Amazon Kindle Fire review
28th Sep 2011 | 12:45
NewCan this stunningly-priced Android tablet break the Apple stranglehold?
Update: We've now got a round up of the latest Amazon Kindle Fire news, with details on the tablet's suspected UK release date, as well as some further info on it's price.
The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet view, is powerful, sexy and, unlike Apple products, refreshingly cheap. This lethal combination means the tablet will be a notable challenger to Apple’s iPad 2.
It arrives after Motorola, HTC, with its HTC Flyer tablet, Samsung and Sony, with their Sony Tablet S tablet, fell short, and after HP and RIM failed miserably with their own operating systems. But the folly of those giants was their belief that they could beat Apple on a massively uneven playing field.
They charged the same price, and often more, for arguably inferior products with inferior tablet ecosystems. But while all this was unfolding, Amazon spent 2011 plotting its masterplan. A way to even the odds once and for all.
The $200 (£125) Kindle Fire tablet promises the biggest tech shake up since the first iPad launch, but beyond the hype of that miraculously inviting price-point can it really hang with the big dogs? Or is it just a two-hundred-buck chump? Let's find out
Amazon Kindle Fire: Design and Build
Upon lifting the Amazon Kindle Fire from the box our first thought was “PlayBook”. The 7-inch device is strikingly similar to RIM’s flailing offering, right down to the soft casting on the rear and edges.
The device feels exceptionally solid, but certainly comfortable enough to hold in one hand. In that respect, it remains true to its e-reader roots.
At 0.45-inches it’s slightly thicker than the BlackBerry tab and, at 431-grams, slightly heavier, but again not too cumbersome. This is an exceptionally well-built device that could probably handle a decent beating.
There’s only one button on the jet-black gadget - the screen/power switch - and everything else is controlled via the touchscreen. The headphone jack, which feels like it's at the wrong end, and the MicroUSB charging port sit next to the switch at the foot of the Fire.
It’s very minimalist. Too minimalist in some respects. There are no cameras, front or rear, and while we can all live without another pathetic tablet camera, video chat would have been nice. Indeed, the Kindle Fire does have its limitations. There’s no GPS sensor on-board either.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Display
As we mentioned, the Fire opts for a 7-inch screen and it’s safe to say the jury is still out on the optimum screen size for a tablet.
However, we did miss the larger screen format when watching videos and playing games and sometimes when using apps. This was especially apparent when using the on-screen keyboard as it reduced screen real estate to an absolute minimum.
In saying that when we first switched on the device we were very surprised at the quality of the 1024x600, 169ppi IPS display.
Colours are brilliant, crisp and defined. It was the first indication that the Kindle Fire actually meant business, but let's not get carried away, it's not Galaxy Tab quality.
The Gorilla Glass touchscreen, although prone to fingerprints, is also surprisingly impressive. The typing experience supersedes most Android phones, and we found ourselves making few mistakes. It’s an area of the device which once again defies the price-point.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Software and UI
The Amazon Kindle Fire runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but you wouldn’t really know it. Save the back-end stuff, Amazon’s custom skin hides most traces of Google’s familiar OS and tellingly there’s no Android Market (more on that later).
The user interface certainly differs from the norm and it’s a refreshing change. The homescreen takes the form of a bookshelf a la the Kindle readers, with the top shelf featuring your most recently viewed content and those beneath housing your favourite apps.
Naturally these can be customised, swiping between them is a breeze and it looks great in portrait and landscape.
Tabs above the shelves take you straight to your Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. It’s very intuitively designed and even smartphone and tablet novices will pick-up the nuances of this device in a heartbeat.
We really enjoyed navigating our way around the Kindle, largely thanks to the handy on-screen home button that takes you back to your favourites and all that recently used content, almost as if it combines a homescreen with a multi-tasking menu.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Performance
However, it isn’t all smooth sailing. The Kindle Fire does suffer a little in the engine room with the 512MB of RAM and a 1GHz dual-core processor meaning proceedings are often, by today’s standards, somewhat sluggish.
The accelerometer was slow and transitions between screens likewise. We often found video playback to be pixilated, there were also regular app crashes to contend with and the advertised battery life of 8-hours sounds ambitious to say the very least.
It was at times like this when we felt encouraged to return to the price point. This was never going to be a perfect device, but the warning signs are there.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Browser
One of the main talking points to arise from the official Kindle Fire unveiling was Amazon’s new Silk web browser.
The company boasts about faster loading times as its cloud servers does a lot of the heavy lifting in the background, storing the cache to regularly viewed content, meaning faster access to your favourite sites.
For a fledgling browser, we’re very impressed with Silk. Pages do indeed load and render very quickly and the tabbed browsing works well. It’s certainly a match for Safari and Firefox mobile.
Double-tapping on the screen instantly zooms and re-renders pages and the pinch-to-zoom functionality is spot-on. At no point did we feel bummed-out about the smaller screen in this department
Amazon Kindle Fire: Apps
No Android tablet can match up to the App Store ecosystem, not by a long shot, but when you take the Android Market out of the mix, as Amazon have done to push its own Appstore, then the catalogue diminishes drastically.
The company does have a host of top partners on board, meaning essentials like Angry Birds, Words With Friends, Fruit Ninja, IMDb, Netflix and Pandora are around, but the Facebook app, for example, is just a shortcut to the mobile site and Twitter is among the many big names currently MIA.
The lack of Google’s native app shop also means no YouTube, Gmail, Google+, Maps, Navigation, Translate and the rest. These are the bread-and-butter Android apps and they’re sorely missed here. Again, for better or worse, this really doesn’t feel like an Android device.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Multimedia
Amazon has only allowed 8GB of storage (no SD card slot either) into the Kindle Fire meaning you aren’t going to be able to pack the device with your own music, photos and videos. The company wants you to rely on its Amazon Cloud Drive storage locker to keep your files on tap.
There’s also free movie and TV show streaming to Amazon Prime members (there’s a free one month trial with the device), while, like iTunes, movies can be rented also.
The Amazon MP3 store offers DRM free music and a neat interface, but it’s no iTunes. Also, be sure you have a decent set of headphones handy because the built-in speakers are truly dreadful.
When it comes to books though. Kindle is the king and this device doesn’t let down those long-time Amazon loyalists who have been itching for a colour touchscreen device.
The interface is familiar, just a lot prettier. It’ll be interesting to see whether it can convert those currently keen on e-ink.
Prime members also get access to the Kindle Lending Library, completely free of charge, which allows you to borrow and read one book a month.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Price
While the Kindle Fire has serious limitations, at $199 it remains astonishingly good value for money; one of the best tech bargains of the modern era. The price alone gives users the first true dilemma of the tablet era. Forget the expensive Moto Xooms and HTC Flyers of the world, This is the true alternative to the iPad.
In a head-to-head battle the Apple still wipes the floor with Amazon’s tablet, but this isn’t a head-to-head battle anymore. Tablet fanciers have a legitimate choice. It’s not Apple vs Android; it’s premium and near perfect vs dirt cheap and pretty darn good.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Verdict
When reviewing the Amazon Kindle Fire we found ourselves constantly revisiting the price point and, with that firmly in mind, were probably willing to cut it more slack than we might have had it cost the same as the Motorola Xoom, or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
There's no Android Market, but it's only £125. There's no GPS, but it's only £125. The same can be said for the less-than-stellar innards and paltry storage.
The limitations we've mentioned are plentiful, but Amazon has just about struck the right balance to the point where the device still receives a solid overall thumbs-up.
The Kindle Fire is no miracle worker, but the compromises the company has made in order to keep the price low are a good trade-off. Afterall, despite what's missing, it's still a very well-crafted and enjoyable device to use, packed with functionality and brimming with easily accessible multimedia content.
Things like the display, touchscreen and user interface have no right being as good as they are at this price.
It's not close to being an iPad killer, but by knocking down boundaries and attracting those who've been edging towards their first tablet but have so far struggled to justify the cost while appealing to those Kindle reader graduates, it will become the first tablet to sell on anything like the same scale. To that end, it's the iPad's first true rival.