Thursday, November 17, 2011

Amazon Kindle Fire Initial Thoughts

I want my Google Apps. OK, I get it that Google and Amazon are in competition here and that the chances of Google having their apps available in the Amazon Fire App store are slim to none even if the Fire is Android under the covers. That doesn't stop me from viewing that lack as arguably the only significant problem with the Fire.

Fit and finish on the Fire seems to be excellent. It feels solid without being excessively heavy.The Kindle line has never been about being pretty, so it shouldn't be surprising that the Fire is utilitarian in its looks. One button, one USB port and one headphone jack is what you get.

The glare off the screen is arguably a bit excessive. Screen protectors are available that claim to cut down a bit on that problem. I'm not a fan of screen protectors as they generally seem like a waste to me. I've had my Droid X for a year plus now and the screen is perfect in spite of never having had a screen protector and the fact that I don't baby it. My phone often ends up in the same pocket as my keys for instance. The Fire has a Gorilla glass screen that shouldn't need babying either.

The Fire is fairly responsive but does bog down if you're installing a lot of apps in the background. The same is true of my Droid X which is a somewhat less capable platform so I'm not totally surprised. I'd guess memory is the main culprit here.

Reading technical books on the Fire is much easier than on the E-Ink Kindles. Specifically I'm talking about diagrams and figures. The resolution on the non DX E-Ink readers is just not high enough to render detailed drawings and the speed of the Fire's more basic relatives makes the whole experience of dealing with anything other than basic text frustrating. The Fire provides enough resolution and performance to avoid these shortcomings.

The UI for the Fire is reasonably intuitive and polished. Responsiveness is generally good and I haven't run into any bugs but I've only had about an hour to play with it.

Here are some pictures of dubious quality along with additional comments.

The box that the Kindle comes in is beveled on one end. I'm assuming this was a primarily aesthetic decision but it did save a bit of material which translates into money saved assuming the manufacturing process for creating these non standard boxes doesn't have additional costs. I'd assume it doesn't given Amazon's obsessive focus on costs.

The packaging was nicely designed. There is a high level of protection here. The screen glare isn't quite this bad in reality as this pictures implies. At this point the Fire is still in its shiny protective plastic shipping envelope. This was natural light, somewhat overcast. Yes, I'm using my Cellphone to take the pictures. It's fairly obvious both in regards to the quality and the reflection in the Fire's screen.

When the Kindle was removed from the box a cavity was revealed that contained the external charger/power.

Here's a better view of the shiny protective envelope and the back of the Fire.

The initial boot. I didn't time it but I'd guess around a minute for the Fire to boot from a cold start. At this point the plastic envelope has been removed and you can see there is still a lot of glare.

Minor nit, the power/charger is what I think of as the "old" kind that is one piece. The previous Kindle's we've bought have had the converter with a USB plug and the appropriate cord for charging the Kindle. These are nicer since you only need to carry one around along with whatever cords you need to charge your various electronic devices. This appears to be one place Amazon cut costs. Not a big deal though.

Once you've booted for the first time you'll get a few intro screens. Nothing excessive and it gives you a good idea of how to use the Kindle Fire UI. I tried hard to avoid the glare but didn't have much success. It's not this bad when you are in a place where natural light is minimized but it is distracting. I read an interview with Jeff Bezos where he said that the Fire fills a somewhat different niche to the E-Ink Kindle's and I agree. I'm not going to be getting rid of my older Kindle any time soon based on these results. For plain old text it's much nicer not to have to deal with the LCD and glare. This and size are the main reasons I don't do serious reading on my iPad.

The Kindle Fire in action. Note the diagram is very readable and the use of the built in dictionary.

Overall my initial impressions are positive in spite of the glare. I was able to quickly take advantage of my Amazon prime membership and start streaming a movie. The quality was good and frame rates were fairly consistent though there was some slight stuttering at one point which was likely due to application downloads going on in the background. I was able to quickly pull down books and apps from the cloud and even after I got everything I wanted I still had the vast majority of my usable six gig of storage available. That will likely change over time as I add video and music but it was nice to see that I'm not going to have to worry about managing my "disk space" initially.

For $200 it's hard to go wrong here. The Kindle Fire is solid and a good performer. The screen glare could be better and the lack of Google Apps is a significant downer but a few warts are not unusual when a company is offering a particular type of product for the first time.

I'll be doing some more testing over the next week or two and will likely do some additional BLOG entries on this topic.

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