I’ve been spending some time with ‘other’ (non-iPad) tablets recently. I’ve been using a TouchPad for a few weeks and I pre-ordered a Kindle Fire as soon as pre-orders opened up. It arrived late yesterday afternoon and I’ve been getting to know it ever since.
Even at this early stage with the Kindle Fire, some things about Amazon’s new tablet are very clear. Chief among them is that this is not an iPad rival in any practical sense. It may be a rival for attention and sales – but it is a completely different level of device, a sort of Apples to Cucumbers comparison.
For starters, there are the obvious physical and hardware spec sort of differences, for instance:
— It’s a 7 inch display – far smaller than the iPad’s 9.7 inches
— It has only 8GB of internal storage (with around 6.5GB available to the user) as opposed to 16, 32, and 64GB storage options for the iPad and iPad 2.
— It’s a WiFi only device – there are WiFi only and WiFi + 3G iPad models.
— The Kindle Fire has no cameras (the iPad 2 does, though very low-spec), no Bluetooth support, and no GPS.
— The stated battery life for the Kindle Fire is well below that of the iPad and iPad 2.
Here are some of my own early impressions after a half day or so with the Kindle Fire:
Look & Feel
The Kindle Fire is an attractive looking little tablet. Coming from the iPad and iPad 2, it’s hard to avoid ‘little’ being one of the predominant early impressions. I like the weight of it – it feels solid and easy to hold and of course considerably lighter than larger tablets. Interestingly, my wife found it heavy when she had a quick look at it. It weighs about 2/3 as much as the iPad 2.
The plastic back is OK looking with the word Kindle tastefully rendered but overall it’s not as sleek and well-designed as the iPad.
It’s a fingerprint and smudge magnet on the screen and the back, as most tablets are.
Using The Kindle Fire
Performance so far on the Kindle Fire is OK. I haven’t seen anything that’s dreadful, but there’s also been nothing thus far that has impressed me greatly. And in several areas, the Fire has been less than impressive.
The Fire’s browser is speedy enough, but far from a pleasure to use. The default text size on web pages is very small. It’s readable for me but small enough that I certainly wouldn’t want to read long articles. With the small screen size, zooming in on the text just means far too much scrolling is required to read comfortably.
There’s no rapid app switching method that I’ve seen thus far. To move from one app to another you’ve always got to go back to the home screen first. And there’s no home button on the Kindle Fire – just a software home button that is available via a quick tap / toggle from everywhere in the Fire’s OS – though it’s not always invoked in exactly the same way.
I’ve been finding that the Fire’s multi-touch implementation is not as good as the iPad’s either. I’ve found that in numerous places a tap on a button doesn’t get recognized first time. For instance when selecting an app, tapping to move the cursor in a text area, tapping to save an Evernote note, and sometimes even when tapping to open an app or book from the home screen. Other times the button tap has been recognized, but the response is so slow I find myself tapping again thinking it was not successful.
The placement of the single power button used to sleep/wake and power on and off the device seems daft to me. It is near the center of the bottom of the Fire. Positioned there it is Ok to get to when you’re holding it in landscape mode but pretty awkward to get at when in portrait. Especially when you go wake the Fire back up, it feels much slower to get to.
Battery life doesn’t seem very good so far. Out of the box the Fire was at or near 100% charge. After just a couple hours of light usage touring round the Fire and installing and looking at a few apps and a very quick tryout of the Music app, it had dropped to 59%. After around four hours, having watched one short (25 minutes) video and continued to look at apps and one game, it was at 35%. This is likely due at least in part to the fact that the brightness is set quite high by default on the Fire. I lowered that later in the evening and the battery is holding up better since of course.
There are no hardware controls for volume on the Fire. You adjust volume with a tap on the Settings button in the status bar and then use of a slider control.
I have not found a way to take a screenshot on the Fire so far – I hope that gets added soon as it’s a much nicer way to show screens.
Apps on the Kindle Fire
The Fire comes with a decent, small set of built-in apps. These include a very nice Amazon Shop app (with one-click purchase available to toggle on or off), QuickOffice Viewer, IMDb, basic email and contacts apps, and a few other popular ones that can be downloaded for free – like Pandora and Words With Friends.
The built-in Facebook ‘app’ is just a link to the Facebook mobile web site.
There’s no built-in calendar, clock, or weather app.
I installed a few 3rd party apps last night, mostly free ones. The first one was Evernote, where I took all my notes for this post. It’s a good version, as good as the iPhone version I’d say. Angry Birds (free version) also looked just like it does everywhere else I’ve used it.
USA Today is very drab and lame looking on the Fire, compared to its iPad version.
I couldn’t find a Dropbox app or any notes apps that sync with Dropbox. I was hoping to see the excellent TapNote that I’ve used on the TouchPad which syncs with Dropbox, but it’s not there. I’m assuming this is due to Amazon using only their own app store at the moment rather than the full Android market.
I only watched one short video last night so I’ve not got a lot to say on that side of things on the Kindle Fire yet.
Not an iPad Rival
After just a short time with the Kindle Fire, it seems a decent little tablet. Obviously one that’s got a bargain pricetag that will draw some attention. But so far I can’t think of many things I would rather do on a Fire than on an iPad. More importantly, beyond my personal preferences, I can’t think of anything I’ve seen yet that it does better than an iPad, and not too many that it does as well.
If any of you have got hold of a Kindle Fire this week, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Do you think it stacks up well against the iPad?