It’s the hottest tablet on the market right now besides the iPad 2, and with ever-so-affordable $200 price tag, the Kindle Fire has broken the mold in terms of affordability.
But how does the Kindle Fire stack up? Is it worth your $200? The short answer, it depends. Mind Of The Geek has tested and played with the Kindle Fire and I am ready to put my final verdict on this hot newcomer to the tablet market.
Below you will find what I loved, and didn’t love about the Kindle Fire, and some things that Amazon can easily improve (and hopefully will) with a future software update. I will preface my review by saying I have been using an iPad 2 since the day it launched, but I did my best to be unbiased for you all.
The Kindle Fire definitely took a page from the Apple playbook with its simple design. The seven-inch capacitive touchscreen is much more responsive since the software update released by Amazon, but I still found it to be sluggish and choppy at times. The multi-touch worked well with two fingers where it applied. Overall, I would say it is good, but not great. The king of multi-touch still is still Apple, but anyone who hasn’t experienced an iPad before should find it adequate. I did like the rubberized back of the Kindle Fire, as it made it much easier to handle and I didn’t feel like it could slip out of my hands at any moment like I sometimes do with the iPad 2. There are no cameras on the rear or front of the device, a design choice by Amazon to keep costs low, and shouldn’t be an issue for the average user unless they are looking to do video or video calling. One other design choice is the lack of any physical buttons on the device at all except for the very small power button on the bottom of the device. This includes a volume rocker being noticeably absent, which I will discuss in more detail later. Overall the Kindle Fire looks sleek and had an overall very good build quality. It feels good and much more expensive than $200.
The Kindle Fire is Android at the core, but you would be hard pressed to guess it’s Android at all at first glance. In fact, the only area where I felt it looked “Androidish” was in the settings menus. Amazon’s engineers have totally stripped the Android out of Android and have made a custom build all to their own. There is only one home screen, where the “carousel” is at the top half and your favorite apps below. The carousel is designed to give you quick access to you recent activity. While some may like this, I’ll just put it plain and simple, I can’t stand the Carousel feature. The concept is great, but it seriously should be used for my favorite books, media, and apps, not everything I’ve recently looked at. I don’t need to have my last web page visited front and center along with all of the other apps I had accessed (which can get quite lengthy). Amazon should treat the Carousel as Apple treats the dock at the bottom and allow users to customize what goes in there. I spent more time removing unwanted items from my Carousel than I care to remember. Above the Carousel are quick links to view Books, Apps, Music, Videos, the Web, etc. These are nice design choices and make it pretty easy to go where you want to go.
For the most part the OS performed smoothly. Again, I had some sluggish performance when scrolling quickly, but overall it performed well. Amazon did a very good job integrating all of its services and Amazon store, and this is what makes the Kindle Fire such an attractive alternative to the iPad. No other tablet on the market besides the iPad has the amount of content that can easily be accessed as the Kindle Fire. Like the iPad, the Kindle Fire is curated for Amazon services only, no Google Apps or Android Market here. It’s Amazon all the way. Amazon has forgone “open” for consistency.
What I Loved
- The Amazon integration. As an iPad user, I’m used to the “walled garden” and happily will play in it. The Kindle Fire, like the iPad, has the consistency and ease of use of the iPad, and the security of knowing apps are reviewed by Amazon. Buying books from the Kindle store is a breeze, and access to the Amazon MP3 store and the Amazon Cloud for music is easy.
- The Amazon Silk browser. With the Kindle Fire, Amazon launched its new browser called Silk. The secret sauce for the Silk browsers performance is most of the rendering takes place on Amazon’s servers which have much more horsepower, and then is piped down to the Kindle Fire in an efficient manner. The browser was responsive and pretty quick, and looked a lot like the stock Android browser (especially in the bookmarks area). The Silk browser is more than adequate, but still falls a little short of the speed of Mobile Safari.
- Build Quality. Simply put, for $200 you get a tablet that feels like one that should cost twice as much. It’s solid, and sleek, and has the horsepower where it counts.
- Size. I love my iPad 2′s 9.7 inch screen, but it can be difficult to maneuver with one hand (and I have pretty big hands being a 6’5″ guy). The Kindle Fire has seemed to hit a sweet spot with the 7 inch screen with being able to hold in one hand comfortably. I did enjoying reading books on it more as it felt more natural with being able to use one hand.
What I Didn’t Love
- No Volume Rocker. The absolute most annoying thing to me is the absence of a volume rocker. Especially when you couple the inconsistency with the applications and how they handle volume control. I was shocked when I was listening to music via the Amazon Cloud at a higher volume and then later decided to listen to Pandora and wasn’t able to turn the volume down without having to go BACK to the Amazon Cloud Music app to turn down the volume and then GO BACK to the Pandora app. Amazon, your lack of polish is disturbing.
- The Carousel. I said it earlier, but I have to say it again, the Carousel SUCKS. Plain and simple. No way to customize it beyond removing something like an app only to access it again and it reappear on the Carousel I just wanted it out of. Amazon, for the love of God, make the Carousel customizable. It is absolutely annoying. The Carousel could be great, but it needs to be customizable. Please make it more like the iPad 2 dock.
- No Native Photo App. Amazon put a good-looking screen in the Kindle Fire, and yet they neglected to put a native app in to view photographs. Sure you can download all sorts of Flickr, Picasa, or Facebook photo viewers, but any respectable tablet should allow me to locally store my photos to show off, even if it doesn’t have a camera. The first iPad didn’t have a camera, but it had a native photos app.
- Exchange Support. Ever since Google Sync gave me the power of Exchange with my Gmail account, I’ve been hooked. My contacts, calendar, and email is all stored on the cloud, and synched across all my mobile devices, except when I tested the Kindle Fire. The Kindle Fire does support IMAP, but should go to the next level and offer Exchange support, especially if it ever wants a role for business professionals (which Amazon may not, in their defense).
Overall, the Kindle Fire is a great tablet for the money, as long as you are willing to accept it is not an iPad 2. Buyers looking for a cheaper iPad 2 should not look here. While the Kindle Fire is a great device, it still lacks the polish and overall performance of the iPad 2. I did like the size, and if you are already a big Amazon user, you will be right at home with the Kindle Fire. For a first generation device, it delivers solid performance on most fronts, and will be a great tablet for someone looking to move into the tablet space. Many of my irritations with the Kindle Fire (like the Carousel and Exchange support) can be fixed with a software update, and some things like the volume rocker can’t be. For $200, you won’t find a better tablet out there, even taking into consideration the reduced Blackberry Playbook and HP Touchpad (if you can find one). The Kindle Fire won’t be enough for me to give up my iPad 2, but it is good enough for me to recommend it to any tablet buyer who is looking for a good tablet on a budget.
When a friend asked me how I would compare it to the iPad 2, all I could think of was it’s like driving a Toyota or a Lexus. They both will get you where you want to go reliably, but people buy a Lexus for the polish and the “little things” that make it luxurious. In the tablet space, the Kindle Fire is the Toyota and the iPad 2 is the Lexus, and both Apple and Amazon seem to be happy with that.
Mind Of The Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars