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Amazon Fire HDX 8.9 (2014) Unboxing and Hands-On

by Brandon Russell | October 30, 2014

Last year’s Fire HDX 8.9 is a tablet we hold dear to our hearts. It doesn’t sport the most beautiful hardware, and you’ll find better software on most tablets. But despite its faults, the device still managed to offer a great experience tied closely to Amazon’s immense ecosystem of apps, books, music and movies. And the fact that it offered Mayday—the new model does as well—made the device infinitely easier to use for folks who aren’t all that well versed in technology.

This year’s Fire HDX 8.9 isn’t receiving a major overhaul, though it’s getting updates in all the right places, including better Dolby sound and an even faster processor. One thing Amazon is emphasizing this year, however, is productivity. Amazon has created an all-new keyboard accessory, a Windows virtualization app, and a new app suite that allows users to more easily work with Office documents.

In addition, Amazon has bestowed the Fire HDX 8.9 with Firefly superpowers, which was first introduced in its ill-fated Fire Phone; meanwhile, the device is also bringing over instant caching and video streaming from the Fire TV.

On the inside, the new HDX sports a 2.5GHz Snapdragon 805 processor—70-percent faster graphics performance over last year’s model, according to Amazon—and a new Dolby Atmos sound engine. You might not notice an immediate difference blaring out of the HDX’s speakers, though sound is supposed to be significantly improved wearing headphones. We quickly tested it out, and while the sound does sound great, we wouldn’t say it’s a major improvement over last year’s model.

The 8.9-inch display (2560×1600) looks really lovely, though it’s the exact same as last year’s model. That is to say: really good, and perfect for viewing movies and other content. Elsewhere, there’s an 8-megapixel camera on back, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB options; the device is also just 13.2 ounces, which is lighter than Apple’s new iPad Air 2. Amazon rates the battery at 12 hours, though we haven’t had the chance to put those claims to the test just yet.

Amazon’s device is really aligned for media consumption, though the company is hoping people will take the HDX more seriously as a productivity device (one of the biggest criticisms against the HDX 8.9 last year). The online giant says its new Fire Keyboard accessory ($59.99) is the perfect companion for getting work done on the go, and is one of the thinnest and lightest full-featured keyboards out there. That’s an impressive claim by Amazon considering some of the accessories out there; it’s certainly thin, we can tell you that much. We spent a few moments trying to use it, though not enough time to really give a fair assessment.

By no means is this year’s model a substantial leap. If you have the original HDX, there isn’t much here to warrant an upgrade. It’s a little faster, a little lighter, and will maybe pump out better sound while wearing headphones. Otherwise, the software has been refined slightly, and the design is still a black slab with slanted edges and a soft touch back. You can pick up the 16GB model for $379 with Special Offers; that price will go up all the way to $479 for the 64GB model. Without Special Offers, meanwhile, the price will go all the way up to $494 for the 64GB model.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...