I have not purchased a Kindle Fire for myself. I have a Kindle with Keyboard and an iPad so I did not feel the need to buy a Kindle Fire. But my Mother got one for Christmas, so I have spent a good bit of time over the last week playing with it, helping her use it and getting a good overall impression of its good and bad.
I will start with the end. If you have an iPad you will not want to buy a Kindle Fire. But if you would like a small tablets to watch videos, surf the web, do some occasional reading and play games, the Kindle Fire is a very good option.
The screen is quite good. I watch some videos and they were sharp and clear. It is a bit reflective but I did not think any more reflective than the iPad. It will be hard to read in direct sunlight, but that is true with any LCD screen.
The interface is easy to use and the cover-flow idea works for people that are new to tablets. I think it is easier to use than the standard Android system, especially for new users.
The speakers are mobile speakers, so you can’t expect huge sound, but they are sufficient.
The 7-inch size is much better for reading than the iPad. If you are going to have an LCD screen (I really prefer eink for reading, see below) I think the 7 in size is the most natural.
The Mildly Frustrating
The power button is on the bottom, right next to the charger port. This is a little frustrating because it is easy to hit, but you can flip the Fire around so you do not accidentally hit it. The reality is that the Fire is a rectangle, without any visual clues about which way is up. So even if you know that the power button is on the bottom, it would be nice to have some visual clue so you know where to pick it up and not hit power button. On the iPad, that visual clue is the home button.
There is not a volume button. All you have to do is swipe down from the top to get to a menu to change the volume, but a physical button would have been nice.
I share a Kindle account with several people in my family and we have a large library. So it is really nice to have color covers on the Kindle Fire to help find books in the archive. What is frustrating is that all the new books show up on the main cover-flow interface whether that book has been sent to the Kindle Fire or not. So books that I purchase for myself or someone else end up on the screen of my Mom’s Kindle Fire whether she wants them there or not. They are not downloaded to the Fire automatically, but the cover shows up.
Not all Android apps work on the Fire. I have a number of MP3 audiobooks. Audible.com is preloaded on the Kindle Fire (and you cannot remove it), but I do not have enough activations with Audible to authorize the Fire. The regular music player will play these MP3 audiobooks, but they do not save the place of the audiobooks so you have to create a bookmark or remember where you were. This is a very annoying issue with audiobooks. So I intended on loading an audiobook player on the Fire. I use Akimbo Audiobook Player on my android phone, but it will not load on the Kindle Fire. I tried a couple of other audiobook player apps and none of worked. They would either load or if they loaded, they didn’t work. (Yes you can root the Fire and load other android apps and even load alternative OS on it, but most people want the Fire to work out of the box, not by tinkering with it.)
There needs to be a clear way to close apps. This is a problem with a lot of mobile OSes. But the Fire has a relatively small amount of RAM and a bunch of apps or web browser tabs slows the Fire down. I installed a memory manager that will close apps on my Mom’s Fire and that should help, but quite often when my Mom was going to the browser she was opening new tabs instead of just changing the webpage, the memory manager will not help that problem. I would guess many others will have the same problem.
The Deal Breakers
There are a few issues that would be deal breakers for some. Both of my parents use the Kindle Text to Speech feature a lot. My Father listens to books when driving (and he often drives 15-20 hours a week for work). My Mom often listens to the Text to Speech when cooking or cleaning or other housework. I almost never use the Text To Speech because I prefer full narrated audiobooks. The advantage of Text to Speech is that you can read the kindle book and then listen for a while and then go back to reading. If you only read one book at a time (which is what most people do) then the Text to Speech is a good feature. It is also essential if you have problems actually reading text. The Kindle Fire (and all of the Kindle apps for iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, Blackberry, etc) do not have Text to Speech. My Mom said she would stop using her Kindle with Keyboard (the eink Kindle) if the Fire had Text to Speech.
Which brings up the issue that in many ways, the Kindle Fire is not a regular Kindle, but a tablet with the Kindle Android App. So you cannot highlight across pages (which you can do on an eink kindle), landscape reading creates an odd shadow on the fonts, and text search does not work the same way as on an eink Kindle. These are all software issues and could be fixed but the Kindle Apps have been around for nearly 2 years now and all of these issues have been around since the Kindle apps were first released.
If you have read my past comments about reading on iPad or about the Kindle Fire, you will know that I am not a fan of reading on an LCD screen. These are the same basic technology that your computer uses. There is a lot more eye strain created by reading on LCD than reading on eInk. But right now you cannot have video or color on eink and LCD still creates eye strain. So until the technology improves, if you want a tablet with video and color then you have to use an LCD screen.
The Fire is a good little tablet. I know a number of people that purchased a number of them for Christmas presents. The current estimate is that around 5 to 6 million Kindle Fires have been sold. I noticed at one point this week as we were watching a movie there were 2 iPads, a Kindle Fire and a Galaxy Tab all being used. Four of the five people in the room where primarily using a tablet and not primarily watching the movie. These small tablets will be changing the way we interact with the web and entertainment devices in general. Some of that change will be for the good, some will not.
Purchase Link - $199