Review: Kindle Fire HDX

I just wanted to share my thoughts on Amazon’s latest flagship reader, the Kindle Fire HDX, ahead of its Oct. 18-28, 2013 US release date.

I’ve been a lover of Amazon since the site launched. Their service is cheap, easy, intuitive and their customer service is typically excellent (from my experiences). I have been a Prime member for more than four years (get Prime, seriously) as well. So, naturally, it wasn’t difficult to fall in love with Amazon’s tablets when they launched just a few short years ago. My wife owns the original Fire tablet and I have owed the Fire HD. They are wonderful products for reading, for internet and for most games and tablet uses.

Since buying the Kindle, I find myself reading more than ever before. As a writer, I love Amazon’s text-to-speech function (and its many awesome voice options), as it quickly helps me find mistakes, grammar issues, spelling and other problems in my stories as I read along. In brief, the device is handy, portable, fun, efficient and enormously easy to use.

The new HDX isn’t a major improvement over the Fire HD, but it’s a worthy upgrade, especially for potential new buyers.

This new device is significantly faster than the previous version thanks to a quad-core Snapdragon processor. Internet browsing is vastly improved and games run a little smoother as well. The screen resolution has also been upped to 1920×1200, and looks gorgeous. And, as before, the tablet’s Dolby audio is absolutely astonishing.

The HDX is fairly customizable, so for more information regarding specs and details, feel free to hop over to Amazon, where you’ll find photos, videos and more.

The tablet’s redesign is quite spiffy. Simply moving the power button away from the volume buttons was a big improvement (power is on the opposite side now). With the old device, I continually found myself pressing the power button when I meant to press the volume buttons. That is no longer an issue. The tablet is also a little easier to hold than before, thanks to the squared design.

One negative of the new model: the mini HDMI port has been removed. But Kindle’s OS now allows users to flip what they’re watching on their tablet to your home device (like a PS3) using Amazon’s Video app. Netflix also allows users this ability. So the mini HDMI port is a bit of a wash, though I imagine some will be disappointed by this missing component.

The best aspect of the redesign is the weight. The Fire HD wasn’t a particularly heavy tablet, but for those who binge read (like me) you probably know that the tablet can wear you down after a while. The new HDX is about 30% lighter than the Fire HD, making it an easier tablet to hold for long hours. It’s also a tad smaller, too, while retaining the same 7-inch screen size.

My only major gripe with the HDX thus far has been a persistent blue border that surrounds the vertical sides when there’s a white screen present. I’m guessing it’s a reflection of the white against the black plastic surrounding the glass, but I do find it a bit distracting — far more distracting that the previous Fire or Fire HD. I’ll have to check out another HDX at Best Buy soon and see if they have this issue, too. If not, it could mean I have a defective screen. I’ll update this article as soon as I know for sure.

UPDATE 10/22/13: Amazon has now officially addressed the blue border. Here is their explanation: “We want you to know… The Kindle Fire HDX 7″ has perfect color accuracy (100% sRGB), and we wanted to share more details around our display design decisions that helped us achieve this.

You may notice a very narrow, faint blue tint around the edge of the device when looking at items with a white background, such as books or web pages. All displays have some level of light emission around the edges, and the light on the Kindle Fire HDX 7″ is blue due to the technology used to render perfect color accuracy. Most LCD displays use white LEDs, and then apply filters to extract the desired color. The result is oftentimes a compromise to tone and color accuracy, or—if attempting to address these compromises—an increase in battery consumption and, thus, device weight.

We’ve taken a different approach. To achieve the perfect color accuracy on Kindle Fire HDX 7″ at the lowest possible battery consumption and device weight, we used blue, not white, LEDs. Blue LEDs allow for a much more accurate  and rich representation of color and result in an up to 20% improvement in power efficiency.

So there you have it. It sounds like a logical response, and the reasoning is sound. Blue LEDs were used to save weight and improve battery and color accuracy. It could also be total BS, that I am not sure. I imagine we’ll hear more as the tech community dives into this statement and dissects Amazon’s reasoning. That said, I have gotten used to the screen over the past few weeks. The image display truly is remarkable, even with the blue or purple border distraction.

Back to the original review:

The HDX also includes a charger. For some inexplicable reason, Amazon opted not to include a wall charger for the Kindle Fire HD last year. Instead, they sold the charger as a separate accessory, which felt a little cheap. The HDX rectifies this problem, but creates another – the plug is too damn cumbersome, taking up two plug spots instead (on a surge protector) and nearly taking up two slots on a wall socket. It’s not a bulky plug, either. In fact, the plug looks quite similar to the Apple wall charger, except it’s larger all the way around, instead of perfectly square with a wall socket. Here’s what they look like side-by-side:

plug

It’s not a major issue, but it’s a silly design choice that’s sure to piss off some buyers.

I can’t wait to see what comes next with the Kindle readers. I’m hoping to see a tablet that has an HD (maybe 3D) screen on one side, and e-ink on the other. Perhaps that’s a pipe dream, but I’m hoping it’s coming in the next year or two. We’ll see.

For those looking for a great electronic reader that’s also useful and effective for portable gaming, media playback, video chatting and tablet uses, the Kindle Fire HDX is certainly a great option, second only to Apple (and catching up). Build quality is outstanding, the processor is quick and the redesign is great. And there’s plenty of value to be found with the tablet, like customer-friendly goodies such as Mayday, a live video customer service chat line. (I did not get to test Mayday, but it seemed quite functional.)

UPDATE 10/24/13: Mayday review … I finally had a reason to try Amazon’s latest customer service app, “Mayday,” last night. After a rather brief 30-second wait, I was connected with a rep who walked me through how to access and use Amazon’s pre-installed Officesuite. I thought the app was something you would just open, similar to other apps like Silk or Amazon Store. Rather, Officesuite has been integrated into the Kindle, which proved somewhat confusing to configure and use.

The CS rep guided me through the whole process in a timely, efficient manner. He seemed to know what he was doing and was able to give me the tutorial with ease, though he did seem a little annoyed. I’m sure this is one question he gets a lot; that and “why is my screen border blue?” I placed my Mayday call in the middle of the night, so the service may not run as smooth during the day, but I can’t knock the experience yet. It was smooth, easy to use and kinda fun. Thumbs up, Amazon. I wonder how long until Apple follows this groundbreaking system of customer service.

Back to the original review:

The HDX is not an iPad killer, but it is a pretty great competitor that stacks up well in many aspects, especially when it comes to cost and ease of use. If you’re in the market for a tablet, give it some consideration. And if you’re on a budget, I’d definitely check out the previous Fire HD. It’s still an awesome tablet.

Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

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Top Ten Favorite Horror Films Part 2: Favorite Books

A new week, a new list! This time I’ll be discussing some of my favorite horror books.

Please be aware that I change my mind often. The ability to change one’s mind on any subject is paramount for our culture’s growth and development. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see another version of this list next year, with totally different books on it … what can I say, I absolutely love the genre.

Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments!

Also, for more books, check out this list of 11 Creepy Novels.

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Legion - William Peter Blatty

10) Legion 

Legion is a sequel to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. It’s a great follow-up, though not as haunting as The Exorcist. I included it here over The Exorcist because it’s a worthwhile sequel that fans of the series should seek out. While I’m on the subject, also check out the late Gary Brandner’s The Howling series. They’re also quite fun.

Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks

9) The Zombie Survival Guide

A lot of zombie fans loved World War Z, but I’m more fond of Max Brooks’ first zombie endeavor – a step-by-step guidebook for surviving a zombie apocalypse. It’s rather funny, but also extraordinarily helpful … if one were ever to come face-to-face with the walking dead, that is.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay

8) Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Dexter Morgan’s first tale is still his best. In fact, Jeff Lindsay’s book was so good that it got turned into an award-winning TV series (that later petered out and sputtered to a tragic death, but I digress). The book is a clever mixture of American Psycho and police procedure, with a reluctant anti-hero at the helm, steering the audience in the darkest, most macabre places. Gripping, tense and awesome!

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

7) Lord of the Flies

This one might not strike you as horror, but a book about a bunch of children who slowly succumb to the horrors of their own darker instincts is ripe material for horror, and no other book does it better than William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. You might have hated it when you read in school, but give it another shot. It’s outstanding.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

6) The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

I kept going back and forth about which book to include here: Dracula or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both books are tremendous achievements in horror, and stupendous pieces of writing to boot. Ultimately, I went with Dr. Jekyll because never before, and never again, has a book so perfectly encapsulated the duality of man. For me, that holds more water than the first vampire tale. But read both books, please.

Sphere

5) Sphere

Michael Crichton’s Sphere is one of very few books I find myself reading every couple of years. The science behind the story is fascinating, but even more chilling than the sphere itself, is the manifestations of evil we hid within ourselves. A deeply terrifying book for anyone seeking something to get under the skin, with just a dash of science to back things up.

The Stand

4) The Stand

A great many horror fans might pepper a “favorite horror novels” list with Stephen King, but I’ve opted to include only one, The Stand. The Stand was the first “big” book I ever completed (I read it when I was about 10 years old). And, honestly, of all King’s books, The Stand really, umm, stands out as a mythical tale of Americana’s survival in the face of an apocalypse. Epic stuff … and very scary. I’d also recommend It (a close second) as well.

Scary_Stories_to_Tell_in_the_Dark_cover

3) Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark (Series)

I primarily grew up on two writers: Shel Silverstein, who crafted the beauty of my youth through poems; and Alvin Schwartz, who helped shape my nightmares. But the real winner of the Scary Stories series is the artwork from illustrator Stephen Gammell. His work on these books still scares the ever-loving shit out of me. There are (crappy) versions of the Scary Story books without his artwork, replaced with toned down “kid friendly” artwork. Boo! Skip them and seek out the copies with Gammell’s imagery. It’s perfect!

Frankenstein

2) Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s staggering nightmare of death, romance and reanimation is existentially rich and still quite beautiful, not to mention frightening. It also stands as one of the finest pieces of gothic writing ever committed to paper. The only writers who come close are Lovecraft and Poe, who are also (obviously) well worth reading.

The Demonologist

1) The Demonologist

Never has a book freaked me out more. You may think Ed and Lorraine Warren are a bunch of nutters, but after reading this book, I’m not entirely convinced. The horrors they walk their audience through is immeasurably terrifying and shockingly real. It might all be phooey, but it certainly made me want to hang some crosses up in the house, and that’s power no other horror book has ever conjured from me.

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Next week: My top ten favorite horror slashers!