Kindle Fire Review: A Tablet For Dummies
(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.