THE CAPTAIN GADGET 5-PARAGRAPH REVIEW OF:
The Kindle Fire
(1) The French author Antoine de Saint Exupery once wrote that "Perfection is attained, not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed." In taking on the iPad, Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet certainly seems to be trying to achieve perfection by removal, not addition. The Fire has taken the iPad's slate design and subtracted the cameras, the volume buttons, the physical home button, the microphone, the option for a larger hard drive or 3G connectivity, about 2.5 hours of battery life and three inches of display space. All of these subtractions apparently add up, economically, as Amazon has taken $300 off the price of the iPad, with one Kindle Fire selling for $199 versus $499 for the cheapest iPad 2. Another key removal is any possible barrier to entry for first-time tablet users: Amazon has created a home screen design that makes it the most intuitive and easy-to-use tablet for finding books, movies, music, newspapers and apps. The Kindle Fire is nowhere near perfect, but it is good enough, cheap enough and, most importantly, simple enough to operate, that for $200, a non-tech geek will be satisfied with this hassle-free, easy-to-use tablet.
(2) The Kindle Fire has a lot of obvious problems -- the most glaring one is that the on-screen experience just isn't as smooth as it is on other tablets. The display often lags by a click or two; the touchscreen is not always responsive when dealing with multimedia, especially streaming movies. The lack of external buttons on the tablet -- no volume, no return, no home -- is a strange, unfortunate choice for a tablet premised on simplicity and ease-of-use. (It took me a day to find the settings button, a small gear icon next to the battery indicator.) The battery life is mediocre at best, and for now the app store is comparatively barren. 8GB non-expandable storage will turn off those looking to locally store a collection of movies or music. Perhaps most disappointing is that, despite being much smaller than the iPad (see comparison photo here), the Kindle Fire tablet actually feels as though it weights more than its Apple counterpart, due to weight distribution, an odd, albeit subjectively judged, turn for a Kindle line that prides itself on lightness* [See note at bottom].
(3) But when it comes to downloading the content that Amazon sells -- movies, music, books, newspapers and magazines -- the Kindle Fire is so stupid-proof, so simple and intuitive, that the non-tech-savvy consumer who wants nothing more than a tablet for basic and easy media consumption will be pleasantly satisfied. The focus of Amazon's tablet is not third-party apps or surfing websites, but rather buying things from Amazon.com to read, listen to and watch. No metaphors or cute names here: Across the top of your home screen are labels for "Newsstand," "Books," "Music" and "Video" (as well as "Docs," "Apps" and "Web"), each of which delivers exactly what it says. If you want to buy a newspaper, you touch "Newsstand"; if you want to buy a book, you touch "Books"; if you want to rent a movie, you touch "Video." It's almost as though Amazon designed the thing for people who had never seen a tablet before but who knew, in their minds, what they wanted to do with one.
(4) The purchase process on the Kindle Fire, too, has been streamlined, as it comes pre-loaded with your Amazon account information so that you don't have to enter any passwords or credit card information when you buy. Obviously this benefits Amazon with impulse-buy money, but it also benefits tablet shoppers who want the easiest and fastest possible way to get content onto their tablet. The Kindle Fire has most of the apps that a newbie tablet user would want -- Angry Birds, Netflix and Cut the Rope, with more coming along as Fire sales explode -- and getting them on the device is similarly simple. Easy, easy, easy is the mantra. The Kindle Fire offers the simplest, most basic tablet user experience there is right now.
(5) The Kindle Fire is not for everybody. Specs hounds, productivity seekers and road warriors looking for a business tablet will be disappointed in their own separate ways. Those who already use and are comfortable with their iPad will likely be disappointed by the relative clumsiness of the Kindle Fire, and those with more technological acumen should probably shell out more money for a more capable machine, one that has a higher learning curve but can do more. On the other hand, those who plan on using the Kindle Fire for little more than airplane reading, watching movies on the couch after work or playing Angry Birds on long car rides, will be content with the functionality, the price and the low barrier to entry of the Kindle Fire. It's a tablet for dummies, which is a good thing: I don't know why Amazon called its new Kindle the Fire, but perhaps it's because that using one is as easy as lighting a match.
AMAZON KINDLE FIRE SPECS
Carriers: None (Wi-Fi only)
Operating System: Android 2.3 (forked)
Network: Wi-Fi only
Display: 7-inches, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors
Weight: 14.6 ounces
Memory: 1GHz RAM (reported)
Storage: 8GB internal; no card slot
Battery Life (stated): "Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the Kindle Fire weighed more than the iPad. This is not true: The iPad 2 weighs 21.3 ounces (or 1.33 pounds), while the Kindle Fire weighs 14.6 ounces (less than a pound). This was a case of reviewer arrogance -- in my hands the Kindle Fire felt like it weighed more than the iPad, but objectively this is not the case. The review has been corrected to reflect the truth, and my opinion that the Kindle Fire feels heavier than the iPad 2 has replaced the incorrect statement that the Kindle Fire actually does weigh more than the iPad 2.
Check out the slideshow (below) to view the Kindle Fire's biggest features.
The new black 7.5-inch tablet is an in inch taller than the original Kindle e-reader, and weighs more than twice as much (14.6 ounces as opposed to 5.98 ounces). However, it's still significantly lighter than the hefty iPad 2, which weighs in at around 21.3 ounces. That said, the Kindle Fire a very streamlined little device. Other than a USB port for charging, there's not much else--no SD card slot, camera, or HDMI port. Engadget notes this could be somewhat inconvenient for users: "What it won't have, though, is the number of physical inputs. It'll make do with just a power button and nothing more -- if you want to turn down the volume you'll need to dive into the status bar. Whether or not that proves to be an annoyance in the long-run remains to be seen, but we're thinking it will be."
The Kindle Fire has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, which will allow for a super fast user interface. It has 8 GB of storage, significantly less than the iPad, which comes with at least 16GB, but as with Amazon's e-readers, you can store your books, movies and music in the Amazon Cloud thanks to Whispersync, which increases its storage capacity. The battery lasts for approximately eight hours, two hours less than both iPad and Blackberry Playbook.
The Kindle Fire is set to start shipping November 15th and is available for pre-order starting September 28.
The Kindle Fire will retail for $199, less than half the price of the iPad, which starts at $499, or the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which also starts at $499.
The only way to get online with the Kindle Fire is via Wi-Fi -- there's no 3G connectivity. 9to5 Mac wonders if this is because this first version of Kindle Fire was rushed in order to be out in time for the holidays. There are rumors that Amazon is already working on a new version of the tablet to be released in the beginning of next year--it could be that that one will have 3G or 4G connectivity. Other tablets, like the iPad, can connect to the 3G networks, and some, like the Motorola Xoom and HTC Evo View 4G, can even connect to speedier 4G networks.
The Kindle Fire comes with a super-fast web-browser, Amazon Silk, that is a "split-browser", meaning it runs both on the tablet's internal hardware and on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Amazon's massive server fleet. Each time you go online, it automatically decides which actions to run on the Kindle itself and which to run in the cloud, with the ultimate goal of helping you browse as quickly as possible. This decision is based on things like the speed of your Internet connection and what type of page you're trying to view.
The Kindle Fire is powered by a modified version of Google's Android operating system, giving users access to Android apps and games--though according to the Associated Press, the Kindle Fire's app selection will be limited to the Amazon Appstore, where you can test the apps out before buying them using the company's online simulator. It sounds like Amazon is pretty confident in their apps, and they should be since according to their website, each app is tested on the tablet to make sure it works correctly.
Users get seamless access to all of Amazon's content. This is no small thing, as it includes over 100,000 movies and TV shows on Amazon Instant, over 17 million songs on Amazon MP3, more than 1 million e-books, as well as hundreds of magazines, newspapers, and graphic novels. As AdAge notes, the Kindle Fire "will come out of the box begging consumers to dive into its content capabilities, arriving with a free 30-day subscription to the Amazon Prime streaming video service and free three-month subscriptions to digital editions of Conde Nast magazines including Vanity Fair, GQ and Glamour." The Kindle Fire will feature a newsstand showcasing magazines and newspapers from publishers such as Conde Nast and Hearst. In addition, users will get the Whispersync function that is already present on other Amazon devices (As TechRadar explains, Whispersync "syncs your progress as you read a book on the Kindle device so that when you access it from your computer, your iPhone, or whatever device you're on next, you're always in the right place."). But starting with the Kindle Fire, Whispersync not only remembers where you are in your book, but also syncs movies and TV shows. When you return, you are automatically taken back to where you left off regardless of what Amazon device you are on.
The modified Android operating system is already getting some pretty good reviews. The folks at Gizmodo were surprised at how good looking it was. "Amazon's not exactly a company with a keen design eye; their homepage still looks like it has one leg stretched into the 90s. But the Fire's home screen and sub-menus are detailed without being overwhelming, and simply pretty. For its purposes, Amazon's cooked up something better than Honeycomb," Gizmodo wrote. According to This Is My Next, the OS is very fast, but also very different from Android 2.3 from which it was derived. "To say, Amazon has done a bit of work on top of Android is large understatement," notes This Is My Next. "Just like the Nook Color, there are very few traces of the Android 2.3 you are familiar with."