The latest in Amazon's Kindle line of eReaders, the Kindle Fire helps take the eReader to the next level, adding features normally reserved for tablet computers. Running on a modified version of Google's Android mobile operating system, the Kindle Fire is a major upgrade to previous Kindle readers. And at $199, it is a great value for anyone looking for a way to surf the web from the comfort of their couch without paying an arm and a leg.
Amazon Kindle Fire Features
Amazon Kindle Fire Review
With an impressive list of features, it is easy to compare the Kindle Fire to Apple's iPad. The tech world was naming it a potential iPad-killer before its existence was officially confirmed by Amazon, and the Kindle Fire delivered a lot of excitement with its announcement, especially the rather impressive $199 price tag.
But the Kindle Fire is not the iPad. It's not as fast, it doesn't have the graphical power, it doesn't the storage and it doesn't have all of the extras that make an iPad an iPad.
And it was never meant to be another iPad.
The Amazon Kindle Fire is an eReader in tablet form aimed more at the Barnes and Noble Nook Color than the iPad. Put into the proper context, the Kindle Fire is an outstanding value. It delivers books, music and movies from Amazon while also providing access to the web via the Silk browser. And perhaps its best selling point is the Amazon Appstore, which provides Android applications that have been put through a review process by Amazon that is similar to Apple's App Store.
Amazon Kindle Fire Review: The Good
The device itself is about half as big as the iPad, though slightly thicker. It features a full color 7" screen running 1024x600 resolution, and there's plenty of processing power coming from the 1 GHz dual core processor. The Kindle Fire only comes with 8 GB of storage space, but more space available through Amazon's online storage locker. You can also hook the Kindle Fire into your PC with the micro-USB input, which means there is a sneaky way of getting non-Appstore onto the device by installing a file manager on the Kindle Fire and transferring them manually.
Amazon has clearly targeted the Kindle Fire to be a media consumption device, and it does this job well. The Kindle series of eReaders have always been consumption devices intended to sell Amazon products -- specifically Kindle eBooks and magazines -- and the Kindle Fire expands on this by adding music, movies and mobile apps to the mix.
Like other Kindle readers, it fits snugly in your hand, making it perfect for reading a book or enjoying a magazine. It doesn't have the "digital ink" of the other Kindles, so it won't be as easy to read in direct sunlight, but it is great for snuggling up on the couch.
The Kindle Fire comes with a free month of Amazon Prime, and it is easy to see the benefits of pairing these two packages. Beyond just free two-day shipping -- which is a good deal if you use Amazon a lot -- Amazon Prime will give Kindle Fire owners the ability to stream a growing number of movies and TV shows to the device. This collection might not exactly replace the need for Netflix just yet, but it's a good enough collection that most people will find plenty to watch. The only issue: you'll have to watch them on your Kindle Fire. Right now, there's no way to hook the Kindle Fire up to a TV.
Another great aspect of the Kindle Fire is the Amazon Appstore. Android's Marketplace is like a wild west town compared to Apple's App Store. Without any review of the apps placed for sale on the Marketplace, it is hard to truly trust your downloads unless you are getting a name-brand app like those from Pandora or Facebook. But you don't have to worry about this with the Kindle Fire. The apps you'll find int he store come from Amazon's Appstore, which adds a review process to Android apps similar to the process used by Apple for its App Store. This should provide a better level of quality in the average app and more piece of mind when downloading the apps.
Amazon Kindle Fire Review: The Bad
Unfortunately, while the technical specs of the Kindle Fire would indicate a relatively powerful device that would be extremely responsive during most tasks, the reality is a bit different. The Kindle Fire has definite issues reading and saving from the 8 GB of storage space, with speeds far below what you would find in other tablet computers or even smartphones. While it will run a game like Angry Birds fine, users will experience some delays when running apps that tax the system or have frequent calls to storage.
The Kindle Fire's Silk browser also experiences some performance problems. The browser leverages the cloud by relying on remote rendering similar to the Opera Mini and Skyfire browsers, but the end results aren't always quite as responsive as you might hope. In fact, some tests imply that the Silk browser can actually be faster with this remote rendering disabled.
I also had an issue with the placement of the power button. Amazon placed the micro-USB port, the headphones input and the power button on the bottom of the device. This placement led to me accidentally hitting the power button when trying to rest the Kindle Fire on my lap while browsing the web or reading a book. Normally, this might not be too big of a deal on a device that will switch orientation based on how you hold it, but the initial start up screen always uses a portrait orientation with the power button at the bottom, which beckons the user to hold it this way during ordinary use.
Amazon Kindle Fire Review: The Verdict
The Kindle Fire isn't perfect, and when compared to top-of-the-line tablets like the iPad or Galaxy Tab, it is not going to look great. But then again, you wouldn't compare a Ford Escort to a Mercedes, so it is not exactly fair to compare the Kindle Fire to the iPad.
For those who just can't see themselves spending $400-$500 for a tablet computer, or who simply want one of the best eReaders on the market, the Kindle Fire is the perfect device. It's a great media consumption device, and the extras of running Android applications and surfing the web with the Silk browser make it an outstanding value.
Ultimately, the Kindle Fire may only be a 3-and-a-half star device, but it's difficult not giving it a 4-star rating considering how much it packs into a $199 tablet. If judged without a price tag, there are a few issues that may weigh the tablet down, but when you compare the value it delivers, it's easy to give it 4 stars.