Amazon Kindle Fire: Insight and How Not To Get Burned

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It took some fancy finagling on Amazon's part to be able to sell the Kindle Fire for $199, and your first introduction to the many cost cutting measures is evident the moment you peel back the cardboard cover. Inside you'll find the Kindle Fire, a charging cable, and, well, that's it. Amazon doesn't include a pair of headphones to plug into the device's 3.5mm audio jack or any documentation, at least not any that are made out of pulverized tree guts. Sticking to its eReader roots, you'll find a user's guide under the Docs menu when you, um, fire up the Fire. Perhaps the most annoying omission is the lack of a micro USB cable to hook up to your PC -- boo!  At least the port is there.



The very first thought that popped in my head when I picked up the Kindle Fire was, 'Wow, this is heavy." I don't mean heavy like a notebook, but since Amazon is branding this as a Kindle device, I had a preconceived notion that it would feel like a Kindle. It doesn't. Here's how the weight compares to other devices:

 Amazon Kindle Fire
 413g
 Amazon Kindle eBook Reader (3rd Generation)
 241g
 Apple iPad 2
 600g
 Barnes & Noble Nook Color
 450g
 Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet
 399g

While heavier than I anticipated, weight isn't really an issue for the Kindle Fire; it's lighter than an iPad 2 and feels just fine when holding it with one hand. Just understand that this a very different device than every previous Kindle, and if you're expecting it to feel like one of Amazon's dedicated eBook readers, you're in for a surprise.

On a related note, the next thing I noticed about the Kindle Fire was how sturdy it felt. That's always a good sign when you're dealing with lower priced hardware, and though $199 isn't exactly chump change, it's far less expensive than all those $400 and $500 Android tablets.



One of the highlights of the Kindle Fire is the In-Plane Switching (IPS) display. IPS panels are typically reserved for higher end devices and can drive up the price. You're obviously sacrificing battery life with an LCD panel of any kind versus an E-Ink display, but by going with an IPS panel, Amazon delivers a high brow viewing experience on a blue collar budget.



The back shell of the Kindle Fire is covered in the same rubberized material found on most modern smartphones. It's soft, smooth, and not as prone to finger prints as a glossy carbon fiber finish, though it does still pick up smudges. I was a little concerned it might be a tad too slick, but unless you're tossing it across the room like a Frisbee, it's not likely to slide out of your hands, or hand (singular), as it were.

Underneath the shell is a non-removable battery rated for up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, both with wireless turned off and presumably with the brightness not cranked all the way up. The battery is non-removable because you can't take the back cover off, not without ripping into it and nullifying the warranty.

The dimensions measure 7.5 inches long by 4.7 inches wide. It's 0.45 inches thick, which is ever-so-slightly slimmer than a Nook Tablet (0.48 inches) or Nook Color (also 0.48 inches), but chunkier than an iPad 2 (0.34 inches). Overall it feels similar to a PlayBook, and if the Internet rumors are true, both devices are built by the same manufacturer.


Call it simplicity or just plain lazy, but either way, Amazon took a no-frills approach to hardware design. There's but a single physical button on the Kindle Fire -- a lonely power button on the bottom of the device next to the mini-USB port and 3.5mm audio jack. It's odd having the power button on the bottom, but a non-issue from a usability standpoint. The headphone jack, however, would have been better served on top. Whenever I plugged headphones in, I found myself flipping the Kindle Fire upside down to avoid bending the connector.

For whatever reason, Amazon opted not to include a volume rocker on the Kindle Fire. Whoever thought it was a good idea to omit this on a content consumption device was simply wrong. This isn't a dedicated eReader, after all, it's a fully fledged tablet. Nevertheless, if you want to adjust the volume, you have to do so within the software.

You won't find any other buttons or ports on the Kindle Fire. There's no home button or microSD card slot, the latter of which wouldn't be such a big deal if Amazon sold models with varying amounts of internal storage. Every Kindle Fire device ships with 8GB of internal storage, which translates to a little more than 6GB of usable space. Amazon says that's enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. No matter how Amazon trumps it up, 8GB (6GB+ usable) of local storage is a little skimpy.



One thing Amazon didn't omit was a pair of pretty decent stereo speakers. The speakers are on top, right where the power button and 3.5mm audio jack should have been. They're better than average for listening to music and pump out good sound overall, but not loud enough to rock the house. Some people have complained about the placement and said the sound ends up muffled when holding the Kindle Fire in landscape mode. I found that to be an overblown complaint. Even when applying an unnatural death grip to try and exaggerate the "problem," I could still hear things clearly.

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Nice review Lilly. My only complaint would be that you were sort of getting close to worshiping the price of the thing but you backed away from that. It's also nice that you gave your fair opinions without letting the Amazon hype machine affect you (the LCD screen daylight brightness and the Sikk browser, I mean I haven't been following the Amazon Hype Machine for a long time but you have, and that makes your efforts more admirable... The other stuff you did was good, you went in detail with the design and the user experience; glad to know our neighborhood reviewer is still doing his job well.

Even though it's disappointing, I still think it's a gamechanger mainly because of the stuff Amazon was able to do for a tablet for the price offered. I mean really, it's time we had tablets with cheaper prices with the quality Amazon was able to put into the Kindle fire.

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It is a NO BRAINER why Amazon doesn't allows downloads from Google's Android Market: Amazon has to LICENSE AND PAY Google for that privilege.

Obviously, Amazon - which is giving the Kindle Fire away at a loss - doesn't want to incur losses to Google nor be limited by Google.

The point of the Kindle Fire is that it is completely independent of Google. It doesn't owe anything to Google.

And Amazon wants to make money on the Kindle Fire by selling you content - including Apps.

Thus: No Android Market. Welcome to the Amazon Market.

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Clearly, that's the case. The question is, how much more attractive would the device be if they offered both? Their search menus could all point to Amazon Market but they could just have the Android Market in there as a standalone app. Then the question is, how much does it cost per device to offer this and can they keep their pricing this aggressive as a result?

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Amazon hit the mark they were aiming for. They brought the world an eReader that doubles as a tablet that will do what 90% of tablet users do with them anyway: browse the internet, check facebook and play Angry Birds. While the lack of the Google Market is a (slight) negative this is an Amazon device so of course they want you to use their own marketplace especially since they need to make up for the money they are losing just by selling these things at their price point.

I'm curious to see when they start giving these things away banking on your future market purchases much like cell phones are offered for "free".

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Personally, I'd like to see a bit more user options in terms of expansion, but at the end of the day it meets my primary requirement:  it isn't made by Apple.

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Well I think people will try it, because they wil be more interested in staying with the pc type of thing, because they are used to Android and thus will stay with pc ideas. So Amazon Kindle fire is just another pc idea.Wink I do not think that anyone will leave apple though, they seem to be fairly loyal.No  So it will just be the other pc type of companies that will be losing some sales, but apple will most probably not lose any sales.No

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"It's a good tablet with nice little power under the hood and ample content support and features. Would make a nice gift for anyone. It mores than fulfills the basics. Excellent review."

"Have to wonder if the Nvidia Kal-el architecture is tied up to 4+1 cores. I would be wise to have a dual core+1 version for budget tablets like this and offer a little more feature for the price."

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As long as it does everything it advertises, i think its great.

anything to get away from apple is a plus in my book!

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Very nice review of this tablet Paul. This certainly has made up my mind that I will be purchasing an e-ink slate for my wife and not the Kindle fire. I guess Amazon's browser certainly does not deserve the name silk... more like the ocean browser.

@Dave/Paul/Marco do you think it will take very long for modders to get their hands on these and side load the Android Market on the thing? Or do you think Amazon has put some type of security measure in place to prevent this type of hack. Either that or someone is going to flash a stock Android rom and deal with the slightly less functional Amazon reader app.

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Hey omegadraco, you can actually sideload Android apps onto the Kindle Fire straight away using a file manager, or even just by emailing the APKs to yourself. There's the familiar option in settings to "Allow Installation of Applications From Unknown Sources."

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