Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX tablet resembles Google's Nexus 7 in many ways -- from its light weight to its sharp display. Both tablets run a version of Google's Android operating system, and they even have the same starting price of $229.
The similarities end when you turn them on.
Amazon.com Inc. modifies Android so much that it no longer resembles Android. The company calls it Fire OS 3.0, or Mojito. Amazon's services are front and center on the Fire, and Google's are nowhere to be found. It's the other way around on the Nexus 7 and other Android devices. For a day or two, I even forgot the Kindle Fire can do much more.
Regular customers of Amazon will appreciate that integration. A row of tabs at the top of the screen offers quick access to various Amazon services, including e-books, music, videos and audiobooks, the latter from the Audible business that Amazon bought in 2008. Another tab gets you Amazon's shopping site, where you can buy television sets, vacuum cleaners and tennis rackets. The Kindle is already tied to your Amazon account, so it's easy -- perhaps too easy -- to just click and buy.
You also get Amazon's excellent recommendation technology. Browsing the e-book section, "The Great Gatsby" came up, likely because I had just added a movie version to my video watch list. Kindle versions of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" comic books came up, likely because I own the entire television series on DVD. Under music, digital copies of physical CDs I had purchased were waiting for me, along with recommendations for other songs and albums from artists in my shopping history.
If you spring for Amazon's $79-a-year Prime membership, you also get quick access to thousands of free movies and television episodes and the ability to borrow one e-book a month from a select list. For the first time, you can download the free Prime video to watch on a plane or anywhere else lacking an Internet connection. On older Kindle Fires and other devices, you're limited to streaming, which requires a constant Internet connection.
Amazon plans to start shipping the smaller version of the Kindle Fire HDX on Oct. 18. Like the Nexus 7, it has a 7-inch screen, measured diagonally. A larger, 8.9-inch version is expected Nov. 7 and starts at $379. Amazon is also updating last year's 7-inch HD model, lowering the price to $139 but cutting a few features including the camera. (continued...)
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