Thursday, December 08, 2011

Review Day: Kindle Fire

I am not the primary Fire user in our household -- my main job is to abuse the free Amazon Prime trial by watching old episodes of ALF -- but I thought I would give a few impressions as part of that small demographic of people who are tech-savvy but see no point in a tablet over a laptop (and first bought a cell phone in September 2010).

The first thing to note is that this isn't a true tablet, so much as a portal into the Amazon universe of content. Every review out there that tries to compare it to an iPad is missing the point: the Fire does a few things very well at a very low sales price, but can't compete with a true tablet in any sense. Think of it as a Kindle with bonus features, not a dumbed down iPad and you're on the right track.

The Fire is sturdily built, with enough heft that you don't feel the urge to treat it daintily. It's easy to hold with one hand in landscape oriention, but you'll probably tire quickly if you hold it like the lady (or man with lady hands) in the photo. The interface is intuitive enough, although I find it hard to type without the tactile sensation of keys, and often end up in unexpected places after I accidentally touch the screen in the wrong spot -- I can't tell if this is specific to the Fire, or I just suck at touch-screens in general. As a contrasting data point, I am awesome at programming our touch-screen thermostat.

The device is primarily set up to get books, movies, and TV shows, although there is a heavily-curated set of Android apps available for it as well. I haven't really looked closely at the apps because the Fire does enough as-is (especially reading PDF, DOC, and PPT files or checking GMail), and anything that CAN'T be done directly usually works fine in the bundled web browser. I don't notice much of a speed increase with Amazon Silk browsing technology, but it's plenty fast for a WiFi device and there's no noticeable buffering of streaming video. The lack of 3G network means that you have to plan ahead if you want to read or watch things in a plane or on the road (with a toad), but it's fine if you do most of your browsing at home or Starbucks.

After playing around with the Fire and watching Rebecca use it, I think the target audience would include recreational users who just want to read a blog from the couch, or keep all of their lecture notes in one easily accessible location, especially a user who is already plugged into the Amazon infrastructure. If this describes you, you will find a lot to like here.

My online purchases are generally split 90%-10% between Amazon and NewEgg, so for me, an Amazon-tailored device might make sense. However, I still don't really see the point of having a Fire of my own when I do most of my computing at home or in the office, and already own a laptop. My cell phone maxes out on the technology scale at "texting", so I am probably not the target market for Internet-enabled devices in a variety of middling sizes. In this demographic, I'm quite happy with my classic Kindle.

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