Amazon Kindle Fire HDX Review: It's all About Mayday

 
 
By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2014-03-17
 
 
 

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX Review: It's all About Mayday


Amazon is encouraging the idea of its Kindle Fire HDX as an enterprise-friendly device, and it has packed on some helpful features toward this end.

Most notably, there's an integrated virtual private network (VPN), so users can securely access business email accounts, and Whispercast technology—as well as compatibility with other third-party mobile device management solutions—so IT staff can manage Kindle devices and push out content.

While the version of the tablet I spent some time with was WiFi-only, there's also an LTE-enabled version for all-the-time connectivity. The Kindle can also pair with any Bluetooth-enabled mouse or keyboard, and can print wirelessly.

A little less convincingly, Amazon points out that the Kindle Fire HDX features an OfficeSuite Viewer app, so users can view Microsoft Office documents while they're away from their desks. (They can look, but not edit, which seems to be the whole point of looking. Free apps in the Amazon App Store, however, can add the ability to edit, save and share documents.)

The HDX can also save to the cloud and access the Amazon App Store, as stated—though not Google's Play. Amazon includes "voice dictation" among its list of enterprise features, though this is basically the same technology in any Android or iPhone keyboard: helpful but not really worth highlighting.

Which is basically how I felt about positioning the HDX as an enterprise tablet: It sets it off on the wrong foot.

The Kindle Fire HDX is great little tablet, or at least a very good one. It's very light (13.2 ounces), has a great-looking 8.9-inch HDX display (2,560 by 1,600 pixels and 339 pixels per inch) and has two impressive speakers—listening to music on it is a pleasure, and there are no volume concerns when watching a movie, even without earbuds in. The tablet is also shaped a little like a dinner plate—a thin edge, but then it dips down a bit. The dip is subtle (the HDX measures 9.1 by 6.2 by 0.31), but enough that, when the tablet is set on a table, the speakers are effectively lifted enough to still offer great sound.

The HDX has a rubbery coating on its back that makes it comfortable and steady to hold—though it also disgustingly hangs on to smudges. You'll regret moisturizing your hands before picking up this tablet.

It's tempting to call Amazon's Fire OS both overly simple and tricky to get a handle on. Recently accessed documents and apps appear in the central carousel, though they can be removed and other items added in—it's the go-to space for fast access to the things one uses most. Scroll the page up and there's a gridded list of all apps and content—two approaches, for two types of tastes.

But then there's also a toolbar at the top—Shop, Games, Apps, Books, Music, Videos, etc.—for drilling down by category. And there are also the shortcuts, which tend to include swiping from one edge or another.

There were times I'd come across a menu I hadn't meant to call up, and other times I swiped at all edges in vain, hoping to pull up a menu that for some reason was inaccessible.

There's an 8-megapixel camera on the back that's what you'd hope for from a tablet camera, and a front-facing camera for placing video calls. (Skype is in the Amazon App Store.) Amazon's Silk browser is acceptable—not lightning quick as I'd hoped, but it makes it easy to open and move between multiple tables.

There are plenty of ways, though, where the HDX excels. One of these is shopping. Whether it's the typical Amazon fare (which is to say, everything) or a movie, a song, a book or a television show, this Kindle makes purchasing amazingly seamless. Tap a button to purchase a song, and a second later you're listening to it while looking at a crisp image of the album cover and watching the lyrics scroll down the screen.

Another great feature is FreeTime, an app that enables users to cordon off all content, save specially selected content for kids. This can mean books—users can flip through beautifully illustrated stories and double-tap once on the text to have its size enhanced on each page, for easier reading—apps or video. You can create a separate account for each kid in the house and fill it with age-appropriate content.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX Review: It's all About Mayday


Parents can establish how long their kids can access this content, or during which hours, and kids can't stray outside of the safe content without the adult user's password.

The service starts at $2.99 a month (per kid) for Prime members and $4.99 a month otherwise. After reading a handful of new books to my daughter in a single sitting, the fee felt already worthwhile.

But hands-down the greatest feature of the HDX is its Mayday button—a life preserver icon accessed by pulling down a menu from the top of the display. Users can press the button 24/7/365, and in a matter of seconds a friendly person in a call center asks how they can help you with your tablet.

While these people can't see you, Amazon was smart to realize the appeal of you seeing them. A little box opens, and you see the person, sitting at his or her monitor with an Amazon logo in the background. With your permission, these people can access your screen, whether to circle or point to items with a highlight feature, or more fully take charge.

When I pressed Mayday, wanting an app that would let me edit documents, a helpful person offered to show me his favorite one. I agreed, and he accessed the app store, searched for the app, installed it and opened it up to show me a few tips for using it.

This button makes the Kindle HDX the perfect tablet for technologically squeamish folks who might otherwise enjoy using a tablet to access the Internet, watch videos and send a few emails. My mother, who can respond to an email on her iPhone but insists she can't figure out how to initiate a new one, comes to mind. (I've shown her four times. The Mayday service folks could undoubtedly muster more patience at this point than I can.)

As wonderful as the Mayday button is, it seems a potentially problematic feature for enterprise users, if they were indeed to use this Kindle. What if someone were to hit Mayday while sensitive documents were open? Is that silly to think? Or is it sillier to assume this won't ever happen?

I was slightly embarrassed to realize that Dirty Dancing (Amazon emailed to say it was among the new videos I could watch for free; I watched a few minutes) was prominent in the carousel after I closed a Mayday call. It's easy to imagine even more embarrassing—or sensitive—content being viewed by Mayday helpers.

Likely, an enterprise can turn off this feature, but what a pity that would be.

The Kindle Fire HDX is great for watching videos, listening to music, checking emails (it's a very comfortable interface) and pecking around the Web. (You can, of course, also read on it, but it's nothing like the eye-soothing Kindle Paperwhite e-reader.)

The WiFi-only version is priced at $379—a tricky price point, when the WiFi-only, 7.9-inch Apple iPad mini with Retina display starts at $399. Enterprise users would be wise to spend the extra 20 bucks.

But for those consumers for whom a built-in tech assistant sounds like a dream come true—if you were to pay $1 a day for the free service, the Kindle Fire HDX would basically pay for itself in a year—Mayday makes this tablet worth every dollar.

 

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