Amazon Kindle Fire (8 GB) 7" Tablet (400025061732)

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Kindle Fire Review: Kindle's crossover into the Android Tablet realm

Dec 13, 2011 (Updated Apr 1, 2012)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Price.  Build Quality.  Flash capable Browser. Access to some popular apps.

Cons:Long list of omissions which include: Android Market,  hard buttons, 3G/Bluetooth,  Google services...

The Bottom Line: Kindle Fire makes an acceptable gift as a basic tablet, but, lacks a long list of features you'd get if you were willing to pay more.



TECHNOLOGY


The Kindle Fire’s body design feels of high quality and definitely will surprise you if you were expecting a “$200 tablet” to feel cheap.  Most of the cheap Android tablets I’ve used have been disappointing in one way or another. 

The Fire has a  600 x 1024p  display which is about average for such a low end tablet. Those of us spoiled by reading text on iPhone4  or newer Android cellphones will be let down by this relatively low resolution.  Reading web pages, eMagazines and eComic books is hampered by the resolution due to the overly pixilated images and squashed/miniaturized fonts,  but, for reading eBooks, it works well enough.

Fortunately, the Fire offers an easy font manipulator which allows you to choose between black text on white background and white text on black background.  You can easily change line spacing, margins and font size.   This makes eBook reading easy without the bulk of a larger tablet.

The Kindle Fire sports a 1 GHz CPU couple to a 512MB RAM module and an 8GB hard storage module. At present, there is no larger capacity version available – unlike most other tablets which offer 16GB, 32GB or 64GB.   For what it is, 8GB isn’t bad if you just want to load some music files, but, if you wanted to load up on videos, you’re out of luck here. Amazon wants you buying your videos from them.  $1.99 for TV shows;  $2.99 - $3.99 for movies.     I would have settled for 4GB if the Kindle came with flash card expandability (up to 32GB), but, there is no card slot and you are stuck with what you've got. Many cheap eReaders on the market offer flash card storage. 


WAV, MIDI, MP4, MP3,  AAC and OGG are among the most popular formats supported by the Fire. I used REALPLAYER SP to load converted files to the Fire and they played without a hitch.


Unfortunately, the Fire runs an old version of Android  (2.3) {Version 6.2.1 for this review} and most likely will never see a newer version such as that on our Motorola Xoom.  This means you won’t have access to the true Android market and the only apps you’ll be able to seamlessly use are older apps designed to fit the “cellphone environment”.   This disappointment repeats itself among the sub-$300 Android powered tablets available at various pharmacies and Radio Shack.

There are some glaring omissions made from the Kindle Fire. The first major disappointment is the lack of a physical volume button. You’ll have to actually turn on the screen and unlock the tablet just to turn volume up and down. There’s nothing more than a power button for hardware access.  They didn’t even see fit to put an orientation switch on it.   “Video out” of some type would have been nice too.   What's really annoying is that in a cost cutting move, the Kindle Fire doesn't include headphones or a micro-B USB cable.   As the integrated speakers are weak compared to most cellphones, you'll want to buy a pair immediately if you intend to use the Fire for videos/music. 


At the moment 3G service is not available.  Any browsing you do will be via WiFi. The Fire has an 802.11n chipset that will be compatible with just about any WiFi system you are running.  Bluetooth tethering would have been a nice feature, but, if you have a cellphone that allows itself to be identified as a WiFi hotspot, you can use that instead.




AUDIO & VIDEO


I, for one, do not like purchasing music from cloud based services - which store music/videos on the internet for access anywhere.   I prefer to have a device that can hold my media and share it with other devices – just in case I find myself in a place where internet access is slow, absent  or restricted.   The Kindle Fire has been designed to readily give you access to your purchased Amazon music and videos. Streaming is quick for your music, but, downloading your videos is problematic because of the aforementioned capacity issue.  You’ll only have access to 6.5 of the 8GB so you’ll want to use it wisely.


I am no longer a Pandora user, but, Pandora is supported!  My coworker loves using hers.


Streaming from Hulu Plus and Netflix is supported by the Kindle Fire, but, from what I’ve seen of the video streaming, resolution and sound quality is low enough to annoy  you – if you expected HD quality viewing.   Unlike most of the other tablets I’ve reviewed, there is no HDMI extension so you can’t plug the Kindle Fire into an HDTV for playback.  


Youtube videos, for example, do not run full screen. You also can't choose the video quality (SD 480p or HD 720p). Whilst holding the Fire in landscape mode, your hands can easily block the speakers. 




BROWSING


Kindle Fire greets you with a graphic user interface, not unlike the “coverflow” on Apple’s iOS.  Apps and content are placed on an inertial scrolling “carousel” which you can slide through with the tip of a finger.  Unfortunately, what Fire does not have is a good multitasking system. You can use an app, leave the app and return to the app at the state you left it – but, you can’t simply switch between apps. iOS devices have a “home” button that lets you do this.   AndroidOS typically lets you do the same thing. Why the Fire does not have this – I have no idea.   In fact, it’s a surprise to not have the AndroisOS hard buttons (menu, home, back and search) on the device itself.


Another issue I have with the Fire is the quality of it’s capacitive touch screen.  Navigating through web pages sometimes feels spotty and inconsistent. Sometimes your finger is registered perfectly, sometimes it isn’t.  Sometimes the browser stops and then jumps ahead and sometimes it doesn’t. Often, it will feel as if you are forced to press down on the screen to the point of damage before the press is registered. Not good. 


Because the vast majority of internet sites optimized for tablets have been optimized for the 9.7” iPad and other similar sized tablets running AndroidOS , many sites will not load well onto the Kindle Fire’s screen and you’ll be left trying to readjust them.


The next problem is that the multi-touch capable web browser, “Silk”, is a cloud based browser which pre-renders pages- before they get to the device-  so as to cut down on processing power required.  I do not like this because #1 I’m concerned about privacy,  #2 It’s not as fast as some of the browsers I’ve used on Android OS phones with slower CPU’s and #3 some webpages I wanted to view did not work at all.


Every now and then, the kindle Fire will be crashed by pages that use up it's memory and require a hard reset. Even looking at my epinions page with embedded Youtube videos caused this to happen - wherin, my poorly supported HP Touchpad handled it well.  





BATTERY LIFE

 
Kindle Fire includes a 4400 mAh  Lithium-ion battery.  The battery longevity  is roughly average for a sub $300 Android powered tablet PC, but, when compared to true E-ink technology readers – such as the regular Kindle – it is hopelessly outmatched.


Kindle Fire returns roughly 7 hours of battery life with the screen brightness and volume at 100%.  Compare this to the regular Kindle whose battery will last one week or so under constant use and offers up to a month or more with intermittent use and the gains of E-ink technology are obvious. 


However,  people buying these devices typically don’t want “just an eReader”.  People want internet browsing, email and access to social networking sites.  To me, using the AndroidOS to build a Kindle with an LCD screen makes all the sense in the world, even if you have to charge it at the end of every day.


Let’s consider some of the other Tablet PC’s I’ve reviewed/owned.   My iPad2 easily returns battery life well above 9 hours.  The Motorola XOOM,  we have returns battery life  around the 8 hour mark.   The Galaxy Tab (a closer competitor) returns battery life near the iPad2’s at about 9 hours.   The Blackberry Playbook  and Toshiba Thrive return roughly the same as the Kindle Fire.




OVERALL…SHOULD YOU BUY THE KINDLE FIRE OR SKIP IT?

As much as I complain about missing features, what I can say in its defense is that the Kindle Fire only costs $200 and offers a “useable” (although far from remarkable)  browsing experience with a Flash browser that is functional enough to view most flash webpages. I like the fact that both mobile and desktop versions of webpages are supported, but, I wish the screen resolution was higher.

We are giving a Kindle Fire to my young cousin as a Christmas gift, and  I’m sure she’ll like it because  it allows access to Facebook and webpage browsing without the bulk of carrying a laptop computer. Yes, I know she “wants” an iPad, but, we weren’t willing to spend $600 on a tablet for her to take bath and forth to school.   The Kindle Fire, with it’s higher end looks and popular support is therefore a reasonably priced and attractive device to gift someone.    The only concern in giving this as a gift for a teenager is that there are no parental blocks present. Therefore, it could be used to view Flash based websites with pornography/ violent material.


Major features such as  front/rear facing cameras, microphones, HDMI-out,  Bluetooth and access to Google Android’s typical services such as GPS maps, and Amazon’s Cloud Drive storage access (example:  videos) are absent.  At just $200, I can overlook this.  But, the lack of a volume rocker and flash card expandability is simply unforgivable.


If you want a tablet that won’t break your budget and offers basic functionality, the Kindle Fire is a good choice. However, I strongly recommend considering a Samsung Galaxy Tab or  buying a smartphone with a 4.5” screen or larger if you are more interested in media than eBook reading.  If you specifically want to "just read books" - buy a Kindle 3 instead.   If you are buying these as gifts like we are, might I suggest an iPod Touch?  Though it's screen is half the viewable area of the Fire's,  iPod Touch is a superior device in every other measureable aspect. 

There are some lacking features if you are a hardcore e-book user:

#1 Battery will need more recharging than a Kindle3.
#2 You can't categorize your books.
#3 there is no text-to-speech at present. 
#4 Your browsing habits are being monitored by Big Brother. 


It totally blows my mind when a company builds cheap hardware hoping to suck in customers so they'll purchase software. Why doesn't this have 3G connectivity so people could choose to purchase mobile internet? Why are there no cables included so buyer enthusiasm would get them to purchase media to listen to immediately?  Amazon might have done better just licensing the Galaxy Tab hardware and having customers sign a monthly access contract to purchase it.  or, perhaps they could have included more basic features and taken an up front loss - making that loss up over time by selling firmware/software. Video game console manufacturers do it all the time. 


I doubt the Kindle Fire was actually designed as an iPad competitor, but, any iPad owner (even first generation iPad owner) will recognize how much better the iPad is in just about every field except portability.   the one thing I am counting on is that the runaway success of the Fire will lead competitors such as Barnes& Noble to put out better products to compete - starting a race to "the best LCD eBook read".  At the time being, the Kindle Fire just ain't it...



UPDATE:  "version 6.2.2"  supports wifi passwords to keep kids off the internet unless you unlock it for them. Unfortunately, even with "restrictions" enabled, I was still able to visit porn sites like Xhamster - which you wouldn't want your kids getting to.  


Recommend this product? Yes

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