Review: Amazon Kindle Fire-A Nice Small Flame

The Amazon Kindle Fire is already and will continue to be a much talked about device. My Kindle Fire arrived early and due to a busy schedule I have not had as much time as I would like to play with the device. But, I’ve had enough time in a hectic schedule to discover that I think this device is going to be a real keeper for me. I also think that Amazon has been extremely smart about how it has built, marketed and hyped the device. This is going to be a popular device with many. And there are going to be (there already are) a bunch of reviews that ache to compare it to Apple’s iPad or label it a competitor. Let’s deal with that right away.

First and foremost, if you read what I scribble on the pages here at GBM there’s no mistaking me for anything other than an iPad guy when it comes to Tablets. I’ve tried Android Tablets and I’ve tried the HP Touchpad. Nothing yet comes close to being a real Tablet competitor to the iPad or the iPad 2. (Side note: Save the Android fan boy rebukes. None of them are original anymore and in all candor, I’m really happy that you are really happy with your Android Tablet. As long as it works for you and does what you want and need it to I think that’s fantastic. I’m not trying to change your mind about your preference. You aren’t going to change my mind. Google might some day. But that day has yet to come. ) But what about the Kindle Fire? While the Kindle Fire and the iPad 2 generically belong to the same family of devices we’re really talking apples and oranges. The Kindle Fire is the orange and the iPad 2 is, well… complete the analogy for yourself. These are two different devices aimed at different segments of multiple markets and while bloggers and gadget reviewers might want to shortcut their analysis by comparing them, in my opinion, they are selling both devices short by doing so.

Don’t get me wrong. There will be some consumers who will make a choice between an iPad (or some other Tablet) and a Kindle Fire. Saying that the two devices are going to compete for consumer attention is as obvious a statement as saying that fire burns or water is wet. I’m guessing there will be quite a few folks who will choose a Kindle Fire instead of an iPad 2. That’s only natural and it is largely due to Amazon nailing perhaps the most important feature in today’s world of collapsing economies: price point. At $200 Amazon nailed this most important feature. Most folks only have so much money to spend. In truth depending on how you plan to use one of these devices, you can get much of the same functionality on either device. Forget specs, forget form factor, forget OS wars, if a consumer is looking at a gadget this Christmas, I think the Kindle Fire will be very alluring. That said, Apple is going to sell a lot of iPad 2s as well. So, those who count the coffers at Amazon and Apple will be both happy and busy this holiday season.

The iPad and iPad 2 have been criticized for being a consumption only device. That’s last week’s as well as weak criticism because developers and users have shown that you can create on that platform. The Kindle Fire is first and foremost a consumption device and Amazon makes no pretensions about that fact. Amazon wants to use the Kindle Fire to sell you stuff. The design and form factor make this readily apparent. Those looking for HDMI connections, USB ports, etc… are coming at the Kindle Fire all wrong. At least for version 1 of the device.

So, bottom line, comparing the Kindle Fire to the iPad 2 is much like comparing a film classic to Reality TV. While the Kindle Fire does indeed contain some Tablet functionality, calling it a Tablet not only is wrong in my opinion, I think Amazon agrees with that perspective. That’s why you hear the world Tablet mentioned in relation to the Kindle Fire only by none Amazonians.  I’ve already read some interesting criticism of the Kindle Fire that seems to start from the perspective that the Kindle Fire should be a Tablet, and I think that’s the wrong way to start. Amazon with the Kindle Fire, like Apple with the iPad has created a window on its own world. Both world’s are about consuming media, both world’s are about purchasing. But there the similarities end. Apple’s world is also about creation and a vision that may or may not pan out of a post-PC world. Amazon is content for you to enter its store, spend money on things, and if you can enjoy those things on a Kindle Fire, so much the better. Note also that Amazon doesn’t care if you spend money in its stores on other Tablets and devices either.

So, why do I think that the Kindle Fire is going to be a keeper for me? Well, it solves a few things that the 2nd Gen Kindle I owned didn’t. It also removes one thing that I liked. It also solves an issue or two I have with consuming Amazon content on other devices.

The biggest issue solved by the Kindle Fire is that I no longer have to a book light or leave a light on when I’m reading at night. Coupled this with the fact that I find it easier to hold the Kindle Fire rather than the iPad 2 when I’m reading laying down or propped up on pillows, this is a big win. The bright, backlit screen alleviates the need for a light. I enjoyed reading on the e-Ink screen in most other circumstances except in bed. That said, the non e-Ink screen means that the Kindle Fire won’t be as readable in daylight, so there’s a trade off there. But in my life, I spend more time reading at night than I do out on a beach, so that’s a fair trade off for me.

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Second: While the Kindle Fire is a heavier device, I enjoy the feel of it in my hands. It is smaller than the iPad 2, which I have been using for reading, so if my early reaction holds, this will become my reading device of choice. There are some issues here that I’ll talk about later though.

Third: This may sound contradictory to what I’ve said earlier but bear with me, the fact that I can easily check email and do some other Tablet like functionality on this device is a real plus. It’s not that I expect to use this as a Tablet, I don’t. But I do like the option available to do other things if they become necessary.

Fourth: Like it or not, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft and others are in a battle where they want us to choose their respective ecosystem. Yes, devices matter. But, this is really all about us choosing a place to shop and spend our money. Just like I enjoy the benefits of Apple’s ecosystem, I also enjoy the benefits of Amazon’s and have been doing so for some time. Amazon got me like it did many others via books. It has gotten me hooked in so many other categories that I often find if I can’t purchase something on Amazon, then I just don’t purchase it. So, in many respects, I’m the guy Amazon is after with the Kindle Fire.

Below are some thoughts on the Kindle Fire.

The Device and Form Factor

I did not expect to like the device when I first picked it up. We all know that it is extremely similar to the RIM Playbook, and I wasn’t that enamored of that device when I played around with it. The 7-inch form factor doesn’t really suit my needs for Tablet computing, so that was another expectation. That said, when I took the device out of the box, I really enjoyed how it felt in my hand. It felt solid, it felt good to hold. It felt like it was worth more than $200. When I pick up a new gadget for the first time there’s usually an intangible, visceral reaction to it that is either positive or negative. Picking up the Kindle Fire for the first time it was very positive.

The form factor offers very little to explore. An on/off button on the bottom, next to a mini-usb connector for charging, next to an audio jack. On the top are two speaker slots. The rest is all case and screen. The ratio of screen to bezel is nicely proportioned. And interesting note about that location of the On/Off button. I’ve put the Kindle Fire in the hands of five friends. All of them looked for the On/Off button on the top. When the located it on the bottom all comments were in the realm of “that’s odd.”

Some might find the device a tad on the heavy side. I do as well, but I don’t think that’s a defeating factor. Your tastes may be different.

When you turn on the device, the screen is bright and crisp and, this is an intangible, just feels like you would expect it to look.

This is not a device to slip into a pants pocket. At least none of the pants with pockets that I own. But a case around it and it will also difficult to get it into some jacket or blazer pockets.

The OS

We all should know by now that Amazon has taken Android 2.3 and made that OS its own. This is a wise move and shows that Amazon understands the market it is aiming for. To be honest, the guts of the OS could be anything that could power the user experience that Amazon has created. But Amazon has gone all in with Android, deciding that this will be the place its Apps come from for all but the hacker crowd.  When you delve into settings you’ll see Android touches, but they are largely irrelevant to the user experience. You’ll also see Android notifications at the top of the screen, the familiar home button and different buttons along the bottom of the screen depending on the context of what you’re viewing. If you’ve never used an Android device before, none of this screams Android at you, and that’s just the way Amazon wants it. I’m sure those who enjoy hacking will enjoying rooting this device as well. Be on notice though. Word is going around that if you root the Kindle Fire and you’re a Prime member, you’ll lose free video viewing through Amazon Prime.

The User Experience

So, let’s talk about that user experience. It greets you right up front after you get the device setup. If you’ve been reading Kindle Books you’ll see those titles on an easy to scroll top part of the screen with a few Apps (Amazon’s store being one) on a shelf below that. That lower shelf is your favorites. You can move books, Apps, etc.. to this shef and the one below it for quick access without scrolling through the tiles at the top of the screen. Open an App, bookmark a webpage, and they appear in the scrollable tiles here. Essentially this is a list of what you’re working with at any given point.

Tap a tile and you’re taken to that App, or book, or whatever the tile represents. Across the top of these colorful tiles is a bar that lists Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and the Web. Tap one of those categories and you’re taken to a different set of shelves with just that categories contents viewable. Except for the Web button, which takes you to the browser. More on that in a second. There’s also a search box that allows you to search your device or the web.

I’m guessing most consumers Amazon is targeting will never delve much deeper than a level or two beyond these easily navigable screens or the Apps that might get installed. But if you do, everything is easily scrollable or swipeable to get to what you’re looking for.

Here also is where hardware design, OS, and user experience metaphor don’t jive that well. Some things are easy to touch and scroll. Some times a tap doesn’t register and there’s no indicator that you haven’t registered a strong enough tap. Sometimes things scroll too quickly as the touch and scroll are not perfectly optimized. The what I call “sloppy touch” implementation is probably a vestige of using Android. I would hope Amazon addresses this in the future, but I wouldn’t call the touch experience optimal by any means. I’ve never been a fan of Android touch implementation and I’d like to see Amazon find a way to take this to a better level in the future.

Video

I’m an Amazon Prime member and so viewing what video Amazon offers for free on this device promises to be a plus. In bringing up a movie I’m generally pleased in early testing. It takes a while for the content to buffer but once it does thinks play nicely. The speakers are nothing to write home about, but then I would imagine most users are going to be using some sort of earbuds anyway. Netflix loaded up content in much the same way as Amazon videos and played crisply after buffering, but I haven’t watched a film all the way through yet.

Reading

Since I’m looking at this as a device to read my Kindle content this is obviously important. I’m mentioned that I like the look and feel of the device and that I like the backlit screen. Pages turn quickly enough and the functions I use when reading (changing type size, bookmarking) are there and work as I would expect them to.

Music

I have a portion of my music collection already in Amazon’s cloud because I purchase a lot of my music through Amazon. It then gets moved over to iTunes. I don’t see myself changing the way I do that. But I can see myself playing some Amazon purchased music while reading on the Kindle.

Web Browsing

Amazon trumpeted its Silk browser and the technology that is supposed to make web pages render quicker. That technology caches things on Amazon’s end and then pushes it all at once to the browser on your Kindle. I’m not seeing much of a difference in every day use in terms of speed. And frankly, I don’t see myself using the web browser much on this device.

The Keyboard

I haven’t used a keyboard that I’ve found this frustrating since the HP TouchPad. It is too easy to make an errant key press. I don’t care for this keyboard at all. I never used an Android 2.3 keyboard, but if this is what Amazon is using here, they should ditch it and start over. This is a huge weakness of the device.

All in all I’m impressed with what I see with the Kindle Fire. It is not a great device. It is a good device. I’ll obviously know more about it down the road, but I can see it becoming a fixture in my gadget bag. It won’t replace the iPad 2. But again, I don’t think it is supposed to. I know I’m unusual and that many would be very happy with and either or choice here and that’s just great.

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I also have to say that I think Amazon is just getting started here. I’m anxious to see where Amazon will take the Kindle Fire in the future. My hope would be that Amazon would retain its current focus and not try to branch out into the broader range of Tablet computing. But then, who knows.

Comments

  1. BrianB13 says

    Have you tried to read a magazine on it?  It looks like crap.  Very poor formatting.  There is browser lag.  Amazon Prime doesn’t interest me bacause they aren’t really all that current with content.  Needless to say, a just dropped my Kindle Fire off at the UPS store to return it.  The Kindle Fire may be a step up for Kindle owners and total novices when it comes to tablets.  I truly hope they enjoy their Kindle Fire.  I’m getting a real tablet like the Samsung Galxy Tab 10.1, the iPad 2 or the Lenovo Tegra 3 Quad Core tablet coming out next month.  One other thing, a 7″ tablet just doesn’t do it for me. 

    • Anonymous says

      I have not tried to read a magazine on it, so it is good to hear your experiences about that.

      • Andrys says

        I just replied to Brian,
          Be sure to explore the magazine’s offering of two different reading-modes — one that just presents the magazine as it looks in larger form (harder to read though you can zoom up on a column.

          The other mode is to read it in text style, as with a Kindle book, with accompanying photos, and this has been pleasing to many of us who have tried that important option.

    • Andrys says

      BrianB13,
        It can “look like crap” until you find the icon above that lets you see the text-version with photos instead of the magazine emulations. 

        These always have a magazine emulation version and a normal text version that looks like your Kindle book pages with a photo on the first page and on some subsequent pages.

        They are very easy to read.  But most reviewers I’ve read didn’t see that there is this important alternative.  Even the table of contents is different, but you get a choice between two types.

  2. Quite Satisfied says

    I love my KFire! I didn’t want an iPad or any other 10 in. tablet. I have a fantastic laptop and quad-core
    desktop and I use both for serious work. I just wanted a tablet to read my ebooks, listen to my music, 
    catch a movie, and do some occasional browsing and email.
    And yes, it does fit into my back pocket quite nicely.

    • Anonymous says

      Can’t download free apps without buying at least ten to thirty dollars worth app that I do not want for one free app. I hate it.

  3. Eric says

    I disagree with a few comments: I have a kindle fire and the touchscreen is beautiful, bright, movies look awesome, I have a Golf Digest subscription and that looks awesome on it as well. As for the keyboard I thought it was very easy to use however I am an android user on a 3″ screen so I am now very accustomed to the key presses. I really liked the customization of the screens and it is much more neatly organized than Android. 

    Also in relating uses and why people are comparing it to the IPad – people are referring it to the IPad because most of us if not all of us still have a laptop or desktop to do all of our serious work. What this means is most if not all are still confused at what is the purpose of an Ipad or Tablet is still? Each day the definition and purpose of a tablet is changing. In my mind it is to consume media (just like Amazon is doing here). Read books, read magazines, play games, watch movies, browse the web, listen to music, maybe even some lite word processing (QuickOffice and Open Office available to edit and create documents – works pretty well). It is not to replace our laptops or computers. So why spend $600 for a media consumption device when you can spend $200 and get something much cheaper……

    This is what is so revolutionary about the Kindle Fire (it is attempting to merge both the E-book market and the tablet market) into a neatly designed media consumption market.

    It will be very interesting to see how the tablet market turns. If IPad wants to keep its share of the overall tablet market. Clearly millions of people are on board with the Kindle Fire. I really think Apple needs to break off and create two different devices or convince the consumer to ditch their laptop altogether for an IPad at a $600-$800 price point. Because those of us looking for a “in-between” are going to go the Kindle Fire or Barnes and Noble Nook if they don’t. 

  4. Anonymous says

    Is there a decent email application in the OS? I guess it is Androids email? I’m considering buying this device for my 93 year old mother who would read email from bed and maybe watch a movie or two, read paper.

    • Quite Satisfied says

      There are a number of issues to take into consideration with your mother’s physical health being paramount. You have to consider her eyesight because of the smaller screen. It naturally means smaller text. Sure you can enlarge it but then that means more use of her hands and fingers.
      I would not recommend the KFire for reading magazines since it involves a lot of scrolling.
      The email client allows you to connect to your Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo email accounts or set up one of your choice. 
      One thing to consider is that the virtual keyboard for the KFire is very sensitive and relatively small (although landscape orientation helps).
      She would need to be very accurate in typing to get the right key and also, because of the sensitivity, she would have to avoid double typing. A larger tablet might better suit her as long as you consider
      the added weight. Even here though a larger tablet might suit her better if portability is not really a problem.
      If she likes to read ebooks and/or watch movies/tv shows and she doesn’t want something that’s too big for her then the KFire would be very nice for her. Email could be problematic. If she is an Amazon Prime member then she’ll have more free choices.

      • Anonymous says

        Thanks for  the feedback. I concur with all your findings. She does not want to learn anything knew,but if I can just get her to read her email, it will be worth the $199.

  5. Kitchen Benchtops says

    Guess most consumers Amazon is targeting never delve much
    deeper than a level or two beyond these easily navigable screens or the
    Apps that might get installed.Is this right? 

  6. Andrys says

    Warner,
    It turns out it depends on the magazine.  The New Yorker on the Kindle Fire is, in my view, horrific.  Can’t zoom! Can’t go to Landscape mode.  I can’t imagine what the designers were thinking.  Don’t they care that the advertisements can’t be read either?

     I have a Kindle e-Ink text subscription to New Yorker with one picture to an article and the text is more important to me than the look of the page and I can *search* the New Yorkers this way.  Not as likely with the graphics-oriented versions of magazines unless they have pure-text views but for some reason I couldn’t find a pure text view with the New Yorker.

      I’m used to webpage columns that, on Android, allow me to pinch-zoom to a large, readable font (make sure it’s overflowing the borders) and then a double-click causes that text to re-flow very nicely within the borders at the chosen size.   At that point the size of a screen doesn’t matter.  It’s more like honing in on a newspaper column that’s very readable.

      All of that is lost with the New Yorker subscription in the last issue I saw this week.  They’re going to have to change that.

      I really like the NookColor’s handling of Nat’l Geo.  (And I’m a Kindle person most of the time.)  Pinch-zoom works so that you can read text in context (wrapped around photos used in Nat’l Geo) and you also choose instead ‘article view’ which is one picture + pure text in a good, medium size.  Amazon and the New Yorker need to do this for the Kindle Fire version of the New Yorker.

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