Announced in New York City six weeks ago, Amazon’s debut Google Android tablet is the company’s first foray into the tablet market, and the Internet giant made a splash with an innovative UI, attractive price that undercuts competitors, and a breadth of content thanks to a diverse ecosystem that takes aim squarely at Apple’s iPad. Early reviews of the Kindle Fire are now out–we promise we’ll have one up as soon as we can–and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive, but there’s a caveat. Despite high-end specs–dual-core 1 GHz processing power, bright, vivid 7-inch display, and attractive form factor–Amazon had to cut a few corners and trim some extra costs to stuff all that Android tech into a $200 package.
For most users, these trade-offs will be welcomes as you still get an advanced package at a truly affordable price. Power users will need to examine what they will use their tablets for and decide if the pros outweigh the cons.
Here are some of the highlights from early reviews:
- MSNBC‘s Wilson Rothman sums it up best: “The Kindle Fire can handle about 80 percent of what I want to do on an iPad, for 40 percent of the price.” Rothman notes that Amazon’s Silk browser is fast and fluid, but complains that the Fire lacks some of the goodies like microphones, cameras, and precision unibody aluminum construction that the iPad has. Additionally, there’s also no 3G so your video streaming is limited to WiFi.
- More harsh is Tim Stevens from Engadget, who summarized the Kindle’s somewhat anemic performance due to a paltry 512 MB RAM (compared to 1 GB on Honeycomb tablets) and a heavy UI leading to sluggish performance. However, given the price point, Stevens concedes that the Fire does well for its class: “When stacked up against other popular tablets, the Fire can’t compete. Its performance is a occasionally sluggish, its interface often clunky, its storage too slight, its functionality a bit restricted and its 7-inch screen too limiting if you were hoping to convert all your paper magazine subscriptions into the digital ones. Other, bigger tablets do it better — usually at two or three times the cost.” The value in the Kindle Fire, Stevens writes, is in the “integration of digital content.”
- Like Engadget, Gizmodo‘s Sam Biddle also complained about heavy lags, especially in the browser. Overall, though, Biddle notes, “Luckily for Amazon, its tablet is among the peppier around—but it’s pretty pathetic that it can’t match the iPad at this point. Paper doesn’t lag. Your Kindle shouldn’t either.”
- Lance Ulanoff, writing for Mashable, admits that the Fire has its own quirks–crashes, freezes, and lags–but admits that the Fire “is a tablet that simply works.” Ulanoff finds that there is some inconsistencies with the heavily skinned UI in Amazon’s attempt to hide the Android OS underneath, and the result is something that isn’t as polished as Apple’s iOS.
- CNET lays it out with the pros and cons up-front, and Donald Bell says that the Fire is a no-frills tablet as it lacks some premium features–no HDMI out, no GPS, no 3G option, lack of cameras, no microphone, and 8 GB of storage. For kids, there’s also minimal parental controls–and given the wealth of movies and digital content available through Amazon’s own repository, this may not bode well with parents. However, givthe $199 Kindle Fire is an outstanding entertainment value that prizes simplicity over techno-wizardry.”
- Joshua Topolsky of The Verge is concerned that Amazon’s disparate implementation of the Android platform will create futher fragmentation of the ecosystem. At this time, Topolsky observes, Amazon is hoping that developers will warm up to Amazon’s implementation of Android and create experiences for Amazon’s own Amazon Appstore for Android rather than for Google’s Android Market.
The Kindle Fire is a first-generation tablet and it will be interesting to see how Amazon can improve on the experience while still keeping the price down. The heavily skinned UI is attractive, simple, cohesive, and deeply integrated to provide a rich experience rather than a mere skin, but in establishing its own digital storefronts and experiences, Amazon can be a threat not to just Apple, but Google. As a platform, if Amazon’s Kindle Fire grows big enough, the real threat would be fragmentation. If apps are only available on certain devices, and with competing app stores, Topolsky hit the nail on the head in his observations as the casual tablet enthusiast, to which the Fire is targeted at, will definitely be confused on why his tablet cannot do things his friend’s tablet can.
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