Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kindle Fire Review – Hands On Early Impressions

I’ve been using the Kindle Fire for much of the last 6 hours this evening and am ready to share my first impressions.  I plan to give it at least a couple of days to give a new device a real chance, but read on for my take so far on the Kindle Fire.


Look & Feel – Not awesome, but just fine for my taste

The Kindle Fire isn’t stunning or anything, matter of fact it’s pretty average looking compared to some other tablets.  But it’s comfortable to hold in one hand and feels very solid to me – not cheap.  The screen when turned off is like all other tablets – it’s  like looking into a mirror.  It’s a little heavier than I expected, but still lighter than my iPad2.  The Kindle Fire weighs in at 14.3oz (405.4 grams) versus 1 lb 5.2oz (601 grams) for my iPad2.

Hardware Usability – Buttons

The Kindle Fire has an on/off button and the rest is controlled with the screen.  I miss the volume up/down button I’ve grown used to on iOS and other devices.  There is also no hard, home button so that is built into the touchscreen UI – not really a problem for me like the lack of volume buttons.  The bigger issues I ran into though with the hardware design was the location of the on/off button which is on the bottom of the Kindle Fire when held in a vertical position.  Sometimes when I rested it on the edge in that position it would accidentally turn off – a major annoyance to me in the first few hours of using and I confirmed that this was happening to at least one other new Kindle Fire user.   


Another dislike MrsGeekTonic pointed out is the speaker location.  When holding the Kindle Fire with both hands your left hand tends to cover up one or both of the tiny speakers – both located on that edge of the tablet.  I’ll mention it just to be complete although most of you reading this already know – the Fire has no camera, no GPS and only Wi-Fi for wireless.

Screen & Device Size – Nearly Pocketable


I really like the size and weight of the Kindle Fire – more than I expected to.  The 7” screen tends to be a bit small for some web browsing, but for reading and most other functions you’ll be using the Kindle Fire for it’s not too small.  It’s just small and light enough to hold comfortably in one hand for viewing videos, reading books & magazines etc.  The iPad is just too large for holding it like you would a book or magazine for very long unless you’re resting it on a table or case.  I suspect I would find a 10” screen just right for me.  Apple & Amazon – are you listening?

Video & Music Streaming – Nice

Video streaming works very well on the Kindle Fire as does music streaming.  Amazon Prime comes free for a month with the Fire although I already had it. 


Prime is a good deal if you order much from Amazon and the content selection for video is getting better all the time – I see it as the next Netflix with added perks.  I also have been using Amazon Cloud Drive for music.  It’s working well for streaming to my Kindle Fire so no problems there.

Reading books & magazines – very good

The Kindle brand has been all about reading and this device reflects that focus.  The Kindle reading app is very good and will be extremely familiar to anyone who has used a Kindle.  It’s not as nice for reading for long periods of time (novel reading etc) like the e-ink devices are, but it is backlit for reading in the dark and will work just fine for those casual readers – even better than with the iPad because of its smaller, lighter form factor.  The magazine newstand is nice too with free trials for magazine shopping so you can try things out.  I found the magazine selection very good and reading a magazine looks good as well.

Web Browsing – Acceptable

Our first experiences with web browsing on the Kindle Fire were good.  Pages rendered fairly quickly and looked good.  But dig in deeper and you notice some minor issues.  I’ll save most of this explanation for the full review, but just expect less than you get with the iPad and some other tablets on the web browsing performance.  Not a deal breaker, but not perfect either.

Value – Nice

The Kindle Fire is priced right at $199.  Don’t mistake this for some of the more expensive tablets with better specs, but for this price it’s a good device in my opinion.  This is a value buy with Amazon backing, a very solid video streaming lineup and much of the functionality you’ll want in a consumption-based tablet.  But you are giving up some things for that lower price.  As long as you’re good with that tradeoff this looks to be a good choice given the lower price.  I’m an iPad owner and I consider that to be the high-end tablet to beat today, but there are things I really like about the Kindle Fire especially for the price.  This thing does the basics most people care about – email, reading books & magazines, web browsing, video, some light gaming and more.  I expect Amazon will keep updates coming to the software on this Fire too so it will get more polished as time goes on.  Best of all, this is Android without the awkwardness that non-techies can enjoy.  The UI really seems uniform compared to the other Android tablets I’ve tried out.

I’ll be back in a few days to go in more depth – if you have specific questions or things you’d like me to address let me know in the comments.