11/17/2011 11:28 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2012

Amazon May Sell 5 Million Kindle Fires in the Next 2 Months. Should You Buy One? If Not, Then What?

I got a Kindle for Father's Day.

"From everything I've read, the Nook is a better e-reader," I told my wife and daughter. "And from everything I've read, it's probably best to wait a few more months for the Kindle Fire."

So I sent the Kindle back to Amazon.

Now I have a Kindle Fire. It cost $199, and you get quite a lot for that. What you don't get: printed instructions or an online tutorial. This lack of directions would be okay if the Kindle Fire were an iPad --- that device can read your mind. But it's not a $499 to $889 iPad. Not close. And so I spent a few hours with a tech-savvy friend trying to figure out how to use it.

Maybe the Kindle File will reveal its secrets and I will come to see it really was intuitive after all and I will love it. Right now, on day two, I'm puzzled and unhappy. Are you really supposed to know that the way you leave an e-book and go to the Web is by tapping the screen near the bottom center? And what if you did? We tried that several times, to no avail -- our workaround was to turn the device off and start again.

So the question is: Should you buy a Kindle Fire? Or should you buy one of the cheaper Kindles that offers fewer features but delivers ones you're most likely to use? Should you ask Santa for an iPad so you don't have to feel like some second class citizen? Or should you wait a few months for the $225-to-$250 stripped-down version of the iPad that Apple is sure to launch?

Questions, questions. Let's look for some answers. (Interim answers, at best, because we have clearly entered the age of the Tablet Wars -- a very good thing, because it means we will get more and more value for less and less money.)

Here are the pluses of the Kindle Fire:
  • 7" screen (bigger than a smart phone)
  • It stores and streams TV shows, movies, music.
  • It has around 8,500 apps (including Angry Birds and Netflix).
  • You can send e-mail.
What the Kindle Fire doesn't do:
  • No camera.
  • Wi-Fi only --- you can't link it to a cell phone provider.
  • No GPS.
  • No ear phones.
  • No microphone, no voice recognition.
  • Relatively weak battery time (8 hours of reading time vs. almost 30 hours for the Kindle Touch, which is a basic e-reader)
  • No outlet that would let you plug it into your TV so you don't have to watch movies or TV on a 7" screen.

My verdict #1:
If you are willing to watch visual media on a cell phone, a 7" screen should feel like a major improvement --- but if you've ever watched a movie, TV show or YouTube video on an iPad, watching this stuff on the Kindle Fire will remind you that you're in the 99%. If you need a battery that keeps on chugging, this isn't for you. If you spend your days in a non-Wi-Fi environment, turn back.

My verdict #2:
If you are a big time Amazon customer, this is a very sharp device. Because that's what, at bottom, the Amazon Kindle is: an Amazon consumption enabler. I've read that, in two months, Amazon believes it will sell 5 million Kindle Fires. And it probably will, because many of us are hooked on Amazon. (I'm so hooked I'm not even reviewing the new Nook from Barnes & Noble.) This is why Amazon delivers so much for $199 -- a price that reportedly means it loses money on each sale. Of course, Amazon isn't losing a penny, any more than Hewlett Packard loses money when it sells you a printer for $60; ahead are all those overpriced $20 ink cartridges. Amazon is building brand loyalty here. How loyal are you? [To buy the Kindle Fire, click here. You'll want a $44.99 2-year service warranty.]

What choices do you have?

The $79 Kindle
The screen is 6" and there is no color. But it's perfectly adequate if your reason for having a device is to download books.

The $99 Kindle Touch
same as above, but with a touch screen

The $139 Kindle Keyboard
same as above, but with a perfectly adequate keyboard

The $149 Kindle Touch with 3G

removes the tether of Wi-Fi

The $499-plus Apple iPad 2 Tablet

As the old Rolls-Royce ads used to say, At 60 miles an hour, the loudest sound you hear is the ticking of the clock.

Decisions, decisions. Always a bitch. But what a wonderful world that has such devices in it.

[Cross-posted from]