Amazon Kindle Fire Review


Kindle Fire was one of the most eagerly awaited gadgets for this year and Amazon certainly created a lot of noise around it, raising the expectations through the roof. While using the term iPad killer is really inappropriate after so many wannabees, most of the analysts expected Amazon to release a tablet significantly cheaper than iPad but capable to offer the same kind of synergy between various media services, eBooks and applications, Amazon being one of the very few companies that can rival Apple in such offerings.

Amazon Kindle Fire was released just a few days ago and the question hot on everybody’s lips is how and if it can compare with iPad, with other Android tablets and with the Nook Tablet, its main competitor. Nobody really doubts of Amazon capability of selling millions of Kindle Fires, but to be really successful Amazon needs to sell into tens of millions. Can they achieve this? How well Amazon’s ecosystem works? How well integrated various media capabilities are in the Kindle Fire, how fast and fluid is the software and User Interface and also for many that will want to root / jailbreak the Kindle Fire, how easy it is to achieve and what is the degree of customizing that can be applied to it. To these and many other questions we’ll try to answer in this Kindle Fire Review.

Kindle Fire Unpacking

Similar with other Kindles, the packaging is reduced to a minimum. A non-descriptive brown box and inside it, just the Kindle Fire itself and the universal charger. Nothing else, not even a manual. Not that you really need a printed manual since one of the obvious Kindle functions is to be an eReader. There is a quick start guide, but I have never seen anything that sparse. It is obvious Amazon worked hard to cut costs at every corner in an effort to make the tablet more affordable. You probably now by now that the price in US is $199, no taxes and free shipping in most of the states.

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Kindle Fire Design and Functionality

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Technical Specifications

Display 7″ multi-touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and anti-reflective treatment, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors.
Size (in inches) 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″ (190 mm x 120 mm x 11.4 mm).
Weight 14.6 ounces (413 grams).
System Requirements None, because it’s wireless and doesn’t require a computer.
On-device Storage 8GB internal (approximately 6GB available for user content).
Cloud Storage Free cloud storage for all Amazon content
Battery Life Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off. Battery life will vary based on wireless usage, such as web browsing and downloading content.
Charge Time Fully charges in approximately 4 hours via included U.S. power adapter. Also supports charging from your computer via USB.
Wi-Fi Connectivity Supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or enterprise networks with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
USB Port USB 2.0 (micro-B connector)
Audio 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, top-mounted stereo speakers.
Content Formats Supported Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8.
Documentation Quick Start Guide (included in box); Kindle Fire User’s Guide (pre-installed on device).
Warranty and Service 1-year limited warranty and service included. Optional 2-year Extended Warranty available for U.S. customers sold separately.
Included in the Box Kindle Fire device, U.S. power adapter (supports 100-240V), and Quick Start Guide.

Hardware

Hardware wise, Kindle is about 7.5 by 4.7 by 0.45 (11.4mm)  inches big and 0.91 pound (413 grams) heavy, a bit heavier than Nook tablet but not by much.  However, for its size Kindle Fire feels both thick and heavy, more so than the initial Nook Color, and the fact that the sides are not rounded like the Nook tablets contribute to the impression of thickness. I really feel the need to repeat about weight, for its size it does feel uncomfortably heavy, more so than expected. When you are reading for a prolonged period, every gram counts and after even a short time my hands were getting tired.

The back cover is rubberized for a firm grip and there are no buttons on the front, not even the home button. A sleep / power on/off button is on the bottom edge together with the headphone jack and the micro-USB charging and connection slot. The dual speakers are located on the top edge. Notable is the absence of  dedicated Volume and Home buttons. The size and position of the power/sleep button is counter intuitive and not once I found myself looking for it. Among all the tablets I tested Kindle Fire’s button placement and overall hardware button configuration felt the most awkward and uninspired. The software Home button occupies an unnecessary amount of space which would be better use for displaying content.

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Internally, Kindle Fire is built around a 1GHz TI OMAP CPU, 512MB RAM and 8GB storage from which 6GB are available for user content including apps, books, movies, music, etc. That’s not a lot of space and while Amazon is pushing hard their cloud storage system, the lack of an SD or microSD expansion slot is sorely missed.

The 7-inch, 1024×600 display and 169ppi multi-touch display using IPS technology offers 16 million accurate colors and honestly is a pleasure to watch. It is crisp and very bright, with very large viewing angle. An acceleration for portrait / landscape orientation switch is included as well.

Among the hardware bells and whistles that you won’t find inside Kindle Fire is a camera, Bluetooth adapter, 3G connection and GPS. Whether you actually need them or not  is open to debate, but it depends on your intended usage. Obviously, Kindle Fire’s intended usage is media consumption and that includes magazines, books, videos, music and an occasional game.

Battery is non replaceable, a trend in design that seems more and more popular lately, in order to limit the overall thickness. However, considering Kindle Fire’s dimensions, it didn’t help that much…

Software

Kindle Fire runs a customized version of Amazon 2.3 with Amazon’s unique user interface that focuses on seven main areas: Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. The main area which we’ll call Home features a visual carousel through which you can scroll between books, apps, etc. With one touch you can show the Home and Back buttons which are software emulated. The settings button is located in the top notification bar, on the right next to the wireless and battery indicators. The Volume and Brightness functions, Wi-Fi On/Off switch and the other system settings including the apk side loading switch are only accessible through this Settings soft button. While I am OK with most of the functions, I would have liked a dedicated Volume buttons pair.

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I mentioned side loading of apk files – you can turn the function ON by navigating to Settings->More->Device->Allow Installation of Applications or by following our quick tutorial.

Overall I find Amazon’s UI quite attractive and obviously oriented toward media consumption. If you are used to Android’s UI, you’ll miss Widgets and Folders. Many people will find the obvious simplicity reassuring and easier to understand than a full fledged UI. Everything is easy to find, strongly categorized and the UI common among the categories.

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Since there is no hardware Home button, Amazon implemented a soft button which is not always visible – instead you can make it appear with a simple click. The second critical navigation element is the back button located on the same status bar where the home soft button appears. Together, the two soft buttons plus the category bar allow navigation through every area of the device.

Newsstand

Kindle Fire has a very strong magazine reader with an integrated store. The content is rich and the presentation is fluid, a pleasure to use. I am not the kind of persons that enjoys magazines, but i really liked the integration.

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Books – Kindle eReader

The entire Kindle series was build with one main goal: to allow purchasing and consuming written content. Kindle Fire added a color screen and movies / music and apps but the eReader functionality is still there and quite solid. All the features found on other tablets are still there, including synchronization between devices but some cool (though useless) features like page turn animation is notably absent.

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Music

The music player is also integrated with Amazon’s music store and all your purchased music is instantly available on the device. The player is solid but nothing out of ordinary.

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Video – Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime started initially as a subscription 2-day shipping service but Amazon used the brand to create a movie streaming service a la Netflix. Beside renting movies, you can also purchase video content and the integration is quite nice. With every Kindle Fire Amazon also includes one month of free content, hoping obviously to get you on the boat. Considering the price, Amazon Prime is actually the greatest deal in streaming around at $79 including unlimited streaming from a library of more than 10,000 movies and TV Shows on Kindle Fire and a growing number of TV and media streamers. For more information, you can read our Amazon Prime Review.

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Beside Amazon Prime, you have access to Hulu Plus in Amazon’s App Store and Netflix – see the screenshot below. The Netflix app shows its tablet optimized UI, includes caption text and is a pleasure to use.

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Docs

Beside books that you download from Amazon’s eBook store, you can send documents to your Kindle e-mail and they’ll be automatically converted and loaded on the device. Applications that allow usage of Microsoft Office document formats are also available in the Amazon App Store.

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Apps – Amazon Market

We talked about applications omitting their source – Amazon Market – the only app store available by default on Kindle Fire. With over 10,000 apps available, including most of my favorites, streaming clients for Hulu Plus and Netflix, Angry Birds, news apps, popular games, etc, Amazon App Store is not the Android Marketplace but it is a reasonable good alternative. The prices are also lower on average than Android Marketplace and Amazon also offers their free App of the Day, a good day to build your collection (and how I got Office suite, Peggle, Plants vs Zombies, etc).

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Web – Silk Browser

Amazon is using a newly build supercomputer to compress and process the websites you visit and ensure a fast browsing experience. This technology is called Silk and while the rendering is correct, it is also quite slow compared with iPad for example, or even my Galaxy S II Skyrocket. Not sure how effective Silk is, or how slow the browsing would be without it, but the end result is not very good.

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Kindle Fire Battery Performance

In my experience the battery performance is excellent. Quoted at up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback with wireless off in my experience was right on the money. Even with the wireless on, the battery lasts through a day of normal browsing. Impressive.

Benchmarks Tests

Main article – Kindle Fire Benchmarks. You’ll need to root / add Android Marketplace to duplicate our results. The synthetic benchmarks reveal a quite slow performer in terms of raw performance. While the benchmarks don’t accurately describe the perceived performance, in this case they are right on the money; While Kindle Fire is fairly fluid, it has its hiccups and lags, especially when starting / installing applications.

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Enhancing Kindle Fire 

Rooting

To unleash Kindle Fire’s full potential, you need to root it so you can take it to the next level in terms of functionality and customization. You’ll have to start by enabling sideloading of applications and then proceed to the tutorial to root it.

Android Market

While in its original state Kindle Fire doesn’t have access to the official Android Marketplace, instead offering the more limited Amazon App Store, if you root it you can also install the Android Marketplace. The steps are not hard to follow with our detailed tutorial in installing the Android Marketplace on Kindle Fire.

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Taking Screenshots

Amazon didn’t implement a system of taking screenshots with Kindle Fire, however it is certainly possible. In order to take screenshots, you’ll have to install Android SDK and go through a series of steps. We detailed the whole process in our tutorial: How to take screenshots with Kindle Fire. See our gallery at the end of this review for a large collection of Kindle Fire screenshots.

Conclusion

Kindle Fire is a worthy successor of the Kindle eReader line and a notable entry for Amazon in the tablet market. While the price is low, there are other tablets at this price point including the Lenovo one, B&N’s new Nook Tablet and others. What is really new is the eco-system Amazon put together to provide entertainment on the go starting from books going to music and video, cloud storage and access and Amazon’s own quite loaded application store. While nowhere near close to the system Apple put together, there is a lot of potential here and its price will certainly prove more appealing to the masses than Apple’s iPad. While not without its obvious shortcomings including size, the lack of camera, storage expansion slot and the lack of official access to Google’s Android Market, it is a solid performer for its intended usage and the price is sweetening the deal a lot. Beside all this, if you are the adventurous type you can always root it through our extensive tutorials and transform it to a full fledged tablet on the cheap.

Pros:

  • Good eco-system, integrating Amazon’s own offerings in magazines, books, apps, audio and video
  • excellent quality IPS LCD screen
  • highly responsive capacitive multi-touch touchscreen
  • good battery life

Cons:

  • a bit thick and on the heavy side
  • non replaceable battery
  • no microSD expansion slot
  • limited 512MB RAM for applications
  • limited 8GB internal storage memory with only 6GB available
  • not the fastest tablet available by a large margin

Gallery

The gallery contains quite a lot of screenshots and also size comparisons between Apple iPad, Nook Color, HP TouchPad and Kindle Fire. Enjoy!

 

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