Dave will be following up this post (sooner, I hope) with a more technical (once again, I hope) review of the new Kindle Fire, comparing it to its B&W siblings, touchy and otherwise, but I have been using the Fire for a couple of weeks now and would like to weigh in with my early impressions.
First let me say that in the world of gadgets, so much depends on timing and expectations. If the Fire had come out before the iPad, we would have said ‘This is an incredible device….’ As it is, Apple got the first-est with the most-est and set the bar (and price) incredibly high, so the Fire tends to pale in comparisons to the much more capable tablet computer experience the iPad brings to market. As it is, we now say, ‘It’s good, it’s not an iPad, but it’s not $500 either.’ That said, I’m not going to compare it to an iPad in the rest of this post. It’s not an iPad, OK? If you have an iPad, there’s no really good reason to purchase the Kindle Fire, unless your overexposure to Apple hype has you leaning leftward, or you’ve decided to live in the Android world from now on.
I’m going to run down the list of notable Kindle Fire features, make a couple comments on each, and rate the implementation of that feature with from 1-5 happies, 5 being the happiest.
Physical Look and Feel
Feels solid, like I could drop it without shattering it. The rubberized back is very nice and feels right in the hand. A bit heavy when compared to other Kindles, but worth it. The glass and bezel are highly reflective, but I have had no problems viewing contents in natural or artificial light. Reflections have not been an issue, though on first blush it looks like they might be. The unfortunate location of the go-to-sleep (off)/wake-up (on) button and earphone jack on the bottom of the device bothered me at first, but then someone pointed out that the bottom becomes the top by simply flipping it over. True, true. Now the speakers are on the bottom, which is OK with me, and I no longer accidentally put it to sleep while reading.
Excellent for a backlit device–and I crank the brightness all the way up. They advertise 8.5 hours on a charge, and I have no reason to doubt it, though I suppose if you played movies continuously it would be less. It seems excellent, and has never overheated.
Response to touch is generally good, but there are parts of the screen that seem to require more pressure than others. I’ve had to repeatedly tap some buttons (i.e., screen locations) several times to get them to respond. This is something that I suspect will be fixed with a firmware update. In terms of performance it is a fast as it needs to be. Not blindingly so, but adequate. Pages turn quickly at a tap, the highlighter/dictionary is a joy to work with, and bookmarking and inter/intrabook-web links all work quickly and smoothly. The highly touted Silk browser does not seem especially fast—and Amazon is still claiming that it will get faster as it builds its anticipatory cache—but plenty fast enough. I especially like the pop-up, screen bottom controls, especially the back arrow, to easily return to a book after clicking a web link.
I really don’t like the Recent home interface with its lower shelf of favorites. It scrolls much too quickly to be useful, and what if I don’t want the embarrassing, childish game I have been “testing” to show up first in the list, or at all? More user control needs to be built in here. I also dislike the bookshelf analogy, but I suppose it is inevitable, and it does work. I would like to be able to categorize in folders, as you can on the original Kindle, but I suppose that will be in version 1.1.
The access to Amazon stores for apps, magazines, books,and music is great, naturally. This device is all about being an Amazon consumption device. If you have a Prime membership (and if you don’t you should) you can stream movies free (from a rather uninspiring free selection, it’s true), and it streams Netflix videos too. They look and sound good.
While Amazon touts an app store containing thousands of titles, many, perhaps most, of the titles are crap, just like the Apple app store. They are giving away a free for-pay app each day, which all tend to be good, so, once again, their marketing smarts are on display. The interface to the app store is a bit sluggish as is it’s search functionality.
The Reading Experience
Really excellent. As I say, it’s not an iPad, so the screen is smaller (7″ vs. 10.1″), but it feels like about the size of a mass market paperback (if you kids remember those) page, without the annoying binding that threatens to eat up the text. In fact, you can control on-screen reading attributes like text size, gutters and margins. You can also choose a sepia tinted screen to reduce the harsh effects of stark black on white. I was able to read for hours without fatigue.
Footnotes, annotations, definitions, highlighting all worked as advertised. Amazon saved all my notations and made them available as I read the same book across multiple Kindle platforms. It also, amazingly, saved my annotations in a library book, and they were there for me when I re-checked it out in order to finish reading. Some people will be bothered that Amazon is storing a record of your library borrowed books, but get a life. It’s a major league convenience for those of us who move around and have multiple Kindle formats and are juggling multiple projects. If they use it for marketing—and I don’t think they are—who cares. More power to them.
You get 6GB of on-board storage with the Fire, which is plenty for downloading books and storing apps. The new Barnes and Noble Nook tablet gives you 13GB, but 12 of it (rather unconscionably) is reserved for B&N content.
The on-screen virtual keyboard is the traditional Android keyboard, which I don’t particularly like, and is just too small on this form factor to use efficiently. The device is a little too wide for efficient thumb typing, and too narrow for quick hunt and peck. Nor does the keyboard have those cool tap-and-hold shortcutsOf course, your mileage will vary with hand width, but the virtual keyboard is nothing to write home about.
This is where the Kindle shines. It is an extension of Amazon’s colossal catalog of content, and Amazon knows how to market it to you so that your collections start to become habits rather than indulgences. The integration with content is superlative. There’s nothing like reading a review of a book (as I did about the new bio of Kurt Vonnegut) and then, within a half-a-minute, reading the book itself on the Fire.
It’s not an iPad, OK? If you have an iPad, you don’t really need the Kindle Fire. But I wonder how differently we would feel if Kindle Fire had been first to market and set the standards of price point, app availability, and smooth content integration; had been in charge, as it were, of the e-ecosystem? O well, it’s academic. The Kindle Fire is a very satisfactory Amazon consumption device, a great e-Reader, and an adequate Android tablet with easy to use email and web browsing functionality. More than worth the $199 price.