New Kindle Fire tablets receive good response from reviewers

The tech community seems especially impressed by a feature called Mayday, which calls up an Amazon tech support employee via video chat to help with tablet issues.

Stephen Brashear/Invision/AP
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holds up the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (l.) and the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX (r.).

New Amazon Kindle Fire tablets have arrived, and so far, the tech community seems to be impressed with the three devices.

Amazon’s new tablets are the 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX, and the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX. The new version of the Kindle Fire HD is being priced at $139, while the 7-inch HDX comes in at $229, and the 8.9-inch is $379.

One of the most touted features of the new HDX tablets is a tool called Mayday, which lets users press a button and an Amazon employee will appear via video chat on the tablet to offer tech support. Through Mayday, the Amazon worker can control the user tablet to make any necessary changes or fix problems. At the same time, a mute button is available so that users can talk to someone else without the customer rep hearing. Users can also tell the worker when they're about to enter information like a password so that screen-sharing can be turned off.

Amazon hopes that customers will wait no longer than 15 seconds to be connected with a Mayday staff member, and the service is available 365 days a year at any time of the day or night. Mayday is not available on the Kindle Fire HD but is free for HDX owners.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says allowing employees to manipulate the user screen makes the fix-it process easier for everyone.

“Describing to the customer where to tap and what to do is very difficult,” he said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “Here, our tech-support agents can just draw on your screen.” 

He said Amazon is ready for high user demand for Mayday.

“Initially, a lot of people will use it just to show it off,” he said. “We want to encourage that. It’s a ‘wow’ feature.”

PC Magazine writer Sascha Segan was especially impressed by this tool.

“I've never seen anything else like it on a tablet,” he wrote.

The HD and HDX tablets all run the operating system known as the Fire OS 3.0, or the “Mojito.” The HDX tablets have super-high-resolution screens.

Tablet users can download content such as movies or TV shows for viewing later if they’re in a situation where they don’t have WiFi available. In addition, other tools for enhanced viewing and listening are available, such as the X-Ray feature for music (lyrics pop up when you’re listening to a song) and the X-Ray tool for movies and TV, which identifies songs playing onscreen, the actors in a scene, and shows trivia about the film from the website IMDb, among other uses.

The Second Screen feature lets users send video content to a PlayStation 3 or Samsung TV, and while the video is playing, the tablet won’t have to continue playing the video, too, allowing users to read or go online at the same time if they prefer.

So far, many tech reviewers have responded positively to the Amazon demonstration of the devices, though many said they’ll have to get the tablets in their hands to write a full review. PC Magazine writer Segan said of the devices, “HD movies and games looked great and played smoothly thanks to the fast processor. The tablets no longer feel thick or cheap…. the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX looks pretty hard to beat, and the $139 Kindle Fire looks like a terrific kids' tablet…. Apple’s iPad mini is looking pretty threatened right now.”

CNET editors examined the new tablets and found that “Both the 7- and 8.9-inch HD screens seemed very crisp, with excellent color saturation and good contrast. Most importantly, they seemed fast – significantly more responsive than previous versions…. Amazon appears to be firing – pun intended – on all cylinders with its new devices. The prices are low, the specs are high-end, and the feature set is incredibly ambitious, especially Mayday and Second screen.”

USA Today writer Edward C. Baig had also received a favorable first impression.

“The screens on both the 7-inch and 8.9-inch models look terrific, with Amazon bolstering the display resolution on each compared with the prior generation,” he wrote.

Baig was also won over by Mayday.

“Mayday is the kind of knock-your-socks off feature that is not only sure to get attention, but that will play into Bezos' grand plan to cement Kindle's place in an excruciatingly competitive tablet market,” he said.

All three tablets are currently available for pre-order and the Kindle Fire HD will arrive first, shipping on Oct. 2, while the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX will ship on Oct. 18. The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX ships on Nov. 7.

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