After launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire in mid-November, it clearly shows that Amazon is trying to grab low-end market of tablets. Though Kindle lack of few “tablet-like” features, it’s affordable price label of only $199.00 along with great user experience makes it a best buy. But we should also keep in mind that, it was not solely produced to be used as tablet but more like an e-Reader.
It is difficult to discuss any tablet without comparing it to Apple’s iPad, but the Kindle Fire stacks up well. To proclaim this product as an “iPad Killer” would be premature and, frankly, a disservice to what Amazon is trying to meet with this release. The Fire is trying to fulfill a niche that more experienced consumer electronic companies have left, not for lack of effort, vacant.
The hardware is ordinary. Actually, it looks eerily similar to the Blackberry Playbook, which gives credence to the reports that Amazon used the Playbook’s reference design. To say it is ordinary is not to say, it is not appealing. At 7.5 inches, .45 inches thick, and just under 1lb it is a sleek-looking device. The Fire feels light in your hand so you will have no problem holding it in any place or time and the thickness provides a nice grip.
Along the sides you will notice that there is only one physical button, the power button, which also doubles as the screen lock. The only other ports are 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB port for charging and connecting to a computer. While using the device I found myself wondering why there is no volume rocker. Since most apps are developed to use volume keys, you need to adjust the volume through the system settings, which requires multiple screen taps to reach. Even that process is not consistent because in the Amazon Video Player you just need to tap on the screen to bring up the video controls, which includes volume. The decision not to have hard keys for the volume was a curious to say the least.
The screen is a 7-inch 1024 x 600 IPS LCD Gorilla Glass screen. It might not be the best display on the market but I had not complaints. The colors look crisp and clear; they did not seem washed or faded. People may complain about pixel density or low resolution but, to me, at $199 it is a luxury I am willing to give up.
It may not be a beautifully crafted device that people will gawk over, but you will not be embarrassed to use it in public or have it sitting on your coffee table. There are many examples of companies putting a lot of time into the look and feel of a product only for the user experience to be lacking. I am okay with having an average looking device as long as it gives me the experience I expect.
The Fire only comes in one option, 8GB. If you like to have all your media on the hard drive, it may be an issue because only 6GB are actually available and the memory is not expandable. However, Amazon does store your media to the cloud so you can either stream it from there or bring it to the device for offline playing. Speaking of, there is no 3G option, only WiFi. So you should make sure you have any songs, books, or movies loaded onto the device before heading out.
You will notice there is no camera, front or rear-facing, which I did not find to be a significant setback. Even though I have the option to video chat, I never do. Also, I find taking pictures with a tablet to be awkward. There are two speakers at the bottom – or top depending on how you hold it. The sound quality is good however it sounds a bit low even at the highest setting. You would be fine playing a video or song for a couple of people but if you tried to play something for a whole room it wouldn’t work out so well.
The big story is the custom version of Android the Kindle Fire is running. There is only the home screen, which is a bookshelf – did you expect anything else from Amazon? There are no other pages for you to tack widgets and apps to. On the home screen, the top half is your most recent music, movies, books, web pages, etc and the bottom half consists of your favorites, which you can rearrange like in Android or iOS. One thing I noticed was the most recent section scrolls left and right but the favorites scroll up and down; it was strange at first but only took a few minutes to get used to. From the home screen you can choose music, movies, books, newsstand, apps, documents, and web. Each is another shelf which holds the specified media.
The OS is pretty basic and easy to pick up. At the top right you can tap for setting such as brightness, volume, sync, WiFi, and then there is an option for “more” where you will find the system settings. When inside an app you can tap at the bottom to show the app settings. On the top left it says your name. When you have notifications a number shows up next to your name indicting how many. The touch responsiveness was good but the more I used I noticed the screen being unresponsive or a lag after a tap. Also the scrolling did not feel natural; at times, it was too fast or there was a delay.
The Fire has a native email client. It is simple and clean. If you are looking for an integrated Gmail experience you will be disappointed. However, it is perfect for keeping up with new emails and sending quick messages. Typing on the Fire is quite good; the keyboard in landscape mode is easy to maneuver. The auto-correct and predictive text were far better than I expected. Typing in portrait was probably the best. I was shocked at how quickly I was able to type out an email and with limited mistakes. Even though the keys look small and close together, it was an easy experience. If you plan checking a movie time in the browser while writing an email you better save a draft because there is no real multi-tasking, the only thing you can do is listen to music in the background while running an app.
The integrated Amazon services is the other big story about the Fire. Amazon sells all the media you could want on your device. As you would expect, you have access to that media from the Fire for easy purchase. When you buy any song, movie, app, or book it is all stored in the cloud so you can delete and bring it back to the device as you please.
Less well-known are the cloud and streaming services that Amazon provides.
Once you log in with your Amazon account the devices propagates music previously purchased through them. They are listed under the “Cloud” tab meaning either you can stream the media from the cloud or choose to download it to the Fire’s hard drive. If you have media from other sources, you can upload it to a free 5GB cloud storage – more memory is available at a yearly charge – or sync it via computer. Streaming music from the Cloud Player was fast and sound quality was good. Downloading it to the device was quick and painless.
Amazon has been proudly boasting about it’s Silk browser which is supposed to be faster by pre-loading pages in the background and anticipate your clicks through a large data pool and algorithms. I tested the Fire’s browser against the iPad 2’s. More often than not, the iPad loaded faster, not by much though. I did notice that the Fire’s browser loads everything at once. So instead of having parts of the page load in front of you, the page would go from blank to completed. The Silk browser will get better only when more user uses it. However, I do not think it will be mind-blowing faster than any other browser out there.
This is probably the most important section because no matter how good a device is it is inevitable made or broken by its app selection. The Fire is able to run any Android app found in the Amazon Appstore. There do not seem to be any apps made specially made for the Fire yet but I have to say the apps that are made for smart-phones look good on the Fire. They do not look stretched or pixellated. The Fire comes pre-loaded with a few apps: Audible, Facebook, Pulse, Quick Office, Netflix, IMDB.
The Facebook app was probably the most disappointing. Since it came preloaded, I expected an actually app; instead, the icon opens the browser and takes you to the website. The Netflix app is the newest version for Android tablets. The layout and functionality are great; much better than the one now for the iPad – which is scheduled to be updated as well in a few weeks. The app does allow for streaming and it works well. Load times are fast and scrubbing to different sections didn’t take long. The picture quality was a bit fuzzy when compared to the iPad or Amazon Instant Video. That maybe on Netflix and not a problem with the Fire’s screen. When I saw QuickOffice preloaded I was excited that the Fire could be used as a productivity device. I was quickly saddened to learn it only allows the viewing of documents. After some digging, we found out the preloaded app was the basic version and that there is a Pro version in the appstore but I didn’t get to test it.
Even though the Amazon Appstore does not have Fire specific apps and is much smaller than the Android Market or the Apple Appstore, the fact that the smart-phone apps work well on the device buys Amazon some time to build out a true Fire Appstore.
The Fire is the best budget-friendly tablet on the market. For $199 you get an e-reader, a video player, a music player, a web browser, and more in compact 7-inch form factor. The fact that the Fire is a first generation device means the experience will only get better, especially with integrating Amazon’s services. Don’t let people tell you it’s not as good as an iPad because the Fire is not trying to be. The Fire allows people to have a recreational device to use throughout the day without having to justify its cost. Consider the Amazon Kindle Fire your introduction to life with a tablet.