Up to this point, Amazon has updated the Kindle Fire's hardware once a year since it launched. It looks like this year's upgrades, though, are going to be the most modest by a huge margin. Today Amazon took the wraps off of the 2014 edition of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9.
The new version of the Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 is all the same on the outside (see our review of the 2013 model for more on that), with some upgrades on the inside. So while the tablet's exterior, display size and resolution are all sitting pretty, it gets a new processor, some new software features and improved color balance.
We're looking at a Snapdragon 805 processor inside – which replaces the Snapdragon 800 found in last year's model. Amazon is saying that the new model has a "70 percent faster graphics engine" than we found in the 2013 HDX.
The company is also adding a new feature called Dynamic Light Control to the new model. It detects ambient light and automatically adjusts the display's color balance accordingly. The company describes the result as more closely resembling a piece of paper. As the Kindle brand was originally all about reading, I suppose this focus is appropriate.
Dolby Atmos, the audio giant's relatively new surround sound technology, makes its way to the new Fire HDX as well. In a movie theater, Atmos simulates the effect of sounds coming from the direction they'd come from in the world of the movie. It's hard to see this being much more than a branding gimmick on a small handheld tablet, but time will tell.
The Fire's software gets some new tricks as well, though none of them look to fix the platform's biggest problems. So yes, the Fire OS 4 "Sangria" still has an in-your-face Amazon shopping focus. But then it adds shopping app FireFly, ASAP streaming prediction (which aims to reduce buffering by predicting what you'll watch) and unique user profiles. It's also now based on Android 4.4 KitKat – but you can still forget about seeing any traces of Google on the surface.
For the first time, Amazon is launching its own keyboard with the new Kindle Fire. At 198 g (7 oz), the Fire Keyboard is very light. It also measures a mere 4.8 mm (0.19-in) thick. The most interesting part, though, is that it has a trackpad. While Windows tablets, like the Surface, have trackpads, iPad and other "casual tablet" keyboards typically don't. I'll be curious to see how this works with software that was never designed for mouse input.
The new Fire HDX 8.9 is available for pre-order now, and starts shipping on October 21. It starts at the same US$380 price point as last year's model (and you can still tag on an extra $15 if you don't want lock screen ads). The Fire Keyboard is sold separately, and can be picked up for $60.
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