Amazon has just released the new Kindle Fire HDX. It costs $230 (and $380 for its 9-inch sibling), and it's terrific. The battery goes for about 11 hours. The stereo speakers sound great. The plastic case weighs less than the prior version. There's a mediocre camera on the front for video chatting (not on the back on the 7-inch model). The one big misfire was putting the power and volume keys on the back; you'll spend the first week hitting the Off button by mistake.
The screen packs in 323 tiny dots per inch, making the iPad Mini's 163 dots per inch look coarse. The home screen still features a sliding horizontal "carousel" of everything you've had open recently — books, movies, music, apps. Below that carousel, you now see a traditional grid of icons, just as on other tablets.
Amazon has started to bring its X-Ray trivia feature to movies and music. Some of the songs you buy from Amazon now display scrolling lyrics. And watching a movie with the X-Ray panel open is great fun; it identifies the actors in the scene before you, their bios one tap away.
Boldest and most stunning of all, though, is Mayday: a button that places an instant, free video call to a 24-hour help technician. The agents can see your screen, but can't see you. You can see the agents, and accept their invitation to take control of your Kindle or draw with virtual highlighter pens around elements of the screen.
The Kindle Fire is still clearly intended to show off the books, TV shows, music and videos from Amazon. But there's still no GPS navigation, no speech recognition, no to-do list or notes app.
It doesn't run standard Android apps. About 100,000 apps have been tailored for the Fire, but lots of important ones are missing — including Dropbox, SkyDrive and anything by Google. Meanwhile, Amazon has dropped the price of the Kindle Fire HD to $139.