After tackling a variety of serious topics this year, we thought it would be nice to start the summer off with a more lighthearted topic…and as all of you get ready for your summer vacations and summer reading, what could be more appropriate than the Kindle Fire.
Alas, the Kindle Fire is the Rodney Dangerfield of tablets (getting no respect). It is considered the consolation prize to the iPad, the current standard and standard-bearer in tablet technology. But I will confess to you, my dear readers, that I deliberately purchased a Kindle Fire after having used an iPad for over 8 months. I did not find the iPad that useful for doing actual work, and it was too large and slippery as an eReader and for checking email.
Over the past 6 months I have put the Kindle Fire to as much use as possible, even bringing it into the office and client meetings, weathering a variety of bemused and contemptuous looks. So…how well did it work?
• Great form factor
I love the 7” size. It is everything I hoped for: easy to carry, easy to hold, easy to read. Much better than the iPad in my experience, which does not make full use of the 10” real estate for most applications. Thumb typing in Portrait mode is a breeze and I was able to take effective notes in meetings and respond to emails.
• Excellent material build quality
The build quality of the many, many Android devices is a mixed bag. Design choices, when not cheap, are odd. The Kindle Fire is undoubtedly one of the best designed and best built devices available. The Kindle Fire essentially copied the form factor of the BlackBerry Playbook and the result is high quality.
• Fantastic eReader
The Kindle Fire is meant to be a Kiosk device for consuming Amazon content…and for this purpose it shines. Reading books, magazines, web articles, pdfs…anything, is a superior experience on the Kindle Fire. Movies, music and Kindle-optimized games also all work great. The iPad is too big, my phone is too small…and forget about the computer. I now read most articles exclusively on the Fire.
• Battery life
Most Android phones get a knock for sketchy battery life. Not so the Kindle Fire with it’s impressive (and somewhat heavy) 4400mAh battery. Over 8 hours of reading, over 7 hours of continuous video playback. I have gone days without having to recharge. Unlike my phone, I never think about it. Great for long plane trips, and a full day of meetings.
• Under powered
It is a very slow device. It uses a 1GHz TI OMAP dual-core processor, but that just isn’t enough to power the 7” screen and Amazon overlay. It chokes and lags on almost everything. My 2 year-old Droid Incredible zips along, but the Kindle Fire is as laggy as the Droid Eris. Combine this with the stuttery graphics of Android and the effect is frustrating. Once you get to your book or Amazon content, it starts to move just fine, but until then it can be maddening. While it does not impact the utilitarian effectiveness of the Fire, it makes for an unpleasant experience.
• Lower screen resolution
In a side by side comparison, it seems to hold it’s own against the iPad. But the smaller screen means you are looking more closely at it, and it appears pixellated, especially with web browsing. The Kindle reader app works fine, but in most other cases it starts to appear grainy. The 600×1024 resolution is just not enough. I’m hoping the next gen Kindle Fire addresses this issue.
• Amazon Overlay
My biggest complaint with the Kindle Fire is that it takes an amazing OS and cuts out all of the things that make it amazing (Google Play Market, Gmail, Mail, Maps, YouTube, Calendar, etc.) You are stuck with Amazon’s awful carousel launcher, with their awful email app (that won’t connect to Exchange at all, and does a poor job of connecting to Gmail), and with their average web browser. If you are adventurous, you can root the device and put on a custom ROM that brings you true Android…but this is not for the faint of heart. To get any mileage at all, you need to purchase a variety of apps (like Enhanced Email, CalenGoo) and then Sideload a decent launcher (Go Launcher EX works great)…but why should you need to do this?
In the end, I have personally found the KF to be an excellent tablet. I prefer the 7” screen size and form factor to the iPad. It has been great at conferences for taking notes and checking email. I have not found it to be any less productive than the iPad. In the end, if I need to get a lot of real work done, only a laptop will do the trick. But the Kindle Fire is a fantastic eReader and I have found myself spending a lot of time reading with it.
For those interested in an eReader with some additional features, the Kindle Fire is worth considering. For those who want a multi-purpose 7” tablet, I would wait a few more months to see if Google releases their Nexus tablet.