When the Kindle Fire launched in mid November it was met with mixed reviews. Many praised its price point ($199), while others mocked its specs. Either way you look at it, the Kindle Fire got everyone’s attention. Amazon is already one of the biggest retailers in the world and its Kindle brand is synonymous with e-readers abroad. As an Android tablet in disguise does the Fire have a place in the market and does it change the way tablets should be viewed? Those are really the questions that linger over the wood grain, book friendly Fire.
How does it compare? Well, technically the Fire has decent specs. Its 512MB of memory and 1GHz dual core processor gives it power comparable to that of the iPad 2. However, in the areas that really matter for the platform and target audience, storage space (8GB) and screen size, the Fire falls way short of the mark set by other tablets. At 7″ its only slightly bigger than the beefiest android phones out there. The $200 price tag clearly comes from precise hardware management. Features like GPS and a camera aren’t missed that much, and are acceptable trade offs for the price. The real downside is that the hardware included has yet to really be tested due to the lack of hard hitting apps available.
Amazon launched an Appstore last year for Android devices. This store has a cropped selection of apps that are already widely available everywhere else. It is how the Fire manages the apps on the device. There is no native support for Google Play (formally the Android Marketplace) and all apps must be acquired through the Amazon Appstore. This Appstore has a long way to go before its comparable to Google Play or the Apple App Store. Without the apps, the Fire cannot sit on a shelf next to the Galaxy Tab or the iPad and be taken seriously. Something as simple as access to Google Play or just app availability parody could turn this around.
The Amazon user interface, is decent, but is completely devoid of customization. Backgrounds can’t be altered, unlock screens are set by the OS, unused tabs can’t be hidden, even the tint of the wood grain can’t be changed. That’s the theme of the Kindle Fire, its an experience built for a specific purpose, to cater to Amazon.com content junkies.
Personally I have never met one of these junkies. I’ve known people that bought digital music or books from the store, but never someone that buys all their digital media from Amazon. I’m sure they are out there, but outside of Kindle owning soccer moms, this target audience seems small. Then again, this tablet maybe an attempt to foster an Amazon culture and if that’s the case this device is a fantastic first attempt.
It leverages nearly all of Amazon’s digital consumer services. Amazon Prime’s video service, and Amazon’s cloud storage are both fully functional here and pair that with all the digital content already available via the behemoth that is Amazon.com, and the Fire could be your one stop media shop. The minimal storage space on the device is supposed to be offset by the cloud storage available, but unfortunately without 3G/4G service the Fire is perpetually grounded by Wifi access. The cloud service is nearly useless on the road and Amazon prime video selection is so sad right now that tracking down a swift Wifi hot-spot will be your first in a long line of Prime related disappointments.
The Fire sounds great on paper and the idea of an affordable non-garbage tablet is truly ground breaking. However, if that’s what tech pundits and consumers are looking for, they are really missing the point of the Kindle Fire. Without roots in the Amazon ecosystem early adopters of the Fire will feel like they’re at a party to which they weren’t really invited and the hosts are trying to sell Mary Kay, Avon or pulpy Norwegian protein drinks. The Fire is like an invitation to a club that promises to take all your money, like the boy scouts, fraternities or competitive cheer-leading. Its a valiant first effort, but future iterations of the Fire will need a few small features added to really put a dent in the tablet market, but who’s to know if thats really what Amazon is even trying to do.
Also, Amazon, if you’re paying attention, please install an external volume button or build one into the home menu of the software. Its a bummer to have to jump out of an app just to adjust the volume, but these are kinds of things that get corrected through iteration.
Verdict: Personally I would not consider the Kindle Fire a serious tablet, but its not due to the hardware limitations. The software is just too restrictive to recommend to the everyone. Think of it as more of a deluxe Kindle.