Kindle Fire HDX: the tablet that made me realize size matters

I've worked my way through a fair share of tablets over the years. An iPad 2 with its 9.7 inch screen, a Sony Tablet S with a slightly smaller 9.4 inch display, followed by a series of 7-inchers -- the Nexus 7, Tesco's Hudl and  the GOCLEVER Aries 7o. Oh, and the Surface Pro; I have a tendency to forget this is a 10.6 inch tablet as I use it in laptop mode.

All of my tablets have been used for much the same things: checking email, writing the odd document, viewing photos, watching videos, updating Facebook and Twitter, browsing the web and playing a few games. Taking the Surface Pro out of the equation, I've always found the circa 10-inch tablets too big. I thought I was settled on 7 inches as offering the best dimensions. It seems I might have been wrong.

The 8.9 inch screen of the Kindle Fire HDX feels a good deal more than 1.9 inches larger than a 7 inch display. I'm not quite sure why. There may be some sort of optical illusion taking place, but it feels big. But there is some confusion. Despite the perceived, and actual, extra screen real estate, the HDX is very light: I have joked that it is filled with helium in a bid to keep the weight down.

But the screen. So, I've used various sized tablets in the past as well as phones of various dimensions -- from 4 inches to the colossal Samsung Note 3. The (generally) smaller screen of a phone makes it ideal to certain situations. It's great for checking email when out and about, checking the news in bed, playing the occasional puzzle game and so on. But for many things it makes more sense to use a larger screen. I have long turned to my 7 inch tablet in bed to watch videos, websites are easier to read, and I can power through RSS feeds faster.

I've also tried using both a phone and 7 inch tablet to read a book. Don’t get me wrong, it works, but it's not ideal. My Nexus 7 and Samsung Galaxy S4 both have superb screens, but 7 inches squashes a book. It is smaller than most paperbacks which means one of two things -- font size has to be reduced to squeeze the same number of words on a page, or you have a font size that is more legible at the expense of the number of words displayed. 8.9 inches seems to overcome this problem.

My Kindle Fire HDX is currently sitting atop Autobiography by Morrissey (a simply stunning read, by the way). The screen is almost precisely the same size as the paper pages. The bezel extends beyond the edges slightly, but this is made up for by the fact that the HDX is so thin. It is a joy to read on. I have used the Kindle software before on PC and on various mobile devices, but for some reason it just seems to work more pleasingly on the HDX.

The screen is staggeringly good. The 2560 by 1600 resolution offers a pixel density of 339 ppi, and while the experience is not the same as looking at ink on paper, it's bloody lovely to look at. The quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor runs at 2.2GHz meaning this is no slouch. Sound is more than impressive, making this a great tablet for watching movies. It's nice to see that the volume controls are situated on the back of the device, helping to avoid accidentally adjusting levels whilst holding the edge of the tablet.

The Kindle Fire HDX is simply a joy to use. Light in the hand, easy to hold, swift and good-looking. What's not to like?

So will I be switching to the Kindle full time? Probably not. I think it will remain primarily an e-reader with occasional use as a video player. The reason? Well, there are a couple. The primary problem I have with the Kindle is the insane version of Android that is installed. I understand Amazon's keenness to stamp its mark on the OS and tailor it towards use as a reader, but this does come at the expense of other things. No Google Play? What's that all about? No access to Google apps? Sure, I can side-load, but the point is I shouldn't have to. It would invalidate any warranty so should I ever need to make use of the Mayday button, I may not be eligible for help.

The whole point of Android, and one of the reasons it is vastly superior to iOS and Windows Phone, is the fact that it is open. To create a closed environment in the way Amazon has done goes against the spirit of what it is all about. There are ways around these problems, but the point is that I should not have to force the device to work the way I want it to.

For anyone coming from another Android device, it is likely to be a similarly strange experience. Things are just slightly different. Different enough to be disconcerting -- to start with, at least. On-screen buttons are oddly positioned, apps are hidden away in a tab rather than appearing on the homescreen by default. It's nothing you can't get used to, but it's alien to start with.

While I love the screen of this tablet, my colleague Brian Fagioli has managed to ruin it for me completely. He "helpfully" pointed out something that he had not seen mentioned in any reviews -- the fact that the touch-sensitive screen is covered in a grid (presumably of touch-sensitive 'wiring') that is visible in the right light. Tilt the device back and forth and the grid can be seen twinkling back at you. Until pointed out, this had not been a problem but, as Brian said to me, "it cannot be unseen". Sorry if this ruins your Kindle Fire HDX experience!

So, for the foreseeable future, the HDX will remain something that is only pulled out for certain tasks. It's a shame, because this is a lovely device, but I've learned that there are different devices for different tasks. The Kindle Fire HDX is at heart an e-reader, and it should be left to do what it does best. My Nexus 7 will remain my go-to tablet, with my phone seeing occasional use. So much for the unification of hardware -- I'm now using three different Android devices in the course of an average day!

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