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)