Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Kindle Fire - Hot or Not?

About 3 weeks ago, I read the 'impressions' (not quite a review) of author Tobias Buckell's new Kindle Fire on his Twitter feed. His general setup was to have a Kindle 3 and an iPad. After giving the Kindle Fire a try, he decided that not only would it not replace his Kindle 3, but also it would not replace his iPad. Thus, it was relegated to being a rather lovely paperweight. Since I have the same device setup as Buckell has, I decided I did not - at that moment - require a $200 paperweight.

The next day, my boyfriend said triumphantly, "Hey!  Guess what I ordered for you!"

Well then.  Can't beat the price, right?

I opened it up on Sunday night and put it through its paces. After seeing commenter Stevi talk about wanting one, I figured I'd write about my adventures.

The first thing I noticed is that this thing is heavy. I hefted both devices and if it were iPad 1 sized, it felt like the Fire might weigh a little more than the iPad! (Google tells me I'm right.  Kindle Fire = 430g, iPad 1 = 730g.)  It felt like a little brick. It was a sleek, beautiful little brick, though, and I was anxious to turn it on.  It updated for about 10 minutes and then I began fondling it - er, testing it! - in earnest.

I'd heard that the UI was a little clunky but I didn't find it so. In fact, it had synced up with all my other Kindles (yes, there are two other Kindles in this house and two iPads - I'm a whore for gadgets, don't judge me). There was the book I was reading on my Kindle 3, the song I'd been listening to on Amazon Cloud, and my latest episode of The Vampire Diaries all queued up on its 'bookshelf' thing. I thought that was somewhere between cool and stalkery.

I decided to open up The Vampire Diaries and see how the little screen looked. I had the option of streaming the episode or downloading and playing it that way, which was peachy. I streamed for a bit and it looked pretty good, only buffering a little bit - my wireless signal is pretty robust. The screen resolution is almost exactly what my iPad's is, so no real picture difference there, aside from being significantly smaller. I opted to download the episode - a HD episode is about 2gb in size - and it gave me a nice countdown of how long it would be until it was watchable.

While I was waiting for TVD to download, I opened up the book I had been reading, The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff (which was excellent, by the way, buy it now). It was basically just like reading with the Kindle app on the iPad, so nothing new. And by nothing new I mean, "I still hate reading on a tablet."  The backlighting makes my eyeballs feel like they are burning with the heat of a thousand fiery suns after about 3 minutes. (I just learned about the sepia tone you can set the background to instead of that eye-searing white. I'm going to have to try that.)

I did notice that while I was reading, there was a little 1 in a circle on the upper left hand corner of my Fire. I tapped it and it showed me my active download and its progress. It's a handy little task manager, which I really like.

I minimized my book and decided to listen to some 30 Seconds to Mars from my Amazon cloud while I was reading and also downloading. So, I had Night of the Hunter streaming, TVD downloading, and was happily burning my corneas reading a book. There were no visible performance issues, no stuttering of the music (though that's mostly my aforementioned robust wireless signal), and my video was happily downloading.

Now, all of that is great.

However, I went back to my Kindle 3 to finish reading my book, and I listened to my iPod while reading. The Kindle 3 is lighter and doesn't try to char my precious organic ocular devices. I also have no fear that I'm going to drop the Kindle 3 and shatter it into a million beautiful black pieces; the Fire is unwieldy. I used the iPad to finish watching TVD. It's just bigger, you know?

For a user like me - a seasoned gadgetrix - the Fire just doesn't have a lot of verve. I have my iPad for tablet things and my Kindle 3 for book things, and the Fire does neither of those things better than either device. Honestly, the coolest thing about it is the month of free Amazon Prime. We've watched the heck out of their streaming videos and it's been great. We're definitely keeping that.

If you don't have an iPad and you don't want to shell out the exorbitant fee for one, the Kindle Fire is a good compromise. It's a nice little tablet with a good picture that multitasks fairly well.  The UI is a little rigid - you can't move things around - but the touch screen is responsive without being too responsive the way I find my iPad to be.

When Kanth gets his Nook, we'll do a little compare and contrast, see which one is superior. Either way, I bet at the end of the day I'll be happier with the iPad than both tablet-lite solutions.
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  1. Thanks. This was actually helpful. I have a iPad 1 which is adequate for most tasks but I could also do without the eyeball searing white. I was considering getting an e-reader but wasn't sure about springing for the Nook or Fire. I think I'll just get one of the more basic readers.

  2. Thanks for writing the review! I'm not really surprised at the verdict. My one question is, can you hold it in one hand to read?

    I have an ipad, which I never use because I can't comfortably hold it in one hand. It always has to be propped somewhere. And then I could just use my netbook, which has the same size screen (plus a real keyboard).

    The ipad has pretty much just become my husband's very expensive and very pretty Angry Birds machine. I don't need another one of those in the house!

    I just want something I can lounge on the couch and read, or do little internetty things that my phone is just a little too small for.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. I haven't made the leap to a dedicated e-reader yet, but Mrs. O and I both believe the writing is on the wall. I've read two books so far on my iPad and the experience left a lot to be desired: glare from the shiny screen, heavy to hold in one hand, afraid to leave it on the table when I hit the euphemism at the coffee shop, etc.

    On the other hand, I am extremely interested in hackable tablets that are Linux based, whether that be WebOS (if that ever happens), Android, or what have you. I've been making do with a Beagle Board (a tiny ARM-based development board) as a development system, but moving to a real consumer device is very attractive.

    Thanks again!

  4. @All - I'm glad you found this helpful!

    @Stevi - Hmm, I can't quite comfortably hold it in one hand. I don't have tiny girl-hands, but I don't have man-hands either. Honestly, it's just too heavy more than it is big. It's a strangely weighted beast of an awkward size and it's a two-hander for me. Instead of an Angry Bird machine, mine is a Twitter-during-football machine. My boyfriend has commandeered it to watch Prime and Netflix, though, and he is really enjoying that part.

    @Chip - I just love my Kindle 3. It's light, durable, and I've dropped it like it's hot about 50 times and no harm has come to it. On the other hand, if I were in the market for a tablet, an Asus Transformer Prime is probably what I would wait for. It's Android, it's a quad-core powered tablet, it's hackable, and comes with a docking station. (I feel the siren's call of this gadget. I predict there will be two in our household almost as soon as its released. The iPads will be out on the street, begging for change and cheap hobo wine.)