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Kindle Fire A Quick Review

Kindle FireThe Kindle Fire arrived earlier than expected, showing up at the door of Cyber Sprocket’s Headquarters in warm sunny Charleston yesterday afternoon.   I’ve only had 24 hours to play with it, but with plenty of experience with other mobile and tablet devices I have already formed some opinions & have decided what Fire’s purpose in life is.

Go Green

The first thing I noticed is the packaging.  Every single consumer product company should take cues from Amazon in this regard.  The Kindle Fire comes in Amazon’s “frustration free packaging”, which is something they offer on a number of products.  It truly is frustration free.   A simple cardboard box.  Inside is the Kindle Fire nicely cradled in a raised cardboard bumper wrapped in a thin plastic protective covering that is easily opened by lifting the lightly-glued flap.  Underneath is the power cord with a simple cardboard loop that reminded me of a napkin ring for hobos or Occupy Your Town folks.

Aside from the fact that you don’t need to drive to the local fire station and borrow their Jaws Of Life to open the product package, the other BIG benefit is that it is earth friendly.   I respect that.   I’m not overly “earthy-crunchy”, but if there is a simple, elegant, and low cost way to get the job done then why not do it?   The entire package contents other than that one very small piece of protective plastic is 100% recyclable cardboard.   Even better is that cardboard breaks down in the environment, so for those of you that don’t recycle the chances of something blowing into one of our local Charleston marshes and staying there for 3,297.5 years is zero.

Extra points for being green and being smart about it.

 The Geek Stuff

Ok, enough with the “go green” and packaging comments.   Now on to the device…

Form Factor

The form factor is perfect, IMO.  The 7″ screen is the perfect size for my hands, yet large enough for the screen to be usable.  The 10″ Toshiba Thrive tablet is nice, but simply too heavy and too big to make reading a book comfortable without propping it up in the carrying case.   The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, is perfectly comfortable to hold and light enough to not strain your wrist while doing so.   I watched the first 20 minutes of Ip Man last night without even realizing it had been that long, holding the Kindle Fire in my hand the entire time.    5 minutes of reading a book on the Thrive and I have to put it down or prop it up on something.

The Screen

The screen is nice.  It seems brighter and crisper than the Toshiba Thrive and the HTC Incredible.  I would say it is on par with the iPod Touch 4th gen that we recently got in stock.   It is not even close to the original Kindle eInk based devices as far as readability in bright light, but with a completely different technology behind it that is to be expected.  Color eInk would be awesome, but my guess is we’ll be waiting another year or two for that “surprise announcement” from Amazon.   In the meantime this display can compete with any other “glass” on the market for this type of device.

The video processor is decent enough, but does not seem to be on par with the nVidia Tegra in the Toshiba Thrive.  I did notice some artifacts when watching Ip Man, which do not appear on the HP HD monitor on the laptop or on the Thrive even though the bandwidth was the same in all 3 cases (in other words the artifacts were not caused by buffering).  Still, good enough to no distract from the experience.

The Apps

Here is where things are less than perfect for the Kindle Fire.   Amazon has made a concerted effort to ensure they can capitalize on any & all content that they can offer via Amazon.  That means you can only get apps through their app store (unless you hack the Fire).  Much to our surprise there are a number of apps that I don’t see as competing with Amazon that are NOT available via the marketplace.

Many of my favorite apps are missing, and one of the most important – the email app, is far inferior to the built-in Google Mail app on the Thrive or the Incredible.   That hurts.   I was really hoping this smaller, lighter device could take over for the Thrive as my go-to mobile device.   The built-in email app wouldn’t even recognize the settings for my Google Mail Business Apps account.    So no email for me on that device other than via the mobile web browser.  That will work in a pinch but is far less pleasant an experience than native Google Mail available on a full-fledged Android device.

Some of the other apps that are missing that I use regularly include direct competitors to the Amazon digital library.  Things like the USA Today mobile app, which is FREE on most other Android devices has been explicitly removed from the Amazon version of the Android Marketplace.   Sames goes for the CNN app.   That is a price you pay for getting a device that Amazon is selling AT A LOSS.   Rumor has it that Amazon is losing $50/device on the Kindle Fire and expects to make up the difference over time through the Kindle Store apps, like their paid subscription to USA Today for example.

Not sure I agree with that move.  I’d rather have paid $50 more for the device & had full access to the entire Droid Marketplace.   Amazon could still capitalize on the Kindle Fire experience by having a slicker interface that is better integrated with the device for their native Amazon content.   In other words, keep the full marketplace and leave the rest of the UX alone.

Speaking of User Experience

One place the Kindle Fire does excel is the user experience.  It is different from Apple, but very much on par with most of what Apple has done.  The interface is slick, refined, and generally trouble free.  Most elements are intuitive, though I would prefer a “hard button” to get back to the home screen and/or find the main menu  when in a running app.   You can get used to the screen swipes but that is sometimes not intuitive.  I know I’d be getting support calls from various family members if they owned this device asking “how do I get out of this movie?”.   That aside the general animations, graphics, and interface elements are very well designed and easy to navigate.

The connection with Amazon services is also very well done.   The integration is managed so well on all levels that you don’t even notice all the cool technical trickery going on behind the scenes.  They’ve even gone the extra mile in a few places, like when I first turn on the device… I put in my WEP key for the wireless network and the device did everything else.  It picked up my Amazon account  & synced the device with the account I used to purchase it from with NO INPUT on my part.   That was nice.   My eBooks where readily available and the movie that we watched via our Amazon Prime account was right there, remembering where we paused it the night before on our living room TV.   That is pretty slick, though not unique to the Kindle Fire; the “remember where I left off” feature is standard on all Amazon media devices.

Overall Impression

The Kindle Fire is a nice device.  It is a clean package, nice user interface, and has most of the tech widgets you’ll need for mobile interaction.  However it is clearly designed to be a consumer entertainment device and not a business tool.  Music, books, movies and the like are all very well done and easy to use when combined with the Amazon services.  As a general around-the-house, surf the web, check a few simple web based email messages, and read a book it is great.     But it is NOT a mobile workstation in the same way the Toshiba Thrive is.

The Amazon Kindle Fire is well designed and a great value, but it is not a laptop replacement nor a mobile phone replacement.  There is no camera, no 3G/4G cell network access, no expansions slots or device connectors other than the mini-usb charging port.   That is not necessarily a bad thing.  It keeps the device simple, light, and focused on its task which is a home entertainment and media device.  For that it is perfect.

For me, I will continue to use the Toshiba Thrive as my go-to device as I am  very much a power user.   The Thrive can serve as a mini laptop replacement.  Perfect for business meetings, presentations, and even the occasional movie or book.  However the weight & size will probably ensure the Kindle retains a place in my backpack as my on-the-go digital library for reference books when I’m not “fully engaged” in the business world… like on vacation this week at Disney, where the Kindle will be the perfect pool-side companion.