Washington - Here’s the most important feature of Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HDX colour tablets: operators are standing by. Actually, they’re technical-support people, summonable with the Fire’s new Mayday button. It’s an instant video link to a real, live help specialist, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Tech snobs may sneer that Amazon’s Kindle Fires are less full-featured multi-purpose tablets and more dumbed-down dispensing machines for the company’s e-books, videos and music.
But Amazon understands its customers. The Kindle Fire HDX is aimed at a mainstream audience for whom content is more important than the gadget.
When you need help, you aren’t just calling a toll-free number or tapping in text messages to an anonymous support person. You see the person you’re talking to, live on the Kindle’s screen.
Don’t worry, says Amazon, they can’t see you. But they can see what’s happening on your tablet, and can even take control of it remotely to fix problems.
I used the button to ask questions about wi-fi settings and a problem with how Amazon’s Silk browser was displaying web pages. In each case, a support person came on screen within the promised 15 seconds. The answers weren’t always edifying, but the support people were patient and polite.
While Mayday is the HDX’s most visible innovation, Amazon has come a long way since the chunky, clunky original Kindle Fire of two years ago.
The HDX comes in two basic models. The seven-inch version is the one I tested and starts at $229 (R2 300) with 16 gigabytes of storage, ads and a wi-fi connection. It’s available now on the Amazon website, with deliveries scheduled for mid-month.
The Kindles run a new version of Amazon’s Fire operating system, actually a modified and disguised version of Google’s Android. Unlike other Android devices, though, there’s no access to the Google Play store for movies, music, books and apps. Amazon doesn’t want you going anywhere else for content.
The operating system remains easy to use, with excellent parental controls and fast access to your purchased content as well as services like Instant Video. The company has also expanded features like X-Ray, which gives you more information about the content you’re consuming, like the cast of a movie.
While the HDX models are more expensive than their predecessors, they are also much improved.
The model I tested was thinner, 300g lighter and had a more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Its screen, with 323 pixels per inch, would qualify as having a Retina display if it were made by Apple, though I was distracted by a faint bluish tinge.
Compared to its closest competition in the seven-inch tablet space, the Asus-manufactured Google Nexus 7, the HDX has identical screen resolution and more processing and graphics power. The Nexus 7 has a better front-facing camera for video-chatting.
Amazon claims a battery life for the HDX of 11 hours. I couldn’t verify that, in part because the company was pushing software updates during my test period that it said could affect battery performance. I’d guess there are more updates to come; I encountered software bugs besides the Silk rendering issue, including buffering glitches when streaming videos and difficulties updating games.
But I always had access to a person I could see to reassure me that Amazon was there to help.
Some day, perhaps, our mobile devices will be as intuitive and as easy to use as a toaster. Until then, having a knowledgeable human being accessible at the touch of a button is the next best thing. – Bloomberg News