Last year, Amazon's Kindle tablets really grew up. They got fantastic and stylish new design, and a software update to back it up. This year, Amazon's trotting out a new 8.9 Kindle Fire HDX with faster guts. You won't find a 7-inch version if that's what you're looking for, but Amazon does have some staggeringly cheap new Kindle Fire HDs to take its place for just $100 a pop.
The new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is pretty similar to its predecessor in design. That is to say it's slick, slim, and staggeringly light. Last year's 8.9-inch HDX was a fantastic featherweight at 7.9mm thick and 13.9 ounces, coming in lighter than the also remarkably light (but also larger) 10-inch iPad Air. This year's version shed .7 ounces to come in even lighter at 13.7 ounces. It's a touch thinner too at 7.8mm.
Inside that lighter body, the new HDX packs some solid spec. Last year's HDX was the first tab to run Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800, and this year it's the first to house the Snapdragon 805. The result is buttery smooth performance. Our hands-on time was brief, but what little we saw of the app carousel and intermittent app usage looked screamingly fast.
And of course, the new 8.9 HDX is great for watching and listening to things too. We caught a clip of Transformers: Age of Extinction (ugh) on its 2560 x 1600, 339 PPI screen—the same great screen you'll find in its forebear. It looked as great as you could expect a Transformers movie to look. And it sounded great too, probably thanks to the HDX's Dolby Atmos tech, which reportedly helps add to the layering and complexity of the sound. We only saw one wham-bang scene, but it was easy to which explosions were closer and which ones were further away. Last year's HDX also had pretty great sound, so it's nice to see the new one keep the tradition going. In case you're wondering, the speakers are also still perfectly placed: on the top back where they're in no danger of being blocked by your fingers.
But if you want to use your new Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 to do more than just watch movies and browse the web, Amazon has also built a custom Bluetooth keyboard for the device. It's a slim little sucker that pairs up with it magnetically to make a sort of Surface-y combo. It's not a fantastic quality keyboard—nothing you'd want to use every day—but it seemed passable from the few strokes we got to type on it. So far, we're not sold on a Kindle as a productivity machine with or without a keyboard.
The new HDX comes hand-in-hand with a new version of Amazon's Android fork, Fire OS. This version—Fire OS 4 aka "Sangria"—is built on Android 4.4 KitKat, and comes complete with handy upgrades like better performance, multi-account support for family tablets with a bevy of users, the Firefly app (from Amazon's Fire Phone), and free unlimited cloud storage for photos.
Meanwhile, on the lower end of the tablet spectrum, Amazon's announcing some new Kindle Fire HDs. Yep, the Fire HD name is finding new life in Amazon's budget offerings. These new—and colorful—tablets clock in at the very bottom of the tablet price range. $140 for the 7-inch version and a mere $100 for the 6-inch model. Naturally, the specs are not going to blow you away. The 6- and 7-inch have 252 and 212 PPI displays, respectively, and quad-core 1.5GHz MediaTek processors.
They aren't aren't nearly as powerful as the HDX line, but they seemed more than good enough to get most jobs (like streaming video) done. Our test time was limited, but there wasn't a lot of lag swiping around the homescreen, and we actually can't say that about a lot of $100 tablets we've come across.
These new Fire HDs are also durable. Amazon twisted the tablets in a vice, rolled them around in a lotto number picker, and followed it up with a video of a pretty nasty drop-test, and the tablets all faired well. That's great, since you're probably going to treat your cheapo tablet a bit rougher than something more premium, even if destroying the device would be less of a disaster.
And if you're looking for a tablet for kids who are going to be super-duper rough on their devices, the Fire HD now also comes in a kids flavor, with a drop-cushioned case. That's something that'll pair nicely with the parent-friendly, kid-controlling options like FreeTime that have been built into Fire OS for a while now. The Fire HD Kids Edition also comes with a two year warranty; free replacements, no questions asked. And it packs in one year of Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited, all for a $50 price bump over the vanilla versions of the same cheap tabs.
But it's that $100 6-incher that's really the most interesting. Sure, $100 tablets are hardly unheard of, but they usually come from some no-name company, subsidized in part by random bloatware no one in their right mind would ever be able to make use of. Amazon's Fire HDs, on the other hand, will come loaded up with verifiably awesome Amazon features; in the world of ~$100 tablets, Fire OS isn't quite the same handicap that it is in the more premium tablet space. It could actually be awesome.
We'll have to spend a little more time with the newly updated bottom of Amazon's tablet food chain before we can really tell if these are worth the buy, but if they're coming from a company with a storied history of razor-thin margins, these are probably going to be some of the best $100 tablets you can find.