Kindle Fire HDX – The Saga Continues

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by Chi Hung Luke Hsieh, AT Advocate at Community Access Center in Riverside

The annual CSUN conference on disability has come and gone, and despite it being slightly smaller this year, I nonetheless had the pleasure of attending an all-day workshop hosted by Amazon for the purpose of promoting their latest pet, the Kindle Fire HDX. And, since they touted the revamped accessibility features as one of its selling points, it’s fitting for me to write a review about it.
Firstly, all models of the Kindle Fire HDX are powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 – the standard state of the art processor for all high-end android devices since October of

Kindle Fire HDX

last year. The sheer sound of Snapdragon 800 induces a sense of excitement in yours truly the same way a cute anime girl such as Hatsune Miku would. Anyway, moving on, the HDX also features an amazing HD display – 300+ ppi (pixels per inch) which makes anime girls or any movies a joy to behold. Okay,  seriously now, moving on…

Due to the acquisition of Ivona, a Polish company that specializes in text to speech technology, in 2012 the HDX is equipped with multiple voice engines to boot: Australian English, British English, American English, (two of both male and female) a Canadian French, two standard French, two German, two Italian, two Brazilian Portuguese, one Russian and two Castilian Spanish. 

This obviously has implications for assistive technology users. For someone with dyslexia, it means your kindle is now multilingual and it can read books aloud not only in different languages, but also in clearly differentiated accents. For me, it means I can now have an affordable AAC device with a male adult voice with a British accent.  It means I can go to a bar and order a martini, shaken or stirred. I’m not sure how much more attractive it would make me, but it does make the device quite sexy. Of course, now Google, too, is catching up on the text to speech technology, so it will be interesting to see how much longer Amazon can hold on to this advantage.

As an often quoted Chinese Proverb goes, the deeper the love, the harsher the reprimand, and if there is one reason why the Kindle Fire should die a horrible death, it is because of the following: Amazon chose to run a forked version of Android and it decided to run its own closed app store. While on their own, the decision might still make sense, but together, these decisions are a folly. 

Let’s stop for a moment and think about what it means to run a forked Android. This means that whatever improvement you make on your device is bound to be superficial because any fundamental development of the operating system is done by google. This would still be tolerable if Amazon allowed its forked version of Android to be regularly updated or allowed google play to update their third party apps. None of these is happening and none of the new accessibility features can be downloaded to the old Kindle Fire HD (2012 version). This means that they made a tablet, updated it once or twice, and then left it to rot. 

I even asked them, frankly, at the workshop if we are expected to purchase a new model every year. But they only replied, “We are not here to talk about that.” However, that is essentially what has to be done in order for me to enjoy the new accessibility features. I have had to give my old Kindle Fire HD to my sister and buy a new Kindle Fire HDX.

The infamous eco-system of the Kindle Fire has been mentioned to death by just about every technology reviewer on earth. Running a closed app store that’s essentially a rip-off of google play also means that your third party vendors sometimes forget about you. A case in point, the android app Speech Assistant on google play (and on my LG G Flex) is currently the version 3.20, yet the same app on the amazon app store is only version 2.72. This frequently means less features and inferior versions of the same android app;  running both forked Android and a closed app store severely limits the potential of the Snapdragon 800.
Ultimately, love it or hate it, Kindle Fire HDX comes with attractive hardware and at a affordable price. In my opinion, it is a flawed beauty limited by business decisions which are completely out of touch with reality and limit the potential of the Snapdragon 800.

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