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The Kindle Fire HDX Hardware

At times, last year’s Fire felt like it was a mix of boutique and bargain bin parts. Not this time. This time around, there’s very little by way of hardware to knock the Fire HDX on.

Before we get into the under-the-hood improvements, though, let’s take a minute to appreciate the sitting-on-the-hood-wearing-a-speedo remodel of the tablets themselves. They’re, erm, trapezoidal. It’s probably a stretch to call them beautiful, but they are pleasant enough to look at, and feel absolutely solid.

And they are—they’re made from a molded magnesium body, which Amazon tweaked this year to get rid of the midframe, which makes the HDX (especially the 13.2-ounce 8.9-inch version) feel incredibly light. For reference, a 9.7-inch iPad 4 weighs 23.04oz—almost twice as much. The 8.9-inch HDX might be the most surprisingly lightweight tablet I’ve ever held (non-junk-plastic division). In fact, “light” might be wrong—the weight was shaved to the point that it feels balanced. Meaning, holding it, you don’t feel really any uncomfortable pressure on your fingers as the tablet’s weight groans on them. It’s something you’ll enjoy holding one-handed, and that’s enough, sort of, to shrug off the ugly shock of plastic along the top of the rear panel.

The biggest weak point of the HD was probably the TI OMAP processors found in both models. They were just too slow. So for the HDX went with a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800. It (and the move to Jelly Bean 4.2.2) has Fire OS positively flying compared to the at-times sluggish performance from a year ago. It needed the boost, especially since the deceptively graphics-intensive carousel UI is still in place, only now with a bunch more pixels to push. To that end, it’s also upgraded to 2GB of RAM, up from 1GB.

The other massive, massive improvement is the buttons. You can actually find them now. Instead of the completely-flush buttons of the Fire HD, the HDX now has a circular power button on the left, and a volume rocker on the right They’re still recessed, but not in a way that makes them impossible to find in the dark, or even in the light if you don’t know where to look.

The screens are both improved as well. The 7-inch version got a boost from 1280x800 to 1920x1200, and the 8.9-inch edition went all the way to 2560x1600. That’s 323 and 339 pixels per inch, respectively, up from 216 and 254 PPI last year. (The iPad is 264, and the Nexus 10 300). They’re bright, too—both have 400-nit light sources, which is good since some pixel-dense screens can be dimmer than you’d like. The viewing angles on the tablet seemed impressive at a glance, but the color performance was the standout. Amazon claims it’s 100 percent color accurate (based on sRGB), and it’s kind of easy to believe. We really liked the colors on last year’s HD, but this year’s screens seem geniunely great.

For battery life, Amazon’s claiming 11 hours (up from 10 last year). That’s interesting given the upgraded screen resolutions and the accompanying brighter, 400-nit light (brighter light, more battery drain). Amazon says the efficiency comes from the efficient new panel it’s using—not unlike Sharp’s Igzo displays—that lets more light through the pixels, even at high densities. Reading mode uses even less power, and Amazon claims 17-hours of reading time thanks to optimized power states for the processor and memory.

Samsung Galaxy S4 - Multimedia and Apps

Multimedia

Although the Samsung Galaxy S4 multimedia features aren’t quite as advanced as those of the HTC One, which pairs Beats audio with forward-facing stereo speakers, it holds its own on this front.

It looks small, but Samsung Galaxy S4 speaker pumps out a surprisingly strong sound, with music playback enough to satisfy most casual users. During video playback, as well as benefitting from the stunning screen, the Samsung Galaxy S4 digs out nuances that some rivals would miss, while avoiding too much distortion at higher volumes.

With 16GB, 32GB and 64GB versions available there is an option that will suit even the heaviest of multimedia consumers. For those wanting to keep costs as low as possible, a microSD card slot lets you expand the memory by up to 64GB, too.

These quoted capacities should be taken with a considerable pinch of salt, however. Our review model, the 16GB version, had a little over 9GB of accessible storage, almost half of what was listed.

Samsung Galaxy S4

The Samsung Galaxy S4 supports all manner of audio and video file types with the standard and well-known MP3, MPEG4, DivX and WMA file types joined by more obscure Sorenson Spark and VP8 file types.

Ensuring that this range of multimedia content is at your disposal as and when desired, the Samsung Galaxy S4 home screens can be adorned with a selection of music and video centric widgets, offering instant access you’re your digital content.

Simple and effective, these widgets are easy to position and a joy to use, improving the overall user experience and cutting down the amount of time spent jumping in and out of designated apps just to change a track.

Further bolstering the handset’s multimedia credentials, the silicone tipped in-ear headphones that come boxed with the Samsung Galaxy S4 are a perfectly acceptable pair of earbuds that offer detailed sound without ever breaking new ground.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Apps

Apps

The Galaxy S4 gives users ample opportunity to top up their handset’s app collection with not one, but two designated app stores vying for your custom and cash. But the presence of two app stores, Samsung Apps and the more familiar Google Play Store, only confuses matters. Samsung Apps has less choice that its Google Play counterpart, and things become confusing when price discrepancies between the two stores appear for the exact same apps, casting doubt into every app purchase.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Eraser
The S4 gave us no problems when running apps. Unlike the Sony Xperia Z, it handled a heavy-duty Real Racing 3 session without any issues.

Far from a one-off anomaly, price variations encompass most apps with neither store proving particular cheaper than its rival in the long run. Examples of these price fluctuations include TuneIn Radio Pro, a £3 purchase through Samsung Apps that will set you back £3.31 via the Google Play Store. Not limited to any particular app category, the Sonic CD game costs just £2.35 through Google Play compared with the £3 Samsung Apps frequenters are forced to pay.

Further compounding the confusion, given its exclusivity to Samsung branded handsets, Samsung Apps is still missing a number of recently released high-profile applications, such as the new Cut the Rope: Time Travel.

Samsung Nexus 10 review

When Apple introduced the famed Retina display to the third-generation Apple iPad, it set a bar so high that the rest of the industry struggled to catch up. That’s until Google and Samsung joined forces to produce the Google Nexus 10.

Incredibly, the display on the Nexus 10 has an even higher pixel density than the iPad’s. Its 10in screen is an IPS panel with a resolution of 2,560x1,600, giving a pixel density of 300ppi, some 14% higher than the iPad’s 264ppi. The result is a screen with stunningly crisp graphics and super-sharp text.

Google Nexus 10
We simply can’t do the screen justice here, it’s really quite astoundingly sharp

It’s also a good-quality screen. We measured its maximum brightness as 436cd/m2 and contrast as 807:1, so brightness is similar to that of the iPad but contrast isn’t quite as high. In our subjective tests, we felt colours weren’t quite as vibrant as on Apple’s tablet, so images didn’t have quite as much punch.

Google Nexus 10
Not as classy as the iPad but better than Samsung’s recent own-brand efforts

The tablet isn’t as lovely to behold as the iPad, but we still like it. Instead of metal, the Nexus 10’s chassis is built entirely from grippy rubber-coated plastic. The black chassis is curvier than the iPad’s, and the bezel around the display is broader as well. At 603g, it’s 49g lighter than the iPad, which makes it very comfortable to hold. We’ve no problems with build quality, and the fact the glass on the front is Corning’s tough, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass is another big bonus. The Nexus 10 feels like it would survive a drop better than the iPad.

Google Nexus 10

It isn’t short on features, either. Around the edges you’ll find Micro HDMI, a 3.5mm headphone output and a Micro USB port. You can only charge the Nexus from scratch with the included charger, but it can be topped up via USB if you leave the charger at home. Wireless connections, meanwhile, can be made via Bluetooth, NFC or dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. There’s GPS, a 5-megapixel camera with flash on the rear and a 720p webcam on the front. The main camera takes pretty impressive pictures, but composing shots using an unwieldy tablet is never easy. The only thing missing is a memory expansion slot to add to the Nexus’ 16GB (or 32GB) of storage.

With all those pixels to shunt about, you might be worried that the Nexus 10’s dual-core 1.7GHz Cortex-A15 processor wouldn’t be able to cope, but the tablet performs admirably thanks to its top-end Mali T604 graphics core and 2GB of RAM. Critically, all the games we threw at it, from Asphalt 7 to Shadowgun, barely skipped a beat. The only problem is the screen is so good that it’s easy to spot where the developers have taken shortcuts.

Google Nexus 10

The Nexus 10 coped with both local and online 1080p video files, and notwithstanding the slightly below-par contrast, they looked stunning. This makes the Nexus 10 a far better device for mobile video fans than the iPad, given its huge range of available video players and easy drag-and-drop file transfer from a PC - no syncing problems or Dropbox workarounds here.

In general use, too, the tablet’s Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system runs very smoothly. There’s not a hint of lag anywhere, whether scrolling from homescreen to homescreen, browsing through app launcher screens or, critically, when typing with the on-screen keyboard. The keyboard lets you type by swiping from side to side, as with the third-party Swype keyboard, but we found it more comfortable on a screen this broad to stick to traditional tapping.

As it comes with Android 4.2, the Nexus 10 also supports multiple user accounts - a first for tablet devices and something that’s unlikely to be available on iPad ever. If you live with friends or family, this means you can share the device, with each user having their own email, bookmarks, apps, home screens, settings and preferences. It’s a brilliant implementation of a feature that’s been well overdue on tablets. Buy one, keep it on your coffee table, and let all the family use it.

Google Nexus 10

If there’s anywhere the Nexus 10 struggles, it’s with complex, picture-heavy web pages. This may sound strange, considering the tablet has enough grunt to play back movies and games with barely a dropped frame, but on the Flickr website and the BBC home page, for example, scrolling and panning lagged and stuttered. It’s not a horrendous problem, but it’s enough to be noticeable.

More serious, though, is the fact that this high-resolution screen saps the battery. When playing our test video on loop at mid brightness, the tablet lasted only 8h 34m, which is almost two hours less than the Nexus 7 and a long way behind the iPad’s 11 hours plus. It’s still enough to watch four films in a row, though.

The slightly below-par battery life, and the fact there’s no 3G (or 4G) version of the Nexus 10, are its only real drawbacks, and it’s hard to argue with the fact the tablet is £80 cheaper than the equivalent iPad. The Nexus 10 really is a bargain, and anyone looking for a good-value alternative to the iPad should be sorely tempted.

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