NEW YORK: New tablet computers from Amazon and Google run on Google’s Android operating system, but the function of both devices is not the same. In the new Fire HDX 8.9, Amazon continues a practice of modifying Android extensively to drive users to Amazon services. While Google’s new Nexus 9 offers pure Android experience to drive users to Google service.
Apps open slightly faster and sound is much better in this year’s version of the tablet. There’s less distortion using speakers. For headphone use, the new model supports Dolby’s Atmos technology for three-dimensional sound, though Amazon’s video service is only starting to make Atmos movies available.
Amazon is also bringing the Firefly feature introduced in its Fire phone over the summer. Firefly uses the device’s camera to pull out phone numbers, scan bar codes and even identify everyday products. Amazon now lets you share tablets with separate profiles for two adults and four kids. The kids’ profiles offer time limits and other restrictions, such as playing games only after spending a half-hour on educational books. An upcoming update also will let users share Amazon content across multiple devices, similar to what Apple has done with its Family Sharing feature.
Like the previous model, the Fire offers one-button access to live customer support. Amazon’s Mayday advisers appear in a video box on users screen and can help them find apps, operate the camera or figure out why something isn’t working properly. It’s a great tool for the less technically inclined.
What distinguishes the Fire most is its tie-in to Amazon.com Inc.’s services. The home screen offers quick access to Amazon videos, songs, e-books and shopping.
As far as the Nexus is concerned it offers users a taste of Lollipop, the latest version of Android. Lollipop lets you interact with email and other notifications right from the lock screen, and it lets you unlock the device using the presence of a trusted device, such as an Android smart watch. Like other Lollipop devices, the Nexus supports multiple profiles — up to eight, with no restrictions on which are for adults. A swipe from the left gets you the Google Now virtual assistant, if you’ve turned that on.
Made by HTC, the Google-designed device is slimmer and lighter than the previous Nexus 10. The dimensions have changed to match the iPad’s and are now better for viewing photos, Web pages and documents. The Nexus also comes with a near-field communication chip, enabling mobile payments through Google Wallet. Apple’s iPads lack this chip and allow Apple Pay only for online purchases.
The Fire and Nexus devices are more affordable and should meet many people’s needs. The Fire is great for those newcomers, thanks to its Mayday help offering. Those newcomers — along with casual users and Amazon power users — also might not mind the reduced app selection. But if you need to do more at this price point, the Nexus 9 is likely for you.