Pros: An all around good tablet at an affordable price point.
Cons: Not the most powerful tablet, marginal on some websites.
I was happy to find out I was selected to receive a new Kindle Fire from Epinions, and have tested it out pretty comprehensively over the past few days. I do also own and have reviewed the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard). The Fire though is a totally different device and overall I think it does what it's does pretty well.
I think I'm a good person to judge the Kindle Fire's interface as I've never owned a phone, tablet or whatever with a touchscreen interface. In fact, I generally disliked them and prefer the the tactile feel of a hard keyboard and buttons. The Fire has only a small power button, everything is soft buttons on the screen.
However, it took me no time to get used to the Fire as like MOST touchscreen devices seem to be, everything is pretty intuitive. At times it can feel like the controls are too sensitive one minute then not sensitive enough the next, but overall I think the interface is effective for this type of device. The speed is good and not too laggy when changing between menus or scrolling. For reading books, watching video, listening to music, and occasionally browsing the web or using other apps, it works well. Having capabilities to type emails, or do more intensive computing through various apps is a nice extra, but not something I would use on the Fire regularly. For that stuff, I much prefer a conventional laptop with full tactile physical keyboard.
Physical Design and Construction 5/5
There's no denying the Kindle Fire has a quality look and feel. With no hard buttons it certainly looks sleek and trendy. It runs perfectly quiet and emits no heat, even after hours of active use. The battery life is OK; it is advertised to last 8 hours, although streaming video through wifi, by my rough estimate the battery will last less around 4 hours. That's not great but I think acceptable for this type of device.
I actually had some trouble connecting the Kindle Fire to connect to my home wifi network. For a device that needs to be super user friendly, I have to dock points for this. Ultimately the issue was with my network, but the Kindle wasn't helping things. I couldn't easily get the kindle to show display a text document because apparently you have to email documents to some mailto:%27@kindle' address. I don't like devices that limit usability like this! And of course, I also couldn't test any functionality until I registered the Kindle, and I couldm't register until I was connected to the internet.
I ran a speed test and the Kindle Fire showed 5Mbps down speed on my home network, while my laptop got over 10. Not sure exactly what causes the difference, but 5mbs is still fast enough for me.
I do really, really wish Amazon made a version of the Fire with 3G access. The Kindle 3 (now called the Kindle Keyboard) had this but was a much more limited device. I guess 3G access on a full tablet would be too useful to offer for free!
With a screen resolution of 600x1024 (very high for just a 7 inch screen) words appear sharp, even at the smallest font size supported. The default brightness and color mode is just too bright for me to read comfortably; however, there is a creamish background mode which is much easier on my eyes. You can also further turn down the brightness. For reading, I definitely prefer the traditional kindle e-ink screen through, and if I wanted a kindle for 90% reading books, I would definitely go with the traditional kindle, unless I was somehow reading in the dark a lot.
There are a few additional features that are nice on the Kindle Fire. There are a few more typefaces available. There's also a magnifying feature activated by touching and holding the screen, although it can be awkward to use as it magnifies the word you've covered with your finger, but it might be helpful for some users.
Overall I think Amazon's cloud service which allows you to store your digital music on Amazon's servers and stream them from multiple devices works well for the Kindle if you have a large music library and want to save the space on the Kindle for something else. Of course, you have to be connected through to the internet, but if you're not it's pretty simple to download from “the cloud” when you are connected.
The music player has a lot more functionality then the Kindle 3. You can actually view the name and ID3 information for the track you are playing, skip forward and back on the track and create playlists, all things you can't do in the Kindle 3.
The speakers are decent for a mobile device, about equivalent to most smartphones I've heard, maybe a bit louder in maximum volume.
The Kindle video store features streaming video. There is some free Movie and TV content for Amazon Prime members, as well as some paid content. Since I don't have a Prime membership, I didn't try any content from the store.
I did try streaming video from several websites. On some sites like YouTube, the videos streamed perfectly; as good as they do on my laptop, for standard definition and and high quality. However, some other sites had some trouble. For example, on espn.com, the video would work fine when it was streaming in low quality and when there wasn't much changing in the image (like showing the broadcaster during pregame) but in higher quality, when there was more action in the video (like a bunch of players running around the field) the video would get somewhat choppy, or parts of the image would get distorted. Since I was getting 5mbps download speed on the Kindle, I don't think the connection was the issue, it just seems like the kindle does not have enough processing power to handle the streaming from some websites. I'm guessing some sites like YouTube are more optimized on mobile devices with less processing power.
However I did also try playing a video I copied to the internal memory. This time the video, shot in high resolution 960p played perfectly smoothly with no choppyness or distortion whatsoever. With the resolution and brightness of the screen, I was pretty impressed with the playback.
There is a tab on the main menu for personal documents, and the Kindle can read txt and pdf formats, in addition to a few more. However, as mentioned above you have you email documents to your kindle and cannot copy them straight to the kindle through a USB connection. To me this is a needless inconvenience.
There is also a QuickOffice app preinstalled that allows you to view most common document formats on the Kindle such as word docs, however it appears either you cannot actually edit them on the Kindle, or that doing so is not so user friendly.
The Kindle Fire runs on a version of the popular Google Android operating system, and thus should be able to run all apps in the massive Android market. However, by default Amazon only allows Fire users to download from the Amazon Appstore, which only contains a small subset of apps. Although I don't think you can actually install a Android market app on the Fire, fortunately there is a device setting to allow installing applications from unknown sources, which means you can basically get any Android app you want on the Fire. Whew, not as bad as Apple!
If you want to stick to the Amazon Appstore, there is a good selection of thousands of apps, all tested and approved by Amazon. The interface of the store seems user friendly, with top free and paid apps listed on the frontpage, and easy access to ratings and reviews of the apps.
I've only tried a few apps all from the Amazon Appstore but have not experienced any issues with them. I tested out Angry Birds and it ran with no lag whatsoever.
The Kindle Fire uses Amazon's Silk browser.The Silk browser is definitely way better then the . It interface is like most browsers on touchscreen mobile devices. This is definitely way better then the experimental browser on the kindle 3, which in addition to being slow, can be cumbersome to navigate without the touchscreen.
In contrast I find the speed of the Silk browser good, it loads most pages almost as fast as my laptop. However, some sites, beyond basic ones or ones optimized for mobile can cause issues, for example epinions.com throw a script error and forced the browser to restart!
Overall, the browser is more then capable for occasional light browsing and checking email. It's not powerful enough to replace your laptop though.
All in all I find the Kindle Fire to be a solid tablet computer. It combines the features of an e-book reader with the power for decent multimedia playback and occasional web browsing. And it is built on the popular Android platform which gives you access to a lot of popular mobile apps. It would be a great gift for anyone who likes to have the latest gadgets.