Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet was released in the United States in November 2012, and was seen by many in the press as a challenger to Apple’s iPad. Two months later the iPad is still king of the tablets, but Amazon’s Kindle Fire has shown itself to be a viable alternative for those who want a tablet at a fraction of the cost of an iPad.
So just how good is the Kindle Fire and what sort of impression did it make after two months of use? Stay tuned and we’ll find out.
The basic configuration of the Kindle Fire 7-inch tablet, for those who are into tech statistics, stacks up with a dual-core 1.2GHz OMAP processor, 16GB of internal storage, 1280 x 800 HD color display, 1GB of RAM, Dolby Audio, dual stereo speakers, HDMI port, dual-band/dual antennae Wi-Fi, and a battery life of about 11 hours.
The real world
The Kindle Fire runs on an Amazon customized Android operating system, which means it doesn’t have the full functionality of an unmodified Android OS. For the most part, you will only be able to download Android programs from Amazon’s App Store and not from the huge library of content on the Google Play Store. Good for Amazon, not so good for the end user.
The Kindle Fire is a nice looking tablet with a very crisp display. The interface of the main screen of the Kindle Fire is dominated by something called the “Carousel,”
which acts like a revolving display that shows icons of the recent programs used by you. Books, games, apps or whatever you just used shows up on this display. You can toggle this feature off, but it doesn’t work 100 percent and icons tend to show up on the carousel anyway. If you’re a privacy nut, this bug will drive you up the wall.
At the top of the main screen are various menu selections that will take you to books, the web, shopping, games, and other locations on your Kindle Fire. To get to other menu selections such as “settings” you swipe down with your finger to see the other items.
The good and not so good
The Kindle Fire is perfect for those who want to surf the web, read e-books, stream videos, check email and play games. The speed of the unit is good for almost any of these tasks. Amazon offers a free trial to its Amazon Prime service to Kindle Fire purchasers, which allows them to get free two-day shipping on most items sold on Amazon.com, plus access to thousands of free streaming movies.
The HDMI port on the Kindle Fire allows you to connect the tablet to the HDMI port of your HDTV so you can directly steam free Amazon Prime movies to your television set. Nice. The HD display is very sharp and the colors are bright and crisp. If you’re an Angry Birds fan, playing the game in HD is quite a treat!
Downloading apps from Amazon.com can be frustrating and non-intuitive as the user must complete an array of steps that sometimes leads to dead ends and more questions. After an app is finally downloaded, many new users will be lost because they won’t be able to find the app on their Kindle Fires. An extra step, which isn’t entirely clear, is needed to install apps.
For those who want to download ePub (e-books) from their local library, they’ll have to download and install Aldiko because the Kindle Fire cannot read ePub formatted books without this app—something that Amazon doesn’t mention at all. On the flip side, there are thousands of ebooks that are available from the Kindle Library at thousands of public libraries.
The Kindle Fire cannot view flash videos, so for many websites that include video content such as YouTube, shopping sites, and other online locations, the Amazon tablet won’t be able to use Adobe Flash to see this content. However, for the brave of heart and tech-minded, there is a work-around that will take a bit of time to solve this problem, but for 'regular' users, the steps may be too involved to make it worth all the trouble.
Being with the Kindle Fire for two months was sort of like someone having a new girlfriend or boyfriend. The initial stages in the relationship are exciting and interesting, but as time goes by, you start to pick up various quirks and flaws, which brings the overall experience down. The Kindle Fire is a likable tablet with some serious drawbacks that take away some of its luster.
The Kindle Fire is a good device for first time tablet users, but be aware that if you aren’t tech-savvy, you’ll need a geek friend or relative nearby to help you over the rough spots. If you happen to be a tech-savvy geek, it will probably be better to pass on the Kindle Fire in favor of the Nexus 7 or iPad mini for more flexibility and a fuller set of features.
Frank Ling is the National Technology Examiner for Examiner.com. He is a writer, professional photographer, and video editor. One of his all-time favorite jobs was working at a large video game publisher as a QA trainer for testing game software.