With many people not willing to fork out $500 for an Apple iPad 2 tablet, but also not wanting to by a cheap low quality tablet, Amazon have come to the rescue offering an ultra affordable tablet ($199), which is far from “cheap” in any means.
The Kindle Fire also offers a huge advantage over all other tablets currently on the market, by offering integrated access to Amazon’s vast collection of digital film, tv, music, magazine and book services.
Although the Kindle Fire keeps the “Kindle” name from their highly successful range of ebook readers, the Kindle Fire is less Kindle / ebook reader and more so pure tablet.
Design / Build Quality
The Amazon Kindle fire has a 7-inch screen so it is more physically comparable to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, and the RIM Blackberry Playbook, than to the larger 10-inch screen of the iPad 2.
It measures 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.47-inches (190 x 120 x 11.4mm), that makes it 0.1-inches narrower, and slighter lighter than the Playbook.
Design wise the styling the of Fire is very minimalistic to say the least, resulting in a very clean and stylish finish. On the back of the Fire it bares a very subtle embossed “Kindle” written across its rubberized back.
As soon as you pick up the Kindle Fire you notice its extremely high build quality. It feels very solid and strong in your hands. The 7-inch form factor of the Fire and its rubberized rear also makes it very easy to hold with one hand, allowing you to use your other hand for the multitouch display.
The 7-inch 1024 x 768 display is protected by the world renowned Gorilla Glass which is extremely tough and scratch resistant having been chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic.
There are no ports or buttons on the top or the left or right hand side of the Fire. On the bottom side of the Fire you will find two small speakers, a 3.5mm audio output, a micro-USB port, and a small power button which illuminates.
The Kindle Fire is powered by the dual core 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 processor, with 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage, with about 6.5GB free for your media. Amazon say this is enough for “0 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books”. Unfortunately there is no Micro SD card port or similar for expanding the storage space, but Amazon has provided free cloud storage for all Amazon content, so as long as you’re in a WiFi zone you can never really run out of space.
It features 802.11b/g/n WiFi for streaming your media and Internet connectivity, and a 4400 mAh battery which according to Amazon provides 8 hours of consecutive reading, or 7.5 hours of video playback. We will discuss our battery performance results later in the review.
Key importance of the Kindle Fire is of course its display. The 7-inch display (measured diagonally) has a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution and offers extremely good color reproduction and viewing angles thanks to its 16-bit IPS panel.
If you have used Amazon’s previous Kindles before it is very important to be aware that the LED Back lit IPS LCD panel in the Kindle Fire is very different from the other kindles which use e-Ink displays. With the Kindle Fire you will be able to use it in the dark without a need for external illumination as the Fire has its backlit display. This display type is of course essential for the multimedia features of the Kindle Fire, but it also means its battery life can’t compete with the rest of the kindle line. More about this in the battery section below.
We found the display to perform very well during basic tasks such as reading a black and white ebook, to a colored magazine all the way to watching a film and playing popular games such as Angry birds. The viewing angle, colors and clarity of the display never failed to impress us.
As mentioned earlier, the Kindle Fire can’t compete with its fellow Kindle brothers and sisters who’s battery life is measured in months rather than hours, thanks to only drawing minute power only when the page is refreshed. But the Kindle Fire is no simple ebook reader, but rather a fully fledged multimedia tablet.
We put Amazon’s claim of 7.5 hours battery life during video playback to the test, by doing exactly that. We set the Kindle Fire to play back a video after video until the Fire’s battery was extinguished. We were very happy to find that the Fire managed to survive for 7 hours and 53 minutes, that’s 23 minuets longer than Amazon’s claim, and 51 minutes longer than the Blackberry Playbook, but 20 minutes less than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
Software / Interface
The Kindle Fire runs a highly edited version of the Google Android 2.3 Gingerbread operating system with its own custom interface.
When the Kindle Fire is first fired up you will be presented with a lock screen which shows a number of random vibrant abstract images. This screen is very simple and uncluttered, with just a small arrow in the middle that you will need to slide to unlock the device. Personally I would prefer if this was positioned slightly lower, then you would be able to unlock it with one hand by using your thumb.
Once you unlock the device you will be presented with a virtual bookshelf which Amazon has named “the carousel”. On each shelf there is an endless stack of icons showing what you have recently read, apps run, movies watched etc. You can add your favorite books, movies, apps, Internet bookmarks etc to another shelf. These icons can be flicked through by sliding your finger left or right over these icons, and a simple tap launches the item. Flicking through these icons is very smooth and appealing to the eye, and also a very efficient way of navigating and storing your media.
Dig a little deeper and you will find that the rest of the interface is categorized into the following sections; Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web. When browsing one of these categories, you will obviously see icons from the current category, along with a “Cloud” and “Device” tab. This will filter icons to show those only stored directly on the device, or those that are streamed from Amazon’s unlimited cloud storage over your WiFi connection.
To the right hand side you will see the “Store” this will take you to Amazon’s own store which will allow you to purchase apps, music, books, magazines etc. For the store to work, you will first be asked to enable “One Click” purchases on your Amazon account. This makes it very simple, maybe too easy to purchase apps and media. An email is sent to your Amazon email address when a free or paid purchase is made, keeping you in the loop.
Apps such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Rhapsody, Pandora, comiXology are pre-loaded onto the Kindle Fire. Amazon has its own app store rather than the standard Android App store, but it is very well stocked. It is also possible to “root” the Kindle Fire, and get full access to the standard app store.
On the top of the screen there is a small bar which shows your name (linked from your Amazon account) on the left, the time in the middle, and WiFi strength and battery strength on the right. If you tap on any of these items on the right you will get a quick menu to sliders and options. From here you will be able to enable and disable WiFi, adjust screen brightness and volume levels. It is important to note that this is the only place you can control the volume from as there are no physical buttons for this. Some may find this somewhat annoying, but luckily Amazon has put it only one click away. If you click the “More” button, you will access the more advanced options.
If you tap the left hand side of this bar, you will get a quick list of current activities such as downloads and installs. Small symbols also show in the area to let you know one of these processes are taking place.
When you are running an application, most of the time the notification bar is hidden along with the navigation bar at the bottom. If you want to show this bar to get back to the Home, Menu or search you will need to tap somewhere in the middle of the display. This can be somewhat annoying, but is does enable you to get the most of out the smaller 7-inch display size.
Amazon has made a big deal about its “revolutionary, cloud-accelerated browser” named Silk. It is a “split browser” which leverages the power of Amazon’s cloud by offloading much of the processing from the device to the cloud in an attempt to speed up browsing. But the big question is, does it work? I’d say yes it does. The browsing experience was very nice, with fast page loads and rending times. It can also pre-catch pages to speed up your next page visit (this can be disabled), a feature that even the leading iPad 2 doesn’t offer.
The browser is very clean, easy to use and supports tabbed browsing. Recently visited websites will be added to the carousel, along with any favorites that you might add.
Multimedia / Gaming Performance
The Kindle Fire is the first Kindle that offers any kind of multimedia capabilities. So how well does Amazon’s first tablet perform? Extremely well. Its dual core processor and powerful graphics makes it easily powerful enough to playback HD videos and popular games such as angry birds.
As mentioned earlier the display is of a very high quality and offers a very clear and vibrant display for media and games.
Amazon have really struck gold with the Kindle Fire. They have managed to produce a high quality tablet at a price that many thought impossible. Sure, the Fire isn’t as feature packed as the iPad, lacking a camera and other features such as GPS, but when you compare $199 to $500+ it really is quite remarkable just what you get for your money.
Purchase the very impressive Amazon Kindle Fire direct from Amazon for just $199.