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Amazon Kindle Fire: The “Apple-ification” of Android by Amazon
Written: Jun 19, 2012 (Updated Jun 19, 2012)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Solid hardware, simple-to-use, optimized for Amazon content, non-threatening, vetted apps
Cons:Limited on-board resources, no HDMI, no cameras, no 3G/4G, tough reading in the sun
The Bottom Line: Amazon has a great little machine here that will delight most and frustrate very few. I highly recommend it.
Several months ago while watching TV one evening one of the first Amazon Kindle Fire commercials came on. “I think I might like one of those”, said the beautiful Mrs. Xeno. I did indeed hear her say just that. My technophobic Veronica had just expressed an interest in an Android tablet. So I pressed on. “I never knew you wanted a tablet”, I said. “I don’t, I want one of those”, she came back with. It was that moment that I was again reminded that Jeff Bezos is a very, very smart man. In fact he’s far smarter than the tech-world gives him credit for. But then Bezos isn’t really a tech-guy at all. He’s a synergistic visionary who kept banging his Amazon drum for over a decade before seeing a profit and ultimately created the ultimate one stop on-line shopping site: Amazon.com. But let’s go back to the Kindle Fire.
The Kindle Fire: About as much tablet as most of us need
Pouring over the tech columns, forums and blogs as I do daily I was already pretty familiar with what the Kindle Fire is and isn’t. Before we talk specs and glaze a few eyeballs I’ll specify that the Kindle Fire won’t satisfy a sizeable audience. It’s not going to dazzle the tech-savvy crowd. You know who I mean, the ones who root their Droids, jail-break their iPhone and load up Playbook OS 2.1 DevBeta on their Playbooks.
But a vastly greater audience like Veronica and most of her friends (as well as most of mine) who think that Gingerbread is something you eat and couldn’t care less if their device was powered by Android 2.3.5 or just a small family of hyperactive gerbils, are eating the Kindle Fire up. Because, taking a page out of Apple’s own playbook (no Pun, I swear), Amazon isn’t selling specs; they’re selling the experience. In Jobsian dialect, “It just works”. And, if you’re a hardcore Amazon devotee, it works damned fine.
A few weeks before Mother’s Day I asked my daughter Jenna whether she thought that Mom would like a Kindle Fire as a gift. “Oh yeah, I was gonna tell you that!” Uh huh. No matter, it was already ordered and just a day from arriving. I had turned my Amazon Gift Code file upside down and shook it for every shekel it contained and just squeaked out enough for her Fire and the Blurex Kindle Fire Slim Folio/Stand that was going to protect it. It arrived in plenty of time to allow me to get acquainted with it (read: play) and customize and personalize it to Veronica’s taste. After all, since for Prime Video purposes it is tied to my Amazon account and Amazon ships the Fire pre-registered, I didn’t want her to turn it on and see “Rudi’s Kindle” but rather, “Veronica’s Kindle”. And, since I know her favorite games I downloaded a few of those apps and even set up her email. I mean, it was intended as a gift, right?
Once making the few adjustments to the Kindle I returned it to the Amazon box and even put it back in its protective wrapping and re-pasted the tear strip on the box . Veronica was going to experience as much of the real unboxing experience as possible given a doting husband. So after the gift wrap was torn away she opened the box, removed the cellophane wrapped Fire and located the included charger. Other than a little card tucked into the inside of the top flap that essentially tells you to turn it on and follow instructions, that’s it. We were looking at a simple black slab ever so slightly smaller than my Blackberry Playbook. She powered it up with the little switch located on the bottom of the tab next to the micro-usb port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. (To give her the real feel, I had removed it from our wireless network so she could find it herself). Initial power-up took about 45 seconds.
The brief on-screen tutorial (and I mean brief) takes just moments to watch and grasp. There’s nothing even remotely complicated here. If you need to delve deeper there’s a roughly 35 page Kindle Fire User’s Guide in your Kindle Library. For most, set-up will take only a few minutes before being ready to roll. Once you open the screen with the very obvious slider you come face to face with the Home Screen. There’s nothing Androidy or iPadish here. You’re visually greeted with a bookshelf. The first shelf is a revolving carousel of most recently used apps or web-pages visited. You can scroll through them with a finger tip. A tap will reopen the item. (A long press and a tap can get rid of them). On the shelves below you’ll find your favorite apps.
The beauty of this arrangement is that the user is never confronted with anything unfamiliar. How non-threatening can you get?
Above the revolving carousel there’s a familiar search box and tabs for Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web. Touch a tab and it takes you there. Easy, no?
Some Specs in Narrative
The Kindle Fire is manufactured for Amazon by Quanta Computer (Taiwan), the largest notebook computer ODM company in the world. Like its closely related cousin, the Blackberry Playbook, with which it shares many common components, it features a 7” IPS TFT active matrix, Gorilla Glass fortified screen that displays content at a dazzling 1240x600 pixel resolution. The resulting 170 ppi (pixels per inch) exceeds the resolution of the iPad2. The Fire is powered by a 1 GHz dual-core – Cortex A9 Processor with PowerVR SGX540 Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and has 512MB RAM. Total non-expandable device storage is 8GB with approximately 6.0GB available to the user for apps and content storage. This is augmented by unlimited Cloud-storage for Amazon purchased content and 5GB for all other content. Connectivity is limited to Wifi 802.11b/g/n. There is no GPS, Bluetooth, HDMI or cameras. Overall dimensions of the Fire are 7.5”Lx4.7Wx.45”D weighing in at 14.6oz. It features energetic top mounted stereo speakers with a 3.5mm audio jack (bottom mounted). Battery life is rated at up to 8hours continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback. Recharge time with supplied charger is approximately 4 hours.
Although the Operating System is actually Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread), there is little obvious evidence of it. This Android OS is heavily skinned by Amazon. The Web browser is the Amazon designed Silk cloud-accelerated split browser with full Flash support.
Although the 8GB internal (approximately 6GB available for user content) seems limiting, Amazon claims it to be enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. Keeping in mind that this is a tablet designed for personal content consumption and that Cloud storage is incredibly accessible given a wi-fi connection, I believe that this will satisfy the greatest proportion of its intended audience nicely.
The Amazon Silk split cloud-accelerated web browser, while fast and smooth won’t blow you away right out of the box. But after using it a month it actually gets much faster as it predicts your next move. Spooky.
The onboard virtual keyboard is predictive and available in either portrait or landscape orientation. Although I prefer the SwiftKey keyboard of my Playbook, this keyboard is more than competent for a touch screen device.
Amazon Kindle Fire Apps
The Kindle Fire acquires its Apps from the Amazon App Store, a heavily vetted sub-set of the Apps available to Android users from Google Play. Sure, it’s not as inclusive as Play, but Amazon has done a pretty good job culling out most of the truly awful apps of Play and offering most, if not all of the most important and popular. Since receiving her Fire, Veronica hasn’t complained yet about an app she couldn’t find. As her husband, I really appreciate that. But, if there is an App you just have to have and it doesn’t appear in Amazon’s App Store ask the nearest geek and he’ll/she’ll side-load it for you from a site like goodereader.com. He’ll/She’ll also tell you what side-loading means if you ask.
A requirement of using the App Store is that a credit/debit card must be on-file in the associated Amazon Account. This bothers some. Veronica’s OK with it. Why wouldn’t she be? It’s my credit card. But, for the record, I’m fine with it. Amazon is my primary on-line shopping site and it’s rare that I don’t have a pending order on file.
If you’re getting a Kindle Fire an Amazon Prime Membership is just about a no-brainer. For $79/year members get free 2-day shipping on most items in addition to free streaming of a vast collection of movies and TV series episodes from Amazon’s Instant Video Service.
General Kindle Fire Operating Characteristics in Brief
As a personal tablet/eReader, content consumption, email, web-browsing, etc. are all generally smooth, error free and fast. The User Interface (UI) is totally non-threatening and really can be mastered in a very short time. If there’s a device simpler to use than an iPod/iPhone/iPad, this is it. The display is bright with impressive screen resolution. Page-to-page and app-to-app transitions are virtually flawless.
“Apple-ification” of Android?
When Apple unveiled the original iPad, its low $499 base price surprised many of the tech-writing community. But then, tech-writers aren’t necessarily good business heads. Apple controlled the hardware, software but most importantly the overwhelming proportion of the for-sale content, making the iPad the high tech equivalent of the time-tested razor and blade model perfected by Gillette over a century ago. Unlike most other tablet manufacturers, Apple doesn’t need much margin if any, on the hardware. The secret’s in the sauce.
While Amazon doesn’t create Operating Systems, by heavily sandboxing and skinning Android and offering their own branded tablet, Amazon has put themselves in a similar position. Amazon is the king of paid content and they can afford to heavily subsidize the manufacture of the hardware. The importance of this “Apple-ification” is that you have every reason to believe your Kindle Fire and its successors will remain relevant reasonably long into the future.
A study of tablet use completed by MorganStanley in 2011 found that as few as 20% of tablet users relied on their tablets for content creation. While the information is probably already dated it probably hasn’t changed all that much. This 20% will not be buying a Fire as a primary tablet. Nor are those who insist on having all 20,000 of their music tracks available at all times. The same goes for those who need their 25 all-time favorite movies just a touch away.
As an eReader, the Fire is great indoors and in bed at night. Use on the beach is problematic (as Mrs. Xeno has found out). She’s worked through it, but it’s still difficult.
Some reviewers complain about the on/off switch, micro-USB, and 3.5mm audio jack being on the bottom. The tablet has an accelerometer; just turn it upside down. Now the switches are on top and the speakers are on the bottom.
Although Apple didn’t think cameras were very important on the original iPad, or decent cameras on the iPad2, my experience with my Blackberry Playbook convinces me that a pair of good shooters would have been very welcomed, especially on a 7" tablet. But then, there’s only so much an intended $199 price can support, even when heavily subsidized.
Is the Amazon Kindle Fire the tablet for everyone? Of course not. But Amazon is offering a tablet that targets the fattest segment of the market. A month into the Kindle Fire experience, observing and listening to Veronica & daughter Jenna in addition to my own hands-on time, convinces me that Amazon has a great little machine here that will delight most and frustrate very few. I highly recommend it.
Quick Link: Blurex Slim Leather Folio/Stand for Kindle Fire
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