Amazon Kindle Fire

The Amazon Kindle Fire begins shipping this week, and the reviews are already starting to roll in. The verdict? There isn’t really one yet. Amazon’s $200 device is getting high praise from some early reviewers and mixed feelings from others. Nobody seems to hate it, but nobody seems to be confusing it for a high-end device like an iPad either.

I should be getting my hands on the Kindle Fire later this week, and based on the impressions we’re seeing, I’m already pretty comfortable saying that this isn’t necessarily going to be the best tablet for everyone. But I also think it’s going to be a huge seller for Amazon.

Let’s preface this little roundup with an anecdote. I recently met someone who bought one of those $99 tablets from Philadelphia Media Network. He pays for digital newspaper subscriptions and uses it to read the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com. He plays Angry Birds and surfs the web. And having played with his friends’ iPads, he acknowledges that the Archos Arnova 10 G2 is big and slow.

It’s not as responsive to touch as it could be, it’s hard to figure out some of the settings, and how to find apps. And really, it’s not quite as much fun to read the paper on the tablet as it was reading the print editions he had subscribed to for years.

But here’s the thing: he seems to like the tablet just fine. He’s never owned an iPad, and his expectations for a $99 tablet weren’t sky high. It does exactly what he though it would do. Sure, it’s kind of a crappy tablet compared with some others on the market, but it’s his crappy tablet and he has no interest in paying $500 or more for a tablet he’d barely use.

In other words, it might be best to think of an Amazon Kindle Fire as if it were one of those $99 tablets… but without the requires newspaper subscription. Instead you get a 7 inch tablet with a 1024 x 600 pixel display, a 1 GHz TI OMAP4 dual core processor, 8GB of storage, and tight integration with Amazon’s app store, music store, eBook store, and movie store. If you do want to pay $80 per year you can also stream movies and borrow a book a month for less than the price of a newspaper subscription.

Sure, the Kindle Fire isn’t as responsive as an iPad or as thin as a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. But if you want those tablets you’ll have to spend a lot more money.

OK, onto the roundup:

  • CNET: 3.5 stars out of 5: It’s affordable, has most of the apps you’d want, and it’s easy to use, but the tablet lacks GPS, removable storage, and even cameras or mics.
  • Engadget: You can side-load Android apps, but they don’t all run well on the Kindle Fire. The on-screen keyboard is a little better than the stock Android keyboard. Overall, Engadget concludes that it’s a usable tablet that’s best thought of as a device for buying content from Amazon.
  • Gizmodo: 4 stars out of 5: Gizmodo calls the 7 inch tablet the first real competition for the iPad, because of the strong media store integration and overall ease of use. It runs Android apps, but doesn’t feel like Android. Unfortunately at times it can feel sluggish — for instance when turning pages in an eBook (seriously, Amazon?)
  • Mashable: There’s an Apple-like ecosystem which works well with Amazon’s computer, eReader, and even TV-capable devices. But there are some quirks in the software. For instance, at times apps will crash or the accelerometer gets stuck so the screen doesn’t auto-rotate.
  • MSNBC: It’s like getting 80 percent of an iPad for 40 percent of the price.
  • PC Magazine: 4 stars out of 5: It’s a bit slow at times, and it takes a while to reconnect to WiFi when you resume from sleep. But PC Mag calls it the best “easy-to-use general-purpose tablet” in its price range.
  • The Verge: 7.5 out of 10: The Kindle Fire is a great tablet for the price, and the digital content is great, but the apps feel like smartphone apps because the tablet runs Android 2.3. There are no hardware volume buttons or home, back, or menu buttons which leads to some strange software solutions instead.

The New York Times’ David Pogue published more of an overview than a review, and he doesn’t seem all that impressed. The Kindle Fire lacks polish, in his opinion — but that’s in contrast to an iPad or a high-end Android tablet. For folks that have never owned a tablet before, I suspect the Kindle Fire will be at least as attractive as that $99 Philly newspaper tablet.

Some reviewers loved the Amazon Silk web browser — but others didn’t find it to be anything special. Amazon’s browser attempts to speed up page loads by rendering some content on remote servers before sending it to your device — something we’ve seen Skyfire and Opera browsers do before.

But in my experience, the benefit of this sort of remote server compression is much stronger when you’re using a slow 3G connection. Since the Kindle Fire is a WiFi-only device with a reasonably fast processor, I’m not surprised the Silk browser is underwhelming… or average at best.On the other hand, the Silk browser gets faster the more you use it, since it can pre-render content for web pages you visit regularly.

Overall the tablet appears to provide a decent experience for reading eBooks, which isn’t surprising since it comes from Amazon. But Amazon is also pushing magazines and comic books — which don’t seem to look quite as good on a 7 inch screen. Heck, I’m not convinced magazines look good on a 9.7 inch, 1024 x 768 pixel display either.

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12 replies on “Amazon Kindle Fire review roundup”

  1. Frankly when you read a lot of the reviews there are lots of niggling problems which are then forgiven because it is Amazon and has an ecosystem.
    Really I think it will sell fantastically for Amazon but I’m not interested at all.
    There is nothing special about the ecosystem as it relates to this tablet.
    Very little on this tablet that you get from Amazon that you can’t get from others.
    The exception might be the free book a month if you have prime.
    But who honestly cares that you can stream video on it from Amazon.
    The best use case for this is when commuting or waiting in line.
    But I don’t think you can cache amazon prime video.
    And there is no data plan here.
    So unless you have access to decent wi-fi in that line then that’s a wash.
    If it had hdmi output and a dock/remote then that would be a value add to watch on the TV.
    As is I think I’d rather put my $200 toward something a lot more capable.

  2. >For folks that have never owned a tablet before, I suspect the Kindle Fire will be at least as attractive as that $99 Philly newspaper tablet.

    This is akin to saying that for anyone who has never used a computer before, a Commodore 64 would be appealing. IOW, you’re saying that ignorance is a consideration. It shouldn’t be.

    Much of the Engadget review is on the functions the KF has but didn’t do well, eg the bad video streaming, the klunky navigation for comic (no pinch-zoom) and text reading, the fiddly home interface, the laggy sideloaded apps, the paltry storage, etc. These are all judging the KF on its own merit, not against a higher-end tablet.

    It’s likely that the KF will sell well regardless of reviews, because of Amazon’s brand strength and of the low price. But it’s also likely that it won’t be sold hand-over-fist like some of the pundits predicted. At least now we can put the “iPad killer” euphemism to rest.

    1. I’m just trying to keep an open mind — because to be honest, I was *shocked* to find that this fellow liked his $99 tablet. I saw him using it and there was a long pause between the time he tapped the screen to turn a page and the moment anything actually happened.

      That would drive me crazy… but since he didn’t really expect anything else, he was fine with it.

      1.  I think you keep your audience in mind. Those who follow this tech blog don’t fall into the “luddite” example you cited. In that respect, the example isn’t reflective of your readership and probably should be ignored.

    2. I don’t know. I think most people will believe the Kindle Fire “good enough”. How many potential user are still using three or four year-old computers and slower DSL connections when browsing? I doubt there are that many potential Fire customers who will be coming to it from an iPad2 or some other high-end device.

      Engadget’s test of the Fire’s browser showed it wasn’t that bad. It will certainly be a step up from surfing on a 3 inch phone screen over 3G, and there are a lot of people who are used to waiting around for those devices to load pages.

      The comic book app can be fixed — there are already “flow reader” apps that can take a user through a comic book a frame at a time. It’s still not that great an experience, but then that’s probably more to do with the form factor than the software.

      The interface didn’t look all that bad to me. It looks snappy and appealing, certainly at first glance, which is a great marketing tool. I also like the idea of the swipe list of recent apps/books/videos. I suspect most users will end up using a fairly small list of apps/books/videos at a time, and the swipe list is a very quick and appealing way to access them.

      Given that it’s the first rev of the software, I have no doubt there are some rough edges and they will discover some usability clunkiness that they will have to fix, but overall it looks like a decent first effort.

      A lot of people who are first time tablet buyers will buy the Kindle Fire and love it. A friend of mine owns a Nook Color and she thinks it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

      I’m holding fire until I see comparative reviews of the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire, and until I’ve had a chance to play with them both myself. I especially want to see how good they are for reading on.

      1.  >I doubt there are that many potential Fire customers who will be coming to it from an iPad2 or some other high-end device.

        Per tech blogs at least, the KF does elicit major interest from iPad owners, who tend to view it as an adjunct to the larger 10″ size, in addition to stepping outside of Apple’s walled garden (and into Amazon’s own enclosed pumpkin patch).

        >The comic book app can be fixed

        Many of the issues cited are software-related and indeed could be fixed. But we should buy an item for what it is today, rather than what we hope it may be tomorrow. Because when tomorrow comes, there’ll be the KF2 or better.

        >I’m holding fire until I see comparative reviews of the Nook Tablet and the Kindle Fire

        Good idea.

  3. We really have to get over the “SUV” tablet mentality. Most people who buy SUVs would never take them onto a dirt road (a lot of owners in LA won’t even drive them in the rain) and could easily get by with a compact car. But when you ask them why they need an SUV they will immediately describe an improbable scenario straight out of a commercial. “What if I have to transport a litter of Saint Bernards over a mountain pass in a raging thunderstorm?”

    In the same fashion, people who only use tablets for media consumption and light browsing will insist that they need an SUV tablet for roughly analogous reasons. “What if I have to video edit an HD documentary on a 12 hour flight?” In the same fashion, they must justify the added cost by insisting that it completely replaces desktops and laptops!

    At some point people are going to realize that “Mini Cooper” or even “Vespa” tablets do everything they need while saving time and space. 

    1. I think this is a *very* good point that far too many people ignore.  While iPads can certainly do more than these mid-tier tablets can do, I believe that the vast majority of iPad users don’t actually do those kinds of things (at least with any regularity).  Email, web browsing, video, eBooks and light gaming is what people overwhelmingly use them for, it seems to me, and if the Kindle Fire can do an adequate job at those tasks, for more than half the price, then why not go that direction?

  4. Unfortunately, the reviews above are reviewing this as if it was a candidate device in the category of “general purpose computer”.  It’s not meant to be that way at all, and there’s clearly no device that tries to do what this device does or does it better.  Amazon is the biggest marketplace in the world.  Not only is this a digital kiosk that will help them facilitate selling people their digital wares, it will soon become those people’s shopping companion for easily ordering or reordering all of the material products which Amazon sells.  The logical evolution of this class of devices doesn’t just kill Apple, it kills Walmart too.  At that point, who cares if it doesn’t feature X that you love about your toyish little “tablets”.  If people are going to improperly review this product, then they might as well be entertaining and review it as if it were a type of food, complaining about the stiff texture, bland flavors, and complications of digestion.  Unfortunately, it seems that these reviewers also miss the point that they miss the point.

  5. I don’t know if I’m going to get one yet, or whether I’m going to get a tablet at all, but it seems to me that the Fire is a good deal for the price. The specs aren’t all that great as far as tablets go, but when you look at the competition, there really isn’t anything that beats it, and for $200 yet.

    It all depends on whether you think the Fire is “good enough”, and that depends on what you want it for. Clearly, it looks as though millions of people think it is.

    The Fire is, first and foremost, a media consumption device that is designed specifically for consuming the media that Amazon sells. As one reviewer commented, the Kindle Fire like carrying your personal Amazon media portal around with you, and it makes it very difficult not to spend money buying content from Amazon. That is, of course, why Amazon has gotten into the business of selling tablets.

  6. “If you do want to pay $80 per month you can also stream movies and borrow a book a month for less than the price of a newspaper subscription.”

    $80/month???
    If you are refering to Amazon Prime (which gives you all of those benefits), it is only $80/YEAR.  And that gives you great shipping options first and foremost…

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