Kindle Fire Review: MobileTechReview

Kindle Fire Review by Lisa from MobileTechReview

(written version below!)

The Kindle Fire is Amazon’s new 7 inch eBook reader, video player, and you name it – everything to consume Amazon content and other content as well. From Amazon, you would think the new Kindle is primarily a book reader, but the video screen looks like something out of iTunes. You’ve got prime instant videos featured, and movies and TV shows that you can rent.

On the home view you’ll see newsstand, books, music, video, documents (anything you send yourself using the Amazon send yourself function over at email), apps, and the web browser. And yes it works in both portrait and landscape modes, you just turn the Kindle and the screen rotates. You’re probably not going to read books in landscape, but for movies, and for web browsing, landscape is great.

The Amazon Kindle Fire sells for only $199. That’s incredibly cheap. Usually for that price you get bargain basement tablets that run old versions of the Android OS and have nasty resistant screens. This is the first high quality product we’ve seen at this price point. And how does that work? Why does everyone else charge more for their tablets? Amazon is willing to lose some money on the hardware if they need to because they’re hoping you’re going to subscribe to Amazon prime service which is going to cost you $80 per year. And you can stream about 10,000 movies and TV shows and also get Free second day shipping when you purchase physical stuff from Amazon. And they figure you’re going to buy books and magazines and maybe even some applications. Amazon gets a cut when you buy an app from the Amazon web store.

So that’s how they do it. It’s a new kind of subsidized process. Sort of like carriers, when you agree to sign a two year agreement, they know they’re going to make money off their wireless service. In this case, Amazon assumes that you’re going to be buying their content, since this device focuses on content provided by Amazon. Amazon is pretty uniquely positioned to do that, even moreso than Apple was when Apple starting coming out with IOS products. Amazon obviously has the largest online book store. They have periodicals, videos, and their own app store which is reasonable well populated.

For those of you who are thinking of using this more as an Android tablet than an ereader or media consumption device, Amazon has most of the top apps your going to want, like IMBD, Flickster, Quick Office, and Office Suite. But a couple thousand pales in comparison to the several hundred thousand that you’re going to find on the full Android market. You cannot access the market on this device. This is a sand boxed version of Android, heavily heavily customized by Amazon. And by doing that they can make it very user friendly. And you can count on vetted applications that don’t have viruses or Trojans. But at the same time, it’s less easily expandable than a basic Android tablet.

For example, compared to something like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7 Plus that just came out, which is a couple hundred dollars more, it’s a basic open honeycomb tablet. You can put anything you want on it that’s available on the Android market or off. You can also put Amazon apps on it. While we’re comparing them, Samsung always likes to make the thinnest and the lightest products out there. And indeed it is a couple ounces lighter than the Fire. It’s also thinner. The Kindle Fire weighs 14.6 ounces and that’s a bit heavy. It’s a little more like holding a hard cover book than a paper back. If we compare the Fire it to its kissing cousin the Blackberry Playbook, they share a lot of hardware design heritage. In fact they look quite similar with similar thickness and both have soft touch backs.

Inside the Kindle Fire we’ve got a 1 Ghz dual core CPU, 512MGs of ram, 8GBs of storage with about 6GBs available. There is no expansion slot, no micro SD Card slot. You are not going to fit a huge amount of video content on here. You can put a good number of applications and plenty of books on the Fire because books tend to be small. Magazines can be large and a lot of magazines are being delivered as applications. They are very rich and pleasing to look at. I just downloaded an issue of the New Yorker which was 129MBs for just one issue.

That’s where cloud storage comes in. On the books screen, there’s always a toggle between the cloud and what’s actually on the device. And that works throughout with video and music, if you use the Amazon MP3 store. Anything you purchase from Amazon is stored on their servers and you can pull it down anytime you want. You don’t need to permanently store content on the device. That’s their way around the problem of storage. Given the fact that flash storage is so cheap, it’s boggling why there isn’t more of it. Sometimes you like to keep some favourite movies on the device. Or maybe you’re going on holidays and you won’t have access to wifi. And that can be a problem.¬†Barnes and Noble Nook tablet does have a expansion card slot and 16 gigs of storage. They win in that respect.

The Kindle Fire has an IPS display that Amazon says is hardened. We don’t know if it’s gorilla glass. Amazon says you can leave your keys on top of it and not worry about it scratching. We haven’t attacked it yet but so far it seems to be reasonably durable. Because it’s IPS, it’s very bright with great contrast and great viewing angles. If you turn it you can still see the colours and what’s on the screen. Very nice. The IPS display is also important for reading when you want a sharp display. The Nook tablet also has an IPS display – a must have for both books and video consumption, particularly books. The Fire has a reasonably high pixel density at 1024 by 600. I wouldn’t mind it a little higher for books, but given the horsepower that’ inside, they probably thought that was the most appropriate resolution to use for videos and not have it bog down while it’s playing.

Amazon says the Fire’s screen is anti-glare, but it does glare a bit. That’s just the nature of LCD displays. Unless you put a really deadening matte finish on top of a tablet, it will glare, but not look as attractive. If you compare the Fire to the Kindle touch, which is an eInk based reader, you can see almost no glare. A little bit if you angle it around a bit. The black text on a grey background is much easier on the eyes and gives a much better battery life. So it really depends what you’re looking for. If you just want to read books, the Kindle Touch is a very good choice at only $100 if you get the ad subsidized version. The battery lasts a month, it’s easy on the eyes, but you do need to have light in the room to read. With the Kindle Fire, you can read in the dark or with dim lighting.

The Fire runs Android OS2.3 Gingerbread, but unless you’re an Android user and you notice the little telltale signs, you would probably have no idea because there’s really no access to the usual Android desktop, widgets or applications. It’s all been covered over. There are no buttons. The only button is the tiny power button on the bottom. And a micro USB port and headphone jack on the bottom.

As for books, graphics and clippings look great on the Kindle Fire. If you want to get to your menus, you tap up near the top and then you’ve got the home button and controls for the font with many sizes, three different line spaces, margins, the usual black and white or sepia reverse mode for night reading. And you get your choice of typefaces which is kind of a new concept for Amazon. There are several serif and sans serif fonts to choose from. You can swipe or tap to change pages, with pretty good speed on page turns. The text looks quite sharp, making for a very pleasant reading experience. And if you don’t mind reading on LCDs, this is definitely a nice product for reading.

So in terms of being able to read ebooks on a LCD based Android tablet, obviously you can do that on any Android tablet: Nook,Sony, Kindle, they’re all available on tablets as well. One thing you won’t be able to do with the Kindle Fire is load Barnes and Noble Nook or anybody else’s ebook reader unless it’s offered on the Amazon market place. And you can be sure they won’t allow competitors on there. For the adventurous types, if people find a way to root this device, then it could be a go. And you certainly have an incredibly affordable reader at $200 that you could use with any bookstore you want that’s available for Android. But as of right now, it’s only going to be Kindle products for book reading.

The Kindle fire uses Whispersync, which means it will sync your last read page if it’s a book you bought from Amazon. And you get portrait orientation as well as landscape orientation. There are no facing pages here, but on a screen this size, there’s not a whole lot of utility to having facing pages.

Now onto video, you get a free Amazon Prime membership for a month to see if you like it. This is a wifi only product. There is no 3G or 4G version of the Kindle Fire. It’s sharp and good quality. Because there is no hardware volume control, you’re going to be using onscreen control to set your volume. The sound comes out from the stereo speakers and for a tablet this size, it’s not bad sound and volume. And of course you can use the headphone jack too. You can play your own videos as well. The library will show you on the cloud anything you’ve purchased from Amazon and anything that’s on the device. It’s supports MPG4. You can also download a free file manager. Very nice display.

For music, the same deal. If you’ve purchased anything from Amazon it will show up on your cloud. Attractive presentation. Obviously you are going to want to use headphones with the limited speakers. Music plays in the background so you can read a book and play music at the same time. Or surf the web.

Speaking of surfing the web, the Kindle Fire uses Android web browsing with a little intelligent backend caching from Amazon. The Silk browser feature they use depends on being able to track user behaviour. Amazon knows what pages are accessed most often¬†so they can keep cached copies on their server to speed things up. Browsing speed is fine and yes it does have a W flash. It loads quickly over wifi, the scrolling speed is reasonably good. A little tricky sometimes. The controls are reasonably responsive in the W Flash player, something that’s often a problem with Android products and all products that support Flash.

And for email, you get an email application. Funny enough, you don’t get the Gmail application but you get a standard email application that works for web based email and imap. It should work for POP 3 as well and it just walks you through setting up your account. Not too hard to do.

You also get some other cool stuff. You can stream Pandora radio. This works with Hulu Plus. It’s nice to have some competition with services, so you’re not totally locked into Amazon Prime video store or their rental store. You can use Netflix or Hulu plus. Who knows what might come up in the future.

For comics, we’ve got a preloaded shortcut to comics by Comixology. And there are some Amazon format comics also in mobi format or Amazon extension format. A very attractive graphical presentation.

As for applications and games, there’s no folder organization here. Organization freaks won’t be too thrilled. We’ve got Angry Birds featured in the store and Plants vs. Zombies. Amazon gives away a free application almost everyday. And some kids games as well. A lot of the top games are here for those of you who like to game.

For non gamers, we’ve got news, weather, utilities, social networking, Facebook, and Twitter. For productivity, we have Quick office, Evernote, calculators, and unit converters. There’s plenty to keep you busy in terms of applications.

That’s the Amazon Kindle, available for $199. You don’t have to order from Amazon. You can go see it at the store, Best Buy, or Staples, if you want to see it before buying. It’s going to be pretty much everywhere!

Amazon says battery life should be about 7.5 hours for video playback, 8 hours for reading if you turn of wifi. Obviously this doesn’t compete with eInk readers but this is an LCD based tablet. The battery is sealed inside. Amazon includes a charger in the box. They say it charges in 4 hours. You can also charge the Fire over USB, but it’s probably quite slow given the big the battery inside. At least you can do it! And if you do want to transfer your own content, books in mobi format, MP3, MPG4 format, you can do so using a micro USB cable.



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