via the notification shade, but the options are seriously limited. You can't even set a background image. The battery section doesn't break down the usage by app and service. It all feels a bit dumbed down.
I find it even more restrictive than iOS and for me that's a bad thing, but not everyone wants to tinker in menus or be bothered with customization. What I will say for it is that it's accessible and very easy to understand.


With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 inside, combining a 2.5GHz rated quad-core processor and the Adreno 420 GPU, backed by 2GB of RAM, you can expect snappy performance and that's exactly what you get.
Navigating around is silky smooth and generally very fast, but performance is not as perfect as the hardware might suggest.
I encountered my first crash the first time I used Firefly and it always lagged coming out of that particular app. I also found that the camera processing for certain options took a while, but we'll get to that in the appropriate section.
Generally speaking it felt fast, but it rebooted more than once without explanation, and it crashed again while I was playing Game Dev Story. This isn't a demanding game by any stretch of the animation, but it's also clearly not optimized for the HDX. It only supports portrait mode, there's a bug with the menu that causes it to bounce up and down if you open it, and on a display this size the pixel cuteness is stretched to the limit.
The crash may have been more to do with the lack of optimization for this device than any limit in the raw processing power.
I wanted to really take it for a spin, but the go-to title Asphalt 8 is not supported. I tried the slightly less demanding drag racer, CSR Racing, and it ran smoothly with no issues.

Amazong Fire HDX 8.9 review
I also tested out Injustice: Gods Among Us and it initially worked fine and looked gorgeous, but then it stuttered through the first special move I pulled off. I played on for a while longer without any problems, but the next time I loaded the game it inexplicably dumped me back on the home screen. It worked correctly when I tried again, but the first few seconds of the fight was very laggy.
There shouldn't really be any stuttering or crashing with hardware this powerful.
Running Geekbench 3 resulted in a single-core score of 1028, and a multi-core score of 3035. For comparison the Nexus 9 scored 1942 and 3377 respectively, while the iPad Air 2 hit 1815 and 4518.
Those scores make the Fire HDX 8.9 look very ordinary indeed. I didn't encounter any issues with video content, music, reading, or web browsing, but I'd have to suggest that gamers should look at a different tablet.
There's no microSD card slot on the HDX 8.9, so you might want to consider the 32GB or 64GB versions rather than the 16GB because it only has around 10GB available out of the box. Unfortunately the 32GB adds £40 to the price tag and the 64GB model is another £40 on top of that.
Amazon Cloud Drive does offer 5GB for free to back up photos, videos, and documents.

Battery life

The first couple of days with the Fire HDX 8.9 were a little frustrating in the battery department because it was downright erratic. It can take time for a new device to settle in and the HDX was all over the place. But this isn't unusual for a new device and it soon settled.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Once we had gotten used to each other, the battery life of the Fire HDX 8.9 proved to be decent, bordering on good, in some areas.
Playing a fairly graphically intensive game like CSR Racing drained 3% in ten minutes; spending that same ten minutes in the browser drained 2%. Ten minutes of reading in the Kindle app took just 1%. Ten minutes of HD movie in Netflix cost 4% of the battery.
I found that the Fire HDX 8.9 battery would typically drain between 5% and 10% overnight.
The first time I ran the standard Reviewsense 90-minute HD video test on full brightness I was shocked the find the Fire HDX 8.9 had dropped to 55%, which would be comparatively awful. I investigated and found that it had decided to back up the video to the Amazon Cloud and was dutifully uploading as it played.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Disabling automatic uploads to Amazon Cloud should save some battery
I recharged the battery fully and tried again and this time the 90-minute test dropped the battery down to 79%, which is a great deal more respectable. The Nexus 9 dropped to 82% and the iPad Air 2 also dropped to 79% in the same test.
Considering that the Fire HDX 8.9 has a higher resolution and a brighter display, that's not bad.
It takes more than four hours for the Fire HDX 8.9 to fully charge from below the 10% mark and that's using the supplied "PowerFast" charger. I tried a couple of other chargers (Xperia Z2 and Nexus 7) and they both charged it slower.
That's par for the course, but with some fast charging technology starting to hit the market it would be nice to see it used for a big tablet, because it's uncomfortable to use the HDX perched next to the plug with a wire sticking out the left side.

The essentials and camera

You won't find much in the utilities department on the Fire HDX 8.9. There's a basic contacts app, an email app, a clock, a calculator, a weather app, and a calendar. They're all functional, barebones affairs.
If you want a messenger then you'll need to search in the Appstore where you'll find Viber, Facebook Messenger, Kik, Tango, and a few others.
The limited selection in the Amazon Appstore is still an issue. Android fans will miss Google's wares, from Chrome to YouTube to Gmail. There are still a few other strange omissions like Dropbox, but most of the big name apps are there now.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The Amazon app store is missing some popular apps and games
It's the same story with games. I couldn't find Clash of Clans. It's even more annoying to find titles like Asphalt 8 and The Simpsons: Tapped Out and then tap to download only to be greeted with a message about how they're incompatible with this device. Why are they incompatible?

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
No Google Docs here, but there are similar options available
I was surprised to find that there is a Maps app on there, but it's horribly basic compared to Google Maps.
There is a "Docs" option above the carousel that brings up a simple app for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoints.
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
My review unit also came with the Fire Tablet Keyboard. I had a quick play with it, Bluetooth pairing is easy and it's very portable, but because it's super slim keys don't have much travel, and the touchpad pointer didn't work very well for me. I tried to Firefly it to get the price, but it didn't recognise its own dedicated keyboard so I had to look it up the old-fashioned way.
I wouldn't really advise buying a Fire HDX 8.9 for business. If you happen to have one for pleasure and you want to use it for documents when you travel then maybe you can justify the £55, $49.99 price tag for the keyboard. It wouldn't be fun to work on for any length of time.
Web browsing is adequate via the Silk browser, but it doesn't feel as fast as Chrome. It took nearly ten seconds to load the full fat Reviewsense site. It's easy to use and it has all the features you'd expect to find.
There's a trending now option in the menu that's quite good for catching up with the latest news. I also liked the reading view option at the top right which strips out superfluous details to make the page easier to read.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The other good thing about Silk is that it can play YouTube videos, so the lack of a YouTube app isn't quite such a big deal after all.


Amazon has worked on improving the camera, though it remains the same as the last version on paper. There's an 8MP main camera and LED flash, and a basic front-facing camera that can handle 720p video for VoIP calls.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The main camera has 8MP
The camera app is very simple to get to grips with. Tap to focus and snap away. The menu offers HDR, panorama, and lenticular (like an animated gif). It doesn't cope with low light very well, it gets noisy fast, but the flash is pretty powerful.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The camera app is easy to use
The shots you take are displayed in a strip along the bottom, which is handy. I managed to capture some fairly nice photos. I think the natural two-handed holding with the camera in the centre actually helps a little, but you shouldn't really be wandering around snapping shots with a tablet in public.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
There is a vast amount of editing options available
Once you've taken your shots there's an impressively appointed editing app that includes a very large menu of options including basics like crop and rotate tools, brightness and contrast, a long list of filters, and some daftness in stickers, not to mention the option to add text in the meme category.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Here's a basic shot in the forest, the backlight makes it quite dark

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
A similar shot, but with the HDR mode on shows how much it can lift your photos

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
It can't cope with low light and you can see the loss of detail and the noise

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Stick the flash on and pow, it's quite a powerful blast of light, but it's still fairly warm

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The panorama mode is very easy and less fiddly than some others I've tried

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The detail it captures at close range is impressive, but you can see the light melting things at the top of the shot


I've already talked about how good the Fire HDX 8.9 is for movies and TV shows. I've also discussed the quality of the speakers for music or audiobooks. This tablet is made for entertainment.
Gaming is a definite weak spot for two reasons: the lack of certain titles in the Amazon Appstore and the lack of support for some titles that are there, and some suspect performance with stuttering and crashes when playing a graphically intensive title like Injustice: Gods Among Us.
Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Amazon may of dropped the Kindle from the title of the Fire HDX 8.9, but rest assured it's still a very good device for reading on. The Kindle app is one of the best options on Android for reading books and the things that elevate it above the crowd also apply to the rest of Amazon's content offerings.
The X-Ray feature enables you to find out more about what you are reading or watching. You'll also find that Whispersync works perfectly to allow you to seamlessly pick up where you left off on one device on another one.
Amazon's content library is absolutely vast and if you sign up for Amazon Prime you'll get access to the Prime Instant Video library, which was once Love Film, offering thousands of movies and TV shows, which can also be downloaded for offline viewing.
You also get the Kindle Owners' Lending Library enabling you to read a book a month with 500,000 titles to choose from.
Alternatively you can sign up for Kindle Unlimited at £7.99 per month for access to 650,000 books and thousands of audiobooks. Then there's Audiobooks from Audible with over 100,000 audio books for £7.99 per month.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
X-Ray is a nice extra feature that lets you find out more about what you are reading
On the music front you have Amazon's Digital Music store offering 30 million tracks. Amazon Music allows you to share any tracks you buy across ten devices and you can upload 250 of your own for free.
Extra features like Second Screen and X-Ray, which enable you to use your Fire HDX 8.9 as a remote control for content playing on the big screen will only work with Amazon's services. You can also mirror your screen if you have a Miracast TV, though Amazon would prefer you to buy Fire TV for £79, $99.
The Amazon Cloud Drive gives you 5GB of free cloud storage and you can automatically back up photos, videos, and documents from your Fire HDX 8.9.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
Signing up to the Amazon ecosystem will vastly improve your experience with the Fire HDX 8.9
There's no doubt that the best experience the Fire HDX 8.9 has to offer requires full immersion in the Amazon ecosystem. Signing up for all these extras is the only way to enjoy the full feature list.
The apps, games, and music are the weak links compared to competitor's offerings. The Appstore is functionally poor, as well as lacking titles, and not always getting the latest updates to existing apps as quickly as the Play Store.
Amazon doesn't offer a music streaming service in the UK and it isn't really competing with things like Spotify or Deezer right now.
The book, movie, and TV show offerings are very strong and competitively priced. They're easy to use and they just work.
Amazon is banking on the idea that once you're invested it will be hard to leave.


Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 2013

Is it worth paying a little bit extra for the Fire HDX 8.9? If you're looking at both right now and wondering which to buy then yes, it probably is. The newer model is faster, jumping from 2.2GHz to 2.5GHz and boasting a newer chipset. It also has the Dolby Atmos sound. The potential extra performance should pay off in the long term.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
If you have the last Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 already then this isn't enough of a jump to merit a purchase. The latest flavour of Fire OS, version 4.0 Sangria, is not exclusive to the new Fire HDX 8.9, though it won't be rolling out to all the past generations.

iPad Air 2

You'll have to find at least some extra cash for the iPad Air 2. It has a bigger display and a more enticing, premium, svelte design. It also crushes the Fire HDX 8.9 when it comes to processing power.
Apple doesn't offer movie streaming, but you can get Netflix or any of Amazon's content offerings on your iPad Air 2. There's no contest when it comes to apps and games. Apple doesn't just have the best; it has apps that are properly optimized for the iPad Air 2. The camera is also superior, if that matters to you.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
The Fire HDX 8.9 boasts a sharper, higher resolution display and much better speakers offering louder audio. It also has Amazon's unique features, Mayday and Firefly, as well as the excellent family profile system.

Nexus 9

The Nexus 9 is cheaper and it boasts full, unfettered access to the Play Store for all the latest apps and games. It comes with all of Google's apps and services and the very latest version of Android and it will continue to get the latest updates first for some time to come.
It's faster in terms of raw performance and it's far more customizable. It also has front-facing Boomsound speakers.

Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 review
On the other hand, the Fire HDX 8.9's display is the same size, but has a far higher resolution and brightness, it's just all-round better.
You're also getting Amazon's extras in the shape of Mayday, Firefly, and the family profiles, which make it that bit more accessible for tablet newbies.


The Fire HDX 8.9 is an iterative update to Amazon's big tablet series. At £329, $379 it's worth a look because the display and speakers make it an excellent tablet for watching movies on.
The problem is that you're locked into Amazon's ecosystem and you'll only get the full benefit of what the HDX 8.9 has to offer by subscribing to Amazon services.

We liked

The sharp, accurate, bright display is beautiful and it's arguably the single most important thing for a family tablet.
The loud dual speakers and Dolby Atmos sound are impressive and immersive, if only they were front-facing.
Real thought and clever design means the family profiles, parental controls, and family account sharing is a serious draw for the Fire HDX 8.9.
The Mayday feature is so quick and easy. It really adds value for anyone, not just people lacking confidence with technology.

We disliked

Compare those benchmark scores with the other top tablets in this class. The Fire HDX 8.9 is not making the most of its hardware. Stuttering and crashing should be far less frequent.
Amazon's Fire OS 4.0 still feels like a dumbed down platform and it strips out too many of the things that make Android great.
The Amazon Appstore is a very distant third behind the Play Store and the iOS App Store. Too many missing apps and a lack of optimization for the Fire HDX 8.9 are a real disappointment.
I'm having trouble coming up with a real world use case for the average family and Firefly, but even if it was really useful, there's the fact that it doesn't work properly.

Final verdict

If you're looking for a family tablet that everyone can share, and you're happy to dive into the Amazon ecosystem and sign up for Amazon Prime, maybe even pick up a Fire TV as well, then the Fire HDX 8.9 is probably the best tablet for you.
It handles movies and TV shows beautifully. It's a lovely device for reading on. The audio quality is also impressive.
But if gaming and app choice are very important to you, then it's impossible to recommend the Fire HDX 8.9. You will find a much better game and app experience on the Nexus 9 or iPad Air 2.
The display, the sound, the Amazon extras, are all enough to make the Fire HDX 8.9 worth considering, but there are too many weak spots for an unreserved recommendation.