[E-GEAR]: Review: Amazon Kindle Fire
(Editor's Note: Special thanks to Book Business' sister publication, E-Gear, for this review of the new Kindle Fire)
A survey released in mid-November by ChangeWave asked consumers their preferences when it came to tablet computers for the holidays.
Beyond finding an overall explosion in interest for tablets, the survey found that of consumers planning to purchase a tablet in the next 90 days, 65 percent planned to buy an Apple iPad, while 22 percent wanted an Amazon Kindle Fire. No other tablet garnered more than four percent.
That sounds about right.
After it was rumored for nearly a year and announced in September, Amazon's first-ever tablet device, the Kindle Fire, finally arrived in early November. The 7-inch device, a sort of hybrid of a Kindle and a smaller Android tablet, is seen as the first major challenger to Apple's iPad in the Great Tablet Wars of 2011.
The Fire does a lot of things very well, and if the survey above is any indication, it will likely find itself the most successful non-iPad tablet computer. But it's still quite a bit behind the iPad- and there's probably going to be a new iPad before long.
Amazon is clearly counting on the massive brand loyalty attached to the Kindle name, on top of a price point ($199) much lower than those of both the cheapest iPad and earlier versions of the Kindle, as well as the majority of available tablets.
In addition, Amazon has fully integrated the new tablet with its cloud services, so those who use their Amazon and Amazon Prime accounts as a hub of things they download will have an easy interface with the Kindle Fire. This works much the same way the iPad links up with the iTunes and App Stores. True, most Android tablets can link up to the user's Google account and all the attendant cloud services, but most consumers don't use Google to purchase things the way they do books from Amazon, music from Apple or video content from both.
The Kindle Fire, as I'm not the first to point out, has nearly the exact same size, weight and form factor as that most maligned of tablet devices, the BlackBerry PlayBook. However, software-wise the Kindle Fire is superior in just about every way- its interface is much easier to use than the PlayBook's counterintuitive setup, while it has access to much better apps than the BlackBerry's bare-bones application store.
The software is a modified version of Android for tablets, designed to more closely resemble Amazon's established look. The web browser is a brand new cloud-based concept called the Amazon Silk, which I found functional but not especially impressive. I also got error messages when I tried to access several popular websites.
The integration with Amazon, though, is probably the Fire's most impressive feature. I'm far from a Kindle veteran, but I was able to log on easily- finding three books I downloaded years ago right there for my perusal- and download a new book with not any difficulty.
Another change is the shift from the Kindle's traditional e-ink display to a touchscreen interface, which also applies to Amazon's pair of new Kindle Touch Ereader products (the newest regular Kindle retains the e-ink.)
The sun glare issue was previously such a selling point for the Kindle against the iPad that Amazon based heavy-rotation TV commercials on it, but Amazon has apparently accepted the trade-off, also making screen cover accessories available directly from Amazon and elsewhere. I suppose that's one advantage to releasing a product six months prior to the start of beach season.
So can the Kindle Fire compete with the iPad? It's not as large, powerful, or advanced as its Apple rival, especially since the latter has had a nearly three-year head start. To this day, after all, most people I know outside the electronics industry don't even know what a "tablet" is and believe the iPad IS the category.
Still, Amazon has made an impressive first entry that is likely to benefit from the Kindle's brand loyalty and will probably improve considerably in future editions. And I expect it to leave most of its Android competitors in the dust.