Amazon Kindle Fire: Insight and How Not To Get Burned

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Performance Summary & Conclusion

Performance Summary: Amazon restricts access to Google's Android Market and only lets you download apps from its own Amazon Appstore for Android, so that put a kink in our normal gauntlet of benchmarks. But I was still able to test different aspects of performance, objectively and subjectively, and in both cases, the Kindle Fire is decent. That's to be expected with a 1GHz dual-core processor and Android DNA, even with a thick layer of Amazon's own skin applied on top. What I didn't expect was laggy browser performance. Amazon may have grossly oversold its Silk browser, or perhaps 512MB or RAM just isn't enough to process the custom UI and surf the web smoothly. Whatever the reason, scrolling through a webpage is consistently laggy and marred with choppy performance. Whether this amounts to a minor annoyance or a deal killer depends entirely on how much web surfing you plan to do. Power surfers will want to look elsewhere; casual web surfers shouldn't let this be a deciding factor against the Kindle Fire.  Memory is so dirt cheap these days, however, that we're hoping Amazon releases an updated Fire with a full 1GB of system RAM.  It could help immensely.

Navigating the UI is a different experience. For the most part, jumping around the menus and scrolling tiles are both smooth and fast. Perhaps not quite as smooth as the iPad, but still impressive actually. I didn't experience any issues with streaming playback or playing games, either.

 

The Kindle Fire isn't in the same league as the iPad 2. It's not really fair to compare a $199 tablet with another that starts at $499, but regardless of the injustice, that's what people shopping a slate are going to do. If you're in the market for a tablet, you don't care what's fair, you're just looking to make the best purchasing decision, and if you have $499 to spend, you'll get more enjoyment from the iPad 2 than you will with the Kindle Fire. That's just the way it is.

As a $199 tablet, the Kindle Fire is sometimes really good, other times not so much, and in some cases it's merely alright. What I like most about the Kindle Fire, other than the price, is the IPS display. It's bright, vibrant, and viewable from almost any angle with no discernible loss in picture quality. Amazon's ability to include a high-end display on a device in this price range is pretty incredible, and it's a major win for the Kindle Fire.


I also like the integration with Amazon Cloud. Sure, barely more than 6GB of usable onboard storage is a bummer, and it's compounded by the fact that there's no microSD card slot. But being so closely tied to Amazon Cloud takes some of the sting out of this, and I'll take the Amazon Cloud Player over Apple's iTunes 11 times out of 10.

Where the Kindle Fire turns cold is in browsing the web. This is not the tablet to buy if you're a heavy web surfer; you'll end up frustrated by its consistently choppy performance and feel betrayed by all the hype over Amazon's Silk browser. I'm not sure if a future update will address this or not, but today, the Fire just isn't a solid choice in a tablet for browsing the web, plain and simple. Casual surfers, however, won't be as turned off, just occasionally annoyed.

I'm also disappointed that you can't download apps from Google's Android Market, though I understand the decision to direct users to Amazon's own Appstore for Android. The Kindle Fire is first and foremost a content delivery platform for Amazon's services, and the tight integration is precisely why Amazon can afford to sell the Kindle Fire for $199, presumably at a loss. Still, it's frustrating to be limited to a single app store, and there are some popular Android apps that aren't available, which makes this limitation even worse.

So if the Kindle Fire isn't an iPad killer, then what is it? Well, it's a $199 Android tablet built from the ground up for fun and play. It's a content consumption device firmly planted into Amazon's ecosystem, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's less than ideal at times, but the upside is that the Kindle Fire is incredibly easy to use, it looks great, and it's a lot of fun for a reasonable price.



  • At $199, it's less than half the price of an iPad
  • Brilliant IPS display
  • Easy to navigate with a polished interface
  • Suitable for one-handed use
  • Solid build quality
  • No 3G, microSD card slot, HDMI output, or cameras
  • Doesn't let you install apps from Google's Android Market
  • Web browsing is choppy
  • No volume rocker

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