Tablets, tablets, tablets. Seems like tablets are the device that everyone is talking about. The iPad started the craze and now there are dozens of tablets to choose from. The problem is, many of them aren’t that good. Most people are familiar with the iPad since, in the most common opinion, it is the best tablet to buy. Amazonwants to change that. This week, Amazon started selling their 7 inch tablet named the Kindle Fire. I preordered one and here are my opinions so far.
Packaging: Amazon does a great job at packaging their products. The box that the Kindle Fire comes in is also the box that it ships in. You just pull a tap on the box, lift up the top of the box and there is the device. Included with the tablet is a very small “quick start” guide and a AC power plug for charging. That’s all. The box does have the Amazon logo and the Kindle Fire logo on the side of the box, which I would think would increase theft but I guess Amazon doesn’t care.
Build Quality: I love holding this thing. At just 7 inches, it fits very well in your hand and feels like a very solid device. Compared to my Kindle, it feels hard and secure. The screen is a glossy glass touchscreen and the back is all rubber making it easier to grip. It is not as light as a normal Kindle, which weighs the same as a paper back book, but the Kindle Fire is not heavy. It has a nice size and weight which makes it a joy to hold.
Video streaming quality: I am an Amazon Prime member ($80 a year, free 2-day shipping, free video streaming, free Kindle book loaning). All Kindle Fire’s come with a free month so you can start using the free streaming video. The Instant Prime streaming library doesn’t have the library of Netflix but it surprisingly has some pretty good stuff. The internet where I am currently living is pure crap and the streaming video still looked pretty good. It only buffered twice. I cannot comment on the streaming HD quality since my internet speed does not allow me to view anything in HD.
The screen: The screen is very clear and vibrant. I watched an HD video that I transferred to the Kindle Fire from my Mac and it looked awesome. Amazon says that they design their products to become invisible when you are reading/watching something on it and this is true. You forget that you are holding the device in your hands when you are looking at the screen.
Lack of buttons: The only buttons on the device is the power button, which is located at the bottom of the device. No volume button, no home button, no orientation lock, nothing but an on/off/sleep/wake button. This gets annoying when listening to music or watching a video. You need to turn the device on, unlock the screen, click the little gear icon on the top right corner to bring up all the controls (brightness, volume, orientation lock). On the bottom left of the screen is the home button which will get you back to the shelf-like homescreen. Usually, just a tap will bring up these controls but in some cases, for some apps, you need to click a little arrow to bring up these controls. I’m not sure why sometimes a simple tap brings up the controls and why something a little arrow in the middle of the screen does. It’s a inconsistent experience.
The Keyboard: I’m an iOS guy and I feel the keyboard needs a bit of work. I always find myself typing “p” instead of the backspace. The space bar is also pretty small so when I think I’m pressing the space, I’m actually pressing the period key.
The homescreen: This is really different from all the tablets out there. The homescreen isn’t just a grid of icons, instead we get a shelf which displays EVERYTHING on your Kindle in a cover-flow like way. All your books, magazines, videos, and apps are on this cover-flow shelf. It’s not a bad design, however, a lot of unnecessary stuff ends up there. Watch 2 seconds of a video, it’s cover appears on the shelf. A screenshot of the website you are looking at also appears on the shelf. There is no way of deleting anything that appears on your shelf. So if you downloaded a trashy romance novel, be prepared to be forced to look at the cover every time you turn on your Kindle Fire.
Lack of USB cord: The Kindle Fire does NOT ship with everything you need. If you want to transfer content from your PC/Mac to the Kindle Fire, you need a Micro USB cord. This cord does not come with the Kindle Fire. It does, however, come with their other Kindle products. I have to say that if I didn’t already have this cord from my eInk Kindle, I would have sent the Kindle Fire back. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants content from their computer, that wasn’t purchased from Amazon, to be on their tablet, especially when that tablet is made for content consumption.
The volume: The volume of the device seems pretty low. In a moderately noisy location, the sound from the speakers are barely audible. I assume that’s why it has a headphone jack.
The browser: While the browser isn’t horrible, it isn’t awesome either. I’m used to the iPad’s Safari browser which is pretty good. The pinch to zoom is either way too fast or way too slow. The loading doesn’t seem to be noticeably faster most of the time, though Amazon said it would be. It does play flash which is nice but I noticed some problems on full sites, like YouTube for example. Some pages aren’t formatted correctly and it just creates a some what of a mess on the screen. It works well most of the time but it isn’t the ideal experience. Hopefully Amazon will fix this with a software update.
The apps: Compared to iOS, the Amazon App Store doesn’t have nearly as big of a selection. Finding apps is easy but good luck finding the ones you want. I suspect this to be an Android problem since I had similar experiences on Android phones when it comes to finding an app that does what I want, it just doesn’t do what I want well.
Reading: The Kindle Fire is not an eReader, or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want to read, buy a normal Kindle since normal Kindle’s still have an eInk display which is much, much better to read on. The glare and LCD screen of the Kindle Fire makes reading books a pretty bad experience. Magazines, however, are fine to read. Since magazines are mostly glossy pages with color pictures, the Kindle Fire’s glossy, color screen really fits the magazine format. It’s also better when the publisher takes the time to optimize the magazine for a tablet. GQ, for example, formats for the screen and includes videos and links on where to buy the clothes. DETAILS magazine is basically a PDF, which sucks.
I only had this device for a day and time will tell if I decide to keep it or not but as of now, I like the device. For what I want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s not an iPad killer because the iPad can do so much more. If you want to sit back, watch a movie, read a magazine and browse the web without having a heavy, big laptop on your lap, than the Kindle Fire is a good option. If you want to create your own content and want something that is a big bigger (and heavier), I would go with an iPad. Either way, you really can’t go wrong with a $200 tablet.
Pictures: Click to enlarge. 1st image: Kindle Fire box. 2: Inside the box. 3: Tiny Quick Start guide. 4:Power plug. 5:Kindle Fire startup. 6:Lock screen. 7: Streaming video (The Tudors)
Let me start out by saying that I am not the biggest fan of Android. Though I prefer iOS, I am not an ignorant hater of Android since I am well aware of why a person would buy and enjoy having an Android device. I just so happen to enjoy living in a walled garden. I also enjoy knowing that every iOS device works and looks the same way. I also like the polished and sexy design of both the Apple hardware and iOS. That being said, here are my thoughts of the Google I/O day one keynote.
First off, thank god they packed all of these announcements and demos into a nice 54-minute presentation. This could have gone on forever but thankfully Google made this presentation bite sized. Speaking of bite sized: I love the image of the Android robot eating an Apple. Keep it classy, Google.
The first thing they showed off was widgets and I am a little embarrassed that widgets are still a big deal. The audience also seemed to like being able to stretch the Gmail widget but I didn’t find that something to hoot and holler about. Maybe it’s just a thing a guy like me doesn’t get.
Google also showed off using your Android tablet as a USB host, basically saying that you can import photos directly to it from a camera via USB. This is interesting and rather useful. Something less useful, however, was connecting a XBOX 360 controller to the tablet to play games. This is useful on a laptop but I don’t understand why anyone would feel the need to play a game with a game console controller on his or her tablet. Tablets are made to be lightweight, portable and hand-held. What douchebag is going to be sitting at Starbucks playing a game with their XBOX controller connected to their 10-inch tablet? My main issue with Android is that they seem to have a lot of features that are included in the OS just because they can, not because anyone wants or will use those features.
I’m sure you are aware of how Google names their OS’s: alphabetically with dessert names. This latest OS is called “Ice Cream Sandwich” which is laughable. “Ice Cream” would have been a bit better but adding the “sandwich” to it just made it childlike. Everything about Android is so fragmented, including their image. You have Motorola Droid, which “does”, which is branded as a robot that is totally bad ass but it is running an OS named after a dessert that melts in 80 degrees. Nothing says “I DO! I AM A ROBOT THAT WILL KICK YOUR ASS” like running an OS named after something found in 5 year olds lunch-boxes.
The biggest announcement was Google’s Music Beta, which is a music cloud service that streams your music to the web and to your Android device. Nothing too impressive here. For a guy living in New York, I do not see the want/need for a cloud based music service, no matter if the provider is Amazon, Google or Apple. If you store your music in the cloud then you are at the mercy of your cell phone signal. I am on the subway underground for most of my commute, which is the time I listen to music. Why would someone like me store their music in the cloud and not be able to listen to music once they lose the signal? Sure, you can download songs from the cloud to be played offline but if that is the solution, why bother syncing your music to the cloud at all?
What Google and everyone is getting wrong is I don’t want to store my music in the cloud. I want it on my devices, ALL my devices without having to sync. Rumors are that Apple might be doing some sort of wireless iTunes model, which would be nice. I want my songs stored on my iPhone and my Mac, however, I want to buy a song on my iPhone and come home and have that song already on my Mac without having to connect that horrid white wire to my iPhone and waste a few minutes from my life waiting for it to sync. I hope Apple gets this right. Personally, I do not understand wanting to have music stored in the cloud unless you have a HUGE music library…and if you are outside with a strong signal ALL the time.
Android@home is something I am a bit more interested in. Using a tablet to control lights is quite futuristic. Having your lights change and interact with the game you are playing is pretty awesome. Imagine playing a game where all your lights go off when you die. Pretty cool stuff but once again, this is a lot more “we are doing this because we can, not because we should”. How many of us REALLY want our lights to be controlled by our gaming?
One thing that really impressed me was the Android@Home hub thingy that is basically a white ball which when you swipe a CD in front of it, it adds the entire CD to your music library. The only issue with that is: A CD? This would be way cooler if anyone still used CDs.
Overall, I was unimpressed with what I saw today. Last year, after seeing their keynote, I was ready to buy an Android phone (believe it or not) AND a Google TV. This year, I am very happy living in my Apple world with God Jobs looking over me.
Don’t get me wrong; I think that the Google Bakery Shoppe is more advanced than iOS. There are many things that Android phones do that I wish my phone did. However, for me to become an Android user the phones need to get sexier, the OS’s need to be less fragmented and sleeker, and Google needs to grab their Android balls and start taking control. I think we are learning that a massive open source OS is not the best thing. For example: malicious apps and carriers taking complete control over the devices. Wanna use Google search on a GOOGLE phone on Verizon? Good luck.