After pre-ordering on Amazon months ago, my Kindle Fire has arrived. I decided a while ago that when it did get here, I’d do kind of an un-boxing/review; I know a lot of people are very curious about this device, mainly due to its affordability: at $199, it’s a lot less expensive than the iPad (and most other tablets out there). So here goes.
Before you wade into this long-ish post, here’s the short-ish review: I like this device a great deal, and I see it being a very, very good solution to a very large percentage of consumers looking for a portable entertainment and media consumption device. It’s the first legitimate contender to the iPad, at least for the average consumer.
Here it is, just as it arrived. In typical Amazon fashion, the packaging is really very spartan. There’s no pretty outer box with pictures, features or anything else. This may be different if you’re purchasing at a retail outlet (like Staples), but from the mothership, it’s a brown box.
Inside, there’s very little – the device and a charger, and that’s it.
A quick rundown on the physical specs:
- It’s 7.5″ by 4.7″, weighing in at 14.6 ounces. By comparison, the Fire is just a shade smaller than my BlackBerry PlayBook.
- It’s only got 8GB of device storage, of which just over 6GB of is usable for apps, books, docs, movies or music.
- It runs Android 2.3 (Gingerbread), but it’s hard to tell that. This is a very customized and tweaked implementation of Android.
- No Camera, No GPS, No microphone, No front button, No external storage. Just a power button, headphone jack, power cord port (micro USB) on the bottom edge, and two small speakers on the top edge of the device.
Took it out, fired it up. Took just less than 20 seconds to boot/start to a welcome screen. First step was to connect it to my wireless network – this is the only way the device communicates.
>> IMPORTANT:If you don’t have a wireless network installed at home (or wherever it is that you plan to use it most frequently), either install one or don’t bother with the Kindle Fire.
Out of the box it was already registered to me, because it greeted me with “Hello Sam Bridegroom”. It does give you a chance to answer the question (Not Sam Bridegroom?) on the screen, so it looks like you get the opportunity to register it differently. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning to give this is as a gift.
But because it IS registered to me:
- It knows who I am,
- It knows what I’ve purchased,
- It knows how I pay for things, and
- It knows I’m an Amazon Prime member.
As a result, using this device becomes a very personalized experience in a lot of ways – reading, viewing, listening, browsing, and of course shopping (it is Amazon, after all) – all based on either what I’ve purchased, what I’ve stored in my Amazon Cloud Storage or what I’ve looked at recently. This, to me, is a really big deal. More on that later.
Just as was the case for my PlayBook, it wanted to do a software update right out of the gate. No big deal, took about 10 minutes (guessing Amazon’s servers were getting pounded), but my guess is for most it won’t take as long as it did for me.
When it was all done, it brought me to the home screen. Home is carousel display of all of the running apps, books movies or whatever is running on the device. Above the carousel is the menu.
In short: this device is all about content – and more importantly if it’s on the device or in the cloud, because when you open most of the menu options, you have two choices: Cloud or Device.
Newsstand- a fresh attempt at delivering magazine content to digital devices. This is something that seems elusive to publishers, finding an affective way to deliver the same quality of content, making it easy and convenient to consume for readers while still keeping advertisers happy. Most of the magazine subscriptions are just that, meaning they’re not free. If I get brave, I’ll subscribe to something. What I am seeing though is that subscription rates are pretty reasonable. For those anti-paper people (like myself), this could prove to be a very interesting draw. Stay tuned.
Books- First and foremost, it’s a Kindle. So I was not surprised to see that when I opened Books, all of my Kindle purchases were shown on the Cloud side of things. When I opened one of my books (one that I’d already started), it downloaded to the device, and then opened it to the page were I last left off while reading it on my iPad Kindle app. WhisperSync, a part of all Kindle devices and apps is really pretty cool.
Video- I took streaming for a spin, and played a movie from my Amazon Prime account (BASEketball – yes, it’s juvenile, but it’s funny). A very pleasant experience – very little delay in start from when I requested to when it started playing. Once started, it played back very well, no hitches, handled Pause/Fast Forward/Rewind with no issues at all. Making the leap to the Amazon shopping components (meaning being able to jump to the Amazon Video offerings) is completely seamless in the Fire. If you’re an Amazon shopper (and I am), this is just simply awesome.
Music- I had no songs in my cloud storage, so I haven’t tried it yet. But if it works as well as everything else has to this point, it should be a great experience. Most of my music is in iTunes and on my iPod, so taking this for a test drive will take a little bit of time to set it up. Again, stay tuned.
Apps- The biggest question, at least to me, was how will this thing handles apps. One of the things that has made the iPad such a success is the application ecosystem, which is going to be an important factor for a lot of buyers. So I visited the Amazon App Store and installed two free apps: Twitter and Evernote. I use both, so I thought this would be a good test.
The Twitter app really just gave me a bridge to the browser version of Twitter, so really the app wasn’t that helpful. Facebook did the same thing, although the Facebook experience felt an awful lot like the iPad app (which is a good thing). One thing about Facebook – my first posting from the Fire took two attempts, because I didn’t get the new device properly registered as of my devices in my Facebook account (it’s one of the security settings I use). Once I got that done, worked fine.
Evernote installed in very little time, and did exactly what I’d hoped and expected: it just works. I signed in with my account information, and it opened up my notebooks and documents. I opened a PDF (and a big one at that) I had stored within a note – it opened fine, and allowed me to navigate through it with no problems. All accessible, from yet another device. Did I mention I really, really like Evernote?
The App Store has very diverse selection, at least from what I can tell. They’re all very affordable as well – many $2.99 and less, many are free. Tons of games (including several varieties of Angry Birds), and many productivity apps. It’s not as robust as the Apple App Store (surprise), and there are certainly some Android apps that won’t work on this device (due to no camera, microphone, GPS, etc). But here are plenty of things from which to choose.
To me, what needs to be kept in mind is that this device really only has about 6GB of space for everything, so loading it up with tons of games, music, movies and other things that place larger demands on storage will be a bit of a balancing act for many.
Docs- Speaking of PDF’s – you can also store docs on this thing (as opposed to books), but the delivery mechanism is very interesting: e-mail. At the top of my Docs listing, there’s an e-mail address (which I can edit if I want) to which documents are sent, converted and dropped into my Docs library. There are some limitations, though:
- Supported Document types:
- Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)
- Rich Text Format (.rtf)
- HTML (.htm, .html)
- Text (.txt)
- Archived documents (zip , x-zip) and compressed archived documents
- Mobi book
- Image formats of .jpg, .gif, .bmp, and .png
- Portable Document Format (.pdf)
- The file size of each attachment/dopcument should be less than 50MB (before compression in a ZIP file)
- The email submitted should not contain more than 25 attachments/documents.
I sent a document with four attachments, two of which are not supported file types; within just a few minutes, I received messages from Amazon telling me which files it could not convert. I also sent a subsequent message with just one supported document type. No notification when everything goes right. To get them to appear on the Kindle, I had to go to the Settings and tell it to Sync – once I triggered that, they automatically downloaded and displayed in my Docs library.
There are some safeguards on this address, that prevents everyone and anyone from dumping documents to the device – through the Amazon website, there are Personal Document Settings where a list of approved senders is defined (my personal e-mail address was already listed).
What’s noticeably missing is Photos/Images – if you want to keep them on the device, you’ll be using Docs. It works, but the viewing experience is not exactly clean or pleasing to the eye. Any iOS device makes this experience seem very Neanderthal. Just sayin’.
Web- The browser is very fast, which is due to the Amazon Silk browser engine that’s on the device. I can go into a lot of the nuts and bolts as to why it’s fast, but many others far smarter than me have already done so (technical explanations, provided by engadget and TechRadar.com). Some have raised privacy concerns about the architecture of it; I don’t think the concerns are very valid, but others disagree. Privacy is a very touchy subject to a lot of people (and it should be), lending itself to lots of interpretations reflecting varying degrees of paranoia – something I don’t care to delve into. I’ll just say this: Silk is fast, I like it and plan to use it.
Back to browsing – it’s tabbed, which keeps it on par with other browser experiences. It also supports bookmarking and host of other features and settings which you can manage through the browser settings. One item that readily available in the browser – sharing. Out of the box, it allows me to share the web page/URL I’m on to Evernote (cool), Facebook or send via e-mail. Once I find a sharing mechanism for Twitter (if the page/site doesn’t already have that option built into their content), I’ll be in business.
General Handling and Use:
Apple (more specifically, Steve Jobs) has repeatedly stated that the smaller form factor for a tablet simply doesn’t work. I disagree. I like the smaller form factor – it’s easy to hold, easy to carry/transport and easy to use. If I’m sitting down to read, I like the fact I can hold it in one hand very easily.
For comparison, I lined up the Fire next to my iPad and BlackBerry Playbook (bottom)
Screen resolution is good. Not overwhelmingly stellar (like the PlayBook, which has by far the best screen of any tablet I’ve used), but plenty good enough. It’s 1024×600 at 169ppi, versus the iPad which is 1024×768 at 132ppi. In English, it’s slightly smaller but slightly sharper than the current iPad.
If you’re used to the smooth, fluid reactions of the iPad/iPhone when it comes to screen transitions, rotating the device (which activates the accelerometer) and really just tapping on/touching things, you’ll definitely notice a difference. The screen basically just snaps it to the new orientation. If you click/touch something, you don’t get the trademark Apple “glow”; in fact, sometimes it’s hard to tell if you actually pressed it. Not a deal breaker, but iOS users will notice this.
Processor-wise, it’s a very responsive device. Nothing to complain about. Battery life is still an unknown to me, although I’ve been using it quite a bit and I’ve still got a charge in it. I’ll keep tabs on it, and report anything out of the ordinary. Amazon claims 8 hours of life (7.5 hours of local video) with wireless connectivity off. So if you’re a chronic web brower/Facebooker/Twitterer or simply are using the wireless connectivity a lot, expect less than that. It’s something I’ll report on later.
One thing I have noticed is when the device powers down (from inactivity), it drops the wifi connection if it’s inactive for a longer period of time (say 20-30 minutes). It wakes up when the device tries to execute something that requires the network (like a browser page reload), but takes 2-3 seconds to re-establish its wifi connection. Some people would say this is inconvenient, I say thank you because it preserves battery.
I did connect my GMail account to it – took a whole 15-20 seconds to do it. There are shortcuts to connect GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL, along with an “Other” option. Lots of flexibility, and I can’t imagine that most folks won’t be able to connect their mail to the device. There’s also a Contacts app pre-installed, but I did not see a calendar. I’ll poke around at that some more later.
There are also plenty of customizations you can make through the device settings – screen brightness, screen inactivity timeouts, lock passwords, auto-correct, etc. Too many to go into here, but suffice it to say the device can be tweaked a number of different ways.
So there you have it – one Kindle Fire review. I hope it helps some of you as you look for new things this holiday season. Stay tuned, and I’ll post updates as they’re worthy – I’ve given myself some homework to do, so I’ll need to answer back.
As I said before – I like it. It’s a great device, and I think it will be a great answer for a lot of people not willing to drop $400+ for that iPad.
And as long as we’re on the topic of e-Readers, come back tomorrow – could be a Nook vs Kindle cage match.
As always, comments (and questions) are welcome!