Kindle Fire Review
Written by Colby Tuesday, 10 January 2012 12:00
I must admit that in the realms of fanboy-ism, my first loyalty is to the great Apple. However, besides Apple, I am also a fierce Amazon apologist, so when the new Kindle Fire was announced this last holiday season, I knew it was an item I needed to own. Amazon claimed that the Fire would have “Ultra-Fast Web Browsing” as well as being a portal to access all the content available through Amazon including e-books, music, movies, and apps. The most notable feature of the Fire isn’t really a feature; rather it’s the price point – only $199.00 compared to the iPad 2, which is $500.00. The Kindle can be viewed as either the least expensive entry into the tablet market, or the premium hardware in the e-reader market, depending on how you use it and what you expect to get out of it.
Kindle Fire Basics
The lower price point of the Fire shows in the basic hardware and software. The real estate of the screen is around half that of the iPad, but I never felt like it was too small for anything I wanted to do on it and it is the perfect size for reading. Right in line with the smaller screen is a rather minimalist hardware interface. A home button, volume button, and any of the other normal buttons are all absent from the physical hardware and are represented on screen. The only physical button is a small round power button next to the speaker. For the most part, movie watching is better when you can wear headphones – the speaker just isn’t very loud. Although the lack of a volume button is different, it is not necessarily bad, as all the settings you would want to change on a regular basis are available at any time from a one touch drop-down settings menu represented by a gear in the top right corner. I like being able to adjust brightness and manage my wi-fi connection without having to go through several layers of menus. The physical screen feels very high quality and a recent patch has made the touch control much more snappy. You can bet there’s going to be a million different outlets trying to sell you screen covers, but I don’t think you’ll need one.
The software on the Fire is a custom edition of the Android OS that feels like a merry-go-round of apps, books, and movies that can be cycled through by sliding a finger left or right on the screen. Content is listed from most recent, so anything that hasn’t been used for a while may take some time to shuffle back and find, but there are also different category options across the top that you can select to narrow down what you are looking for. Below the standard merry-go-round shelf there is another shelf where anything that is labeled as a favorite will hang out. While it’s not particularly great, it’s not bad either and since there’s only 8 gigabytes of on-board memory you can’t have too much content on there to search through anyways.
It only does…everything. But how well?
As dedicated devices become less prevalent even e-readers must be able to function in all the different ways that a tablet can, especially because most tablets have apps on them that allow them to access books you’ve purchased through Amazon or other e-book sources. The Kindle Fire allows you to access books you’ve purchased through Amazon, watch movies and TV shows through their streaming, rental, and purchase stores, as well as downloading apps that run on a custom edition of the Andriod OS. Most content can be purchased through either Amazon.com or through the marketplace, which you can reach through a few clunky steps on the Fire itself. Browsing the catalog of what’s available for download was a rather tedious task, but when you know what it is you want to download, it’s very easy to search for and then download very simply.
There is a lot of added value in that every day Amazon has an app of the day which is free for 24 hours. And they are usually high quality apps, so even if you don’t want to pay for games, by paying attention to these daily free apps you can keep a good supply of decent mobile games in your backlog to play.
The selection of apps is not as deep as in the iOS ecosystem, but it is fairly satisfactory. It has the ‘must haves’ such as Netflix and Facebook.
Although there is a seemingly limitless amount of content that can be accessed, there is no 3G networking, only Wi-Fi, so if you’ll be on the road, or away from the Internet, you’ll need to load up on content before leaving home.
My complaint is that while it does everything it claims to do, I have devices that do every function that the Fire does, better. For movies, watching on a laptop or the Netflix app on the Xbox 360 (or any other console) is a better viewing experience. For gaming, a gaming console, Steam on the Mac or PC, or even an iPhone all offer more variety in the experiences you can have and have better control schemes than the janky touch screen on the Fire.
The Fire just doesn’t live up to the touted ultra fast web browsing so for the sort of minimal web browsing (checking e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, imdb, fact checking) I found my phone preferable even for that, and for longer web sessions, anything other than a full notebook or desktop is a hassle.
The Kindle brand does uphold its expertise in the e-reader department. The Fire uses a lighted background rather than the E Ink Pearl display that is the norm for any other version of the Kindle, which means you can read without any other source of light, but it is a little harder on the eyes.
Final Judgment on the Kindle Fire
As with any other first generation line of electronics, the Kindle Fire is far from perfect. It has a whole plethora of uses allowing you to consume almost any type of media, but it excels primarily as an e-reader. Having Amazon Prime adds a lot of value as it gives you the option to lend one book a month for free as well as unlimited streaming from a library of movies and TV shows, which is beginning to rival that of Hulu and Netflix. An iPad will fill most of the same holes that the Fire does, but for those who aren’t ready to invest $500, or are in love with the Amazon ecosystem, the Fire is definitely a great choice.