SEATTLE — In the fleeting moments I had with Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet, I noticed one major thing: It lost a lot of weight.
The engineers at Amazon managed to slim down their flagship tablet in every dimension.
The new Kindle Fire HDX is lighter by 23 percent for the smaller model and 34 percent for the full-sized one. The slimmer profile is made possible by a new, lighter magnesium alloy body, a touch screen with fewer layers than before and a frame that is about one-quarter narrower all around the edge of the screen.
Add to that the company's claim that the processor is three times as fast as last year's Kindle Fire HD, and Amazon.com Inc. seems to have an attractive holiday gift option on its hands.
The weight reduction is noticeable. The new HDX with a 7-inch screen, measured diagonally, is now lighter than the iPad Mini, at 10.7 ounces compared with 10.9 ounces. Google's new Nexus 7 is lighter than both, though, at 10.2 ounces. The HDX has a starting price of $229, a $100 less than the Mini.
The 8.9-inch HDX is also significantly lighter, at 13.2 ounces, than a full-size iPad, at 23 ounces. Of course, the smaller screen — 0.8 inches shorter on the diagonal — contributes to Amazon's undersized achievement here. The larger HDX starts at $379, or $120 less than the iPad.
The new Kindle devices sport a “unibody,” compared with the previous model's casing made of many parts put together. The back still has a rubbery feel like the old Kindle Fire HD. There is still shiny plastic covering the camera area, so fans of Apple's aluminum casing might not be impressed.
Amazon also gave last year's HD an update and a price cut, though the new model drops a front-facing camera and microphone and reduces the storage. The base model with 8 gigabytes costs $139, compared with $199 for the 16 gigabyte version before.
The new “Mayday” button on the HDX models summons a live video chat with a customer service representative. I saw a demo enough times to believe that, yes, there is indeed an actual person able to assist you if you need help navigating. The representative has the ability to scribble on your screen to point you to where you should tap.
Speakers and screen
I noticed the speakers are now positioned on top of the device when held horizontally, instead of being on both sides. This seems designed so you can still hear in stereo without headphones when the new “origami” cover is attached. In the previous version, I found headphone-less listening quality was patchy because the speakers faced away from you. Even with the new speaker location, they point away.
As for the screen quality, I think the improvement is nice, but perhaps not as stunning as the improvement from standard definition to HD.
With HDX, Amazon is making key improvements in areas where it lagged behind its competitors: on weight and with its processor. I don't think Amazon will ever be the brand for, say, gamers looking for high performance from a tablet. But for people who use Amazon a lot for books, video and other services, it'll be nice to have a bit less wrist strain and a bit more zip.