Amazon attracts photographers to Kindle Fire tablet line with much better screen, affordable prices


posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 4:54 PM EDT

For many photographers, Apple's iPad tablet series are the go-to devices if you want to get a better view of your images in the field. Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet line looks set to offer a much stronger challenge to the iPad, though, thanks to overhauled specs and pricing.

The just-launched Kindle Fire HDX is available in two sizes, featuring either a 7.0-inch or 8.9-inch screen, and both options have much higher resolution than the 7.9-inch screen of the iPad Mini. With a total of 1920 x 1200 pixels, the 7.0-inch Fire HDX packs in 323 pixels per inch. The 8.9-inch, 2560 x 1600 pixel model has 339ppi, more than double the 163ppi provided by the iPad Mini. Amazon is also touting color accuracy of the Kindle Fire HDX tablets, promising 100% sRGB coverage, and says that their screens have reduced glare. Maximum brightness -- which Apple doesn't specify for the iPad Mini -- is over 400 nits on Amazon's HDX tablets.

But before you can view your photos, there's the matter of getting them onto the tablet. (Well, unless you're shooting with the built-in camera, anyway.) Amazon locks down the Micro USB port on existing Kindle Fire HD tablets, and we doubt that will be any different on the HDX. You can, however, transfer images wirelessly using an Eye-Fi card or similar. Apple makes the job of image transfer easier, courtesy of either a Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, or a Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, each priced affordably at US$29. Check one box for Apple!

On paper, Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX tablets offer a very strong challenge to Apple's iPad Mini.

If you do plan to use the onboard camera, Amazon wins -- on paper, at least. The Kindle Fire HDX sports an eight megapixel rear camera with LED flash and an f/2.2 lens. The iPad Mini, by contrast, has a five megapixel camera, an f/2.4 lens, and lacks a flash altogether. Battery life for the Kindle Fire HDX tablets is also manufacturer-rated at a little better than that of the iPad Mini.

Amazon's devices offer 11-12 hours of use, depending on the screen size, where Apple rates its smallest tablet for just 10 hours on a charge. And the Amazon tablets look likely to offer good performance, thanks to a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. The iPad Mini has a 1GHz dual-core Cortex-A9 processor and 512MB of RAM, by contrast.

In its 7.0-inch variant, the Wi-Fi-only Kindle Fire HDX costs US$229 for 16GB, US$269 for 32GB, or US$309 for 64GB of storage. Adding 4G LTE with AT&T or Verizon costs a further US$100. The Wi-Fi-only iPad Mini, meanwhile, costs US$329 even in its base 16GB model, making it more expensive than a Kindle Fire HDX 7.0 with four times the storage capacity. 32GB and 64GB variants are US$559 and US$659 respectively. Adding 4G LTE connectivity costs US$130 more, and avoiding advertising on the lock screen and screensavers costs you another $15.

The Fire HDX tablets share an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.2 lens. If you want to get your dedicated camera's photos onto the tablet, you'll need to use an Eye-Fi card or similar, though.

Of course, that's not entirely fair, because the iPad Mini also has a 0.9-inch greater screen diagonal. Compared to the 8.9-inch Fire HDX Wi-Fi at US$379, the iPad Mini saves you $50 by opting for a one-inch smaller screen. That's true only for the lowest capacity, though. Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 units in 32GB and 64GB capacities are much cheaper than their iPad Mini equivalents, despite having a larger screen, at $429 and $479 respectively. And again, adding 4G LTE connectivity increases the price by only $100, and you have to pay $15 to opt out of advertising.

If all of these prices are too rich for your blood, you have another options that blows pricing for its rivals out of the water. The original Kindle Fire HD -- again, available in 7.0-inch or 8.9-inch variants -- is even more affordable. The 7.0-inch Kindle Fire HD can be picked up for just US$139 for 8GB, or US$169 for 16GB. (Plus US$15 to opt out of advertising.) The 8.9-inch Fire HD now costs US$269 for 16GB, US$299 for 32GB, or US$399 for 64GB, and here you can opt out of advertising for $15, and add 4G LTE with AT&T for US$100.

There is, of course, a catch with all of this. Apple's platform still seems to dominate developers' minds, with many popular photo apps appearing first -- or exclusively -- on iOS. With the Kindle Fire series, you're running Android. And not just Android, but a locked-down fork of Android called Amazon Fire OS, which among other things prevents you accessing Google Play in favor of Amazon's own Appstore.

The Fire HDX 7.0 is the smaller and more affordable of the two new models.

Would you willingly forego Apple's iOS or a more standard variant of Google's Android to get your hands on the Kindle Fire HDX's hardware, including its high-res screen? Or would the cost savings of the now-discounted Kindle Fire HD sway you to Amazon's stable? Discuss in the comments below.