Friday, December 2, 2011

Kindle Fire

Pocket tablet for pocket change

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is a mini-tablet with some great features at a very reasonable price. At just $200, it may be more within reach for those who want a touch tablet device but don’t want to spend $500 to $800 on today’s gold standard tablet, the Apple iPad 2.

I’ve been using an iPad 2 for a few months and have only used the Fire for a few days now, so the rest of this blog entry will be just quick initial impressions and a comparison based on what I know so far. I can easily say that both are great high function devices.

The iPad runs Apple’s iOS operating system which is by now very mature and functions well at home and in the enterprise. The Fire seems more suited to home (only) use, and is running a modified version of the Android mobile operating system. The OS works well enough on the device, but I'd look forward to some improvements such as seeing more options and more flexibility in the Settings to accommodate more complex connectivity and application tuning. size comparison
The Fire cuts corners in several key places in order to hit that low price point. It has no 3G wireless, no camera or microphone, and no GPS. It has only 8GB of storage, and no expansion slot. It relies on streaming from Amazon for larger media objects such as movies.

The iPad is by far the larger tablet. It measures 9.5" by 7.3" and weighs 21.3 oz. The smaller Fire (7.5" by 4.7") is actually a very handy size for carrying around, sticking in a coat pocket or purse. It’s probably the perfect size for watching video on the snack tray on an airplane – but then a device without much on-board storage may not be the best choice for offline operation on an airplane. For offline operation, the Fire is going to be better at storing smaller media objects such as books and music, relying upon streaming (and thus Wifi access) for larger media such as movies. At 14.6 oz it weighs only about 2/3 as much as the iPad, but it somehow feels a bit heavy for its small size. I've heard some say they appreciate the "heft" as it makes the device feel substantial.

The Silk browser seems to perform very well in my browsing so far. It renders even fairly complex pages accurately and quickly, it has a nice tabbed-browsing interface, and it supports active content including Flash. The included Mail app is simple but functional. I'd hope for some additional functionality in the Mail app, or the ability to load some alternative mail clients. Other apps are available through the Kindle Fire app store, but these are only a subset of the larger pool of Android apps. Amazon is curating that larger pool down to a set suitable for the Fire and presumably also to select those apps which are consistent with Amazon's goals for the Fire. By contrast, the iPad has the legendary Apple iTunes/App store. Lots of music and movies, and the largest selection of mobile apps. 

What's really clear about the Fire is that its integration into the overall Amazon ecosystem is very strong. Amazon makes it easy to use the Fire to buy online books and magazines, music and videos. They go so far as to strongly suggest one-click purchasing be turned on for this device. They give away one month of Amazon Prime (free 2 day shipping on Amazon purchases, and free online access to some content) and then take advantage of the free access to movies and books – though of course once your free month is up they are counting on many of us signing up for the $79/year service.

So far, I like the Fire. It's very portable and very easy to use. If Amazon continues to refine the software and continues to use smart marketing practices, I think they'll put a lot of Kindle Fire tablets in the hands of a lot of users.

Is a Kindle Fire on your holiday shopping list, or the list of a loved one? Leave a comment and let us know!


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