Kindle Fire First Impressions

Nov 16 2011 Published by under Kindle, Technology

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I got my Kindle Fire last night and wanted to post some initial impressions of the device.

First of all, I love it. Great form factor, feels very solidly built, great display, does all that I need it to do. I could not put it down for more than 2 seconds last night. Take that as a 95% awesome. The rest of the stuff I say here will be in that 5% maybe not so awesome category, so read it with that in mind.

Two big caveats with this device.

One, do not buy a Kindle Fire expecting to get an Android tablet. I would not call this device an Android tablet. If you want or need an Android tablet, go out and buy an Android tablet. This is a Kindle tablet that happens to use a version of Android as its operating system. If you can’t let go of that expectation, you will have a hard time with this device.

Second, the Fire is every bit as tied to the Amazon ecosphere as the iPad is tied to the Apple ecosphere. Pretty much every top level navigation leads to an Amazon service – Kindle books, Kindle cloud music and mp3 store, Amazon video portal, Audible audio books, etc. I’m a fan of all those services. If you are too, you will be in heaven. If you’re not, you’re going to feel like you wandered into the wrong party. Of course, I’m sure what Amazon is hoping for is that people will become fans of those services when they get the device. And that’s probably a pretty good bet. When you click on the Videos tab and see thousands of movies and tv shows you can watch for “free” if you have a Prime membership, you’re going to be awfully tempted to fork over $79 a year for that.

There are a few things that detract slightly from the awesomeness of the device, in my eyes. A lot of it has to do with it not being a real AmazonAndroid tablet.

For one, there’s no standard home / launcher screen like you have in other Android devices. Instead you have a bookshelf metaphor. The top shelf is huge and holds the “carousel”. This is a history of all the books you’ve read, apps you’ve used, web pages you’ve looked at. Problem is, at this point it’s permanent. You read the latest teen vampire romance novel, it’s cover is going to be loud and large the next time you turn on your Fire. Guilty music addiction? Be careful, or everyone’s going to know that the last thing you listened to was Celine Dion. Same goes for web pages. Enough said. I’m sure eventually Amazon will allow us to edit those, or someone will figure out where that history is stored and how to edit it.

Lack of standard home / launch also means no widgets. Under the carousel, you can save other “favorites”, which can be apps, books, web pages, etc. But widgets have no place on this device.

There is only a single hardware user control on the device – a power button. All your standard Android controls – menu, back button, home button, search, are in a bottom bar that can sometimes be collapsed to give an app more screen space. Likewise, the volume controls are all in software, accessible through another settings menu in the top status bar. This is very much in line with the original Kindle philosophy, which is to make the device disappear when you are viewing content. I don’t hate it, but if you’re doing a lot of navigating and jumping around from app to app, it is noticeably slower.

Amazon’s app store is pretty good. Unfortunately, you don’t get the full app store on the Fire. Due to various hardware limitations and the fact that it’s built on a forked version of an earlier Android build, it looks like the Fire needs specifically built Fire apps. Sideloading is possible, but I’ve seen reports that this is a hit and miss situation, with some sideloaded apps working fine, and others crashing. Again, you have to think that this is not an Android tablet, but a Kindle fire and the apps it runs are not Android apps but Kindle apps.

Finally, in what I consider possibly the biggest oversight, there is no external storage on this device. It has 8GB internal storage, of which 6 something is available. For me, that’s just about the point where you can store a decent amount of things, but you DO have to pay attention to what’s on there and remove things you don’t think you’re going to need for a while.

Of course there’s lots of other things that people will complain about. No 3G, no camera or microphone, etc. I don’t miss any of those things and don’t really expect them on a device in this price range. And anyone arguing about whether this is or is not an “iPad Killer”, just shut up. You’re an idiot.

Summary

So it’s got some imperfections, but again, in my mind all the bad points fall into that 5% not awesome space. If you can accept it for what it is, and you like Amazon services, it’s an amazing device, especially considering the $199 price tag.

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20 responses so far. Comments will be closed after post is one year old.

  • Ola says:

    Thanks for the review! How’s Flash running on the Fire? Could you please try some games or some FWA sites and just let us know if it’s working on the device or if it’s too slugish.

    • keith says:

      Hmm… well, if I run into a Flash site, I’ll take a look. But with recent events, how Flash runs in the browser of a mobile device is not much of a priority. :)

      • Ola says:

        I hear you. I was actually one of the optimistic/stupid ones that thought Fire would provide proper competition with the iPad and that Flash would be a key feature for Amazon and their dwarfed app store. That’s not how things panned out… If you bump into Flash content using it let me know. Would be interesting if it was a good call from Adobe to pull the plug.

        • keith says:

          I did try out 3-4 Kongregate Flash games over lunch. All seemed to perform just fine. Completely playable.

  • Eric Dolecki says:

    Do you find yourself pinching and scrolling a lot more than you’re used to on it? Just curious.

    • keith says:

      I assume by that question you are asking me to compare the 7 inch screen to a larger screen. But although I bought an iPad, I never liked the form factor and never ended up using it. My wife has it. So most of my pinching and scrolling has been done on my various phones, thus I find myself doing less, not more.

  • “anyone arguing about whether this is or is not an “iPad Killer”, just shut up. You’re an idiot.” Twitter misses you Keith. Good review, I am looking forward to getting mine tomorrow. I was trying to get my apps ready for the launch but honestly they suck (my games) and I find Amazon’s approval process a pain in the ass. Plus the thought of them being able to drop the price of my apps to free for any reason is a big deterrent. It will be interesting to see how many companies start making Fire specific apps if there are compatibility issues with normal version of Android. I think the Fire is going to be a big success for people not ready to get a tablet and who like Amazon’s services and don’t even know it yet.

  • Tim says:

    Regarding the transparency of the history and what you’ve viewed, I think it depends on whether you view this device as something very personal that you wouldn’t share between multiple users. We all feel that way with our phones and just the other day I was discussing with someone how the same feeling seems to apply to the ipad. While you probably don’t find many households with a 1:1 ration of ipads to users, the way it’s setup doesn’t lend itself to be very multi-user friendly. I’m reluctant to give my ipad to others to try stuff on it because all the apps, email, etc are all tied to me. It feels like a very personal device. Sometimes I wish there was a quick way I could logout and let someone use the device in a default/naked state.

    • keith says:

      True enough. Mostly an issue in this early stage when everyone wants to take a look at it. :) I did read that Amazon would be addressing the carousel issue. And the XDA forums are on the ground rooting and hacking already. I’m sure we’ll see some interesting developments in the next few weeks/months.

      • Tim says:

        It will be interesting to see how my wife and daughter share it. I picked one up for their Christmas present (pretty sure they don’t read this blog…).

  • Héctor says:

    I hate you… /me wants one too…

  • DannyT says:

    Gutted Amazon seem to not offer anywhere near the same level of services here in the UK so there isn’t the same pull for them to offer the fire. Jealous.

  • I happen to like Celine Dione so your point is lost on me.

  • Ben says:

    Thanks… great ‘real’ review. I especially love you for: “And anyone arguing about whether this is or is not an “iPad Killer”, just shut up. You’re an idiot.” :)

    • keith says:

      hehe. I don’t really mean to call anyone an idiot, but seriously, if you search for “kindle fire review”, 99.99% of them devote the majority of the article to discussing whether or not it “has what it takes” to be an iPad killer. if I see that term in one more review, I’m going to scream. Completely useless in determining whether or not it’s a good device for you to buy or not.

      • Ben says:

        Agreed. It’s unfortunate that these days a “meh… its alright… but it’s certainly no ipad” is about as good a review as you can get, and probably means its a great product.

  • mathew says:

    Its so hard to get the youth away from all these apple products..but if they open their eyes there is lots of other quality stuff too. Although Amazon? im not sure about Amazon lol and you highlighted some big negetives here