I have two desktops and a laptop at home. There have been many times when I wanted to look something up online but gave up because I didn’t want to boot up one of my computers. Examples are many. Sometimes you just want to know who invented vodka or why Molotov cocktail is called that. Sometimes you want to look up a recipe or figure out how to remove wine stains from your wine glasses. And sometimes you want to know before leaving home at 5.20 am what the traffic looks like.
My 1-year old Lenovo laptop takes a good 10 minutes to boot. There are other shortcomings to the traditional desktops and laptops as well. So I either had to suffer through the wait of the boot up process of remain clueless who invented vodka (because when you are drinking said vodka, the last thing you want to do is sit in front of the computer looking up its inventors). And 5.20-am traffic remains a mystery to me until I turn on my car’s radio, which is, let’s face it, not the coolest way to be informed about things in the 21st century.
I considered an Apple iPad, but its price was just too much for my intended uses, plus it is too big. Then Amazon announced the Kindle Fire, which unlike other Kindle models was not designed for book-reading duty, but to browse the Internet, use apps, play music, watch videos and, if you must, read books too.
At $199 it is much cheaper than an iPad, and its 7-inch screen size was supposed to be a more portable form-factor for me. Add to it seamless integration with Amazon’s video/music/bookstore/cloud, including free movies and book borrowing programs with Amazon Prime, their Amazon Silk browser that promised fast web browsing using smart server-side caching, 1024x600 pixel IPS screen with Gorilla Glass surface, multi-touch capability and support for thousands of apps and I was sold. Or rather the Kindle Fire was sold to be in a pre-order transaction.
Now that I have played with my Kindle Fire extensively, I can tell that some of the enthusiasm was justified and some not.
The Kindle Fire is a tablet with a 7-inch 1024x600 IPS screen (same technology as iPad and much better than your average LCD display). It weighs 14.6 oz (413 grams) and is sized 7.5" x 4.7" x 0.45" (190 mm x 120 mm x 11.4 mm).
The Kindle Fire has 8GB of internal memory (approximately 6GB available for user content). That's enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. There is also free cloud storage for Amazon content.
The battery life is rated at up to 8 hours (reading with wireless off) or 7.5 video playback (also wireless off). The full charging time is 4 hours using the included AC adapter (USB charging from the computer is also supported).
WiFi is supported as follows: Amazon Kindle supports public and private Wi-Fi networks or hotspots that use 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, or enterprise networks with support for WEP, WPA and WPA2 security using password authentication; does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
It has a USB 2.0 (micro-B connector), 3.5mm headphone jack and top-mounted stereo speakers. Included in the package are the Kindle Fire itself and its AC charger.
The Kindle Fire arrived almost completely charged. With it a small card was included that described how to charge it and how to unlock it (it was on, but in standby mode). The rest of operation was straightforward and the manual is included right on the device.
After I turned it on, it showed me a list of available wireless networks, let me select mine and enter its password, downloaded a latest software update and rebooted, after which I was ready to use it.
The device came connected to my Amazon account and it comes with 1 free month of Amazon Prime membership (later it is $79 per year), which includes free 2-day shipping on most items Amazon sells, free movies/videos (some), free book rentals (1 per month) and other perks.
The device is convenient to hold with one hand or two. It is compact, but surprisingly large enough to watch movies due to high resolution of its screen. The back surface is rubberized.
I found it easy to hold vertically with one hand and flip the pages of a book you are reading using fingers of the hand you are holding it with. For typing on its virtual keyboard, horizontal orientation (placed on a solid surface or even my knees) works best. That way I can type pretty fast and accurately using both hands.
Software Update 12/20/2011Some of the issues reported originally were fixed by a software update released on 12/20/2011. Whereas in the past I had difficulty typing on the virtual keyboard and getting correct letters appear, now I can do it easily. And the accuracy of clicking on links within web pages also increased dramatically. The navigation is faster now as well.
Software Update 03/14/2012
There were a few software updates after the Kindle Fire was released, the last one happened last night and it seems that the navigation and responsiveness improve with each update. It would be nice if our cars could be updated as easily (and free of charge) to get ever faster.
It takes about 30-35 seconds to turn the Kindle Fire on from a completely powered-off state, but only a couple of seconds to either turn it on from standby mode or to turn it off.
Despite having a dual-core processor, some operations are a little sluggish. When you rotate the device, it may take up to a second for the picture on the screen to rotate. In fact, there are glitches there too: when I started to watch a movie (from Amazon), then rotated the device, the controls (volume control, etc) rotated but the movie kept playing as-is (upside-down), until I went back to previous page and forward again.
Another slightly (originally) sluggish operation was scrolling, but that was largely fixed by a software update. There was a slight delay, which is not something iPad has.
You can, for example, listen to music or a podcast while browsing the web. And if you don't touch controls for a while while listening, the screen goes blank and the device goes to standby mode but the music/podcast still plays.
The IPS screen is vibrant and the colors are very true to life. My home LCD monitor uses PVA technology, which is better than your average LCD monitor, but this IPS is much better still. IPS technology is used in iPads, expensive computer monitors (some of them from Apple). Panasonic advertises that they use IPS technology in their LCD TVs.
The resolution is simply awesome. At 1024x600, it exceeds DVD resolution and approaches 720p. As such, you can watch movies in high-def and be amazed at the clarity of picture, viewing angle, vibrant colors and smooth motion.
The screen has a hardened coating (Gorilla Glass) so it should be scratch-resistant. The viewing angles and colors are significantly better than those of my Panasonic Viera L32C3 32-inch LCD TV.
The screen is quite reflective though, which detracts from the viewing experience when watching movies.
The Kindle Fire has two speakers, providing stereo sound, but only if you hold the device upright. This is a strange choice. Since most movies will be watched holding the device horizontally, both speakers will be on one side and therefore you get sound on one side only. In any case, the sound from those tiny speakers is also tiny, so for either movie watching or for listening to music, use the headphones. This will preserve the batter life too.
The navigation is simple and involves touching the screen, swiping the screen or pinching/un-pinching (multi-touch). It is straightforward to use, but sometimes the touch did not register, which is something that was largely fixed via a recent software update.
For typing, I find that horizontal tablet orientation and two-handed typing work the best. The device is heavy enough and the rubberized back has enough friction not to slide around when placed on either solid surfaces or my knees.
If you plan on reading a lot of books, another Kindle model will be better. Although the interface of this Kindle Fire is good and there is color unlike in cheaper Kindles, the use of an LCD screen in this model will result in more eye fatigue. Plus, it is difficult to read in bright light.
I plan on using Kindle Owners' Lending Library. It allows you to rent 1 book per month for free. I already selected a book, it got downloaded to the device and I am reading it.
Also convenient are book previews. I am interested in a book, but unsure if I really want to buy it. I selected a "preview" on Amazon.com and the beginning of the book downloaded to my Kindle Fire so that I can check it out.
The video quality is superb when you get videos/movies from Amazon or YouTube in high-def. Make sure you access Amazon movies from the “Video” tab. I can go to Amazon’s web site in the web browser and start watching the movie there, but even if you open it in a window that fits the screen, the quality is worse.
In addition to native Amazon movie service, you can watch movies from Netflix using a free Netflix app from the “Apps” tab. Some movies were stretched when I watched them though. YouTube videos played well, but when I tried to post one of them to Facebook, I was unable to since Facebook was stuck on “loading” screen. I tried several times and gave up. Facebook itself worked fine.
I was able to watch part of the movie from Amazon service on this tablet, then continue where I left off on my Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Blu-Ray Player with 3D, Skype, Built-In WiFi, Netflix and Amazon Streaming. Amazon remembers where you stopped watching the movie, even if you use different devices for watching one part and then another. Not very amazing, but useful nonetheless.
The video playback has a "10s" virtual button that instantly goes back 10s. This is frequently useful in case you missed something in the last 10 seconds, e.g. you are watching a British movie (i.e. "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells") where it is virtually impossible to understand what the bloke is saying on the frist try.
I was able to listen to my music already stored in the Amazon cloud very quickly. The interface is intuitive and the album art was displayed in good resolution. The sound quality (using good headphones) is iPod-like; which means good but not great. There is a lack of bass and dynamic range.
You can listen to music or podcasts while browsing the web, which is convenient.
There are a lot of apps available, some of them free. I got a bunch of free ones from Amazon’s app store: AccuWeather predicts weather, some cookbook with 40,000 recipes, MapQuest (mostly to see traffic information), Hulu+ (to watch videos), Netflix (ditto) and some more.
The apps are pretty handy. I needed to back ground beef for my son, but didn’t remember the proper temperature or time. Looking through the heavy cookbook I couldn’t find it and after a couple of minutes just went to the Kindle Fire, selected the aforementioned app, searched for “baked ground beef” and immediately saw a list of recipes. Problem solved: 350F for 45 mins.
There is a free app that even gives you free access to 25 newspapers including Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, etc.
I was easily able to access Hotmail, view and compose emails there, go to Facebook, check traffic at Sigalert.com, go to Amazon’s web site, etc. The web browsing was tolerable in speed, but not as fast as I expected based on the hype of Amazon Silk browser with server-side caching of some sort. My computers “work the web” much faster. But for a quick check of news, etc. this tablet is perfect. And it supports Adobe Flash content.
DocumentsYou get assigned an email address in the format email@example.com. You can email documents you want accessible on your Kindle to that email address. They don't appear immediately, but you have to shut down the Kindle, then turn it on again. The photos I emailed all appeared sideways and when I rotated the Kindle Fire, the photos rotated too and stayed displayed sideways. Odd.
PDF documents display well.
ConnectorsThe two connectors are a micro-USB and a 3.5-mm headphone jack. They are a little too close together; if I use my Panasonic RP-HTX7 Consumer Headphones, the connector is a little too thick so I can either have the headphones plugged in, or the USB (power) cable but not both. Unless I use different headphones with a smaller connector.
After 1.5 years, it is still working as new.
Pros: Price, excellent high-def screen, Gorilla Glass, apps, web, movies, music, books, magazines.
Cons: Location of speakers, no HDMI, slightly sluggish (but less so after every software update).
A combination of apps and web browsing on this tablet let me accomplish my main goals: find out what the weather and traffic conditions are and who invented vodka, fast. I can instantly read almost any book, many magazines and newspapers, watch almost any movie or TV show, listen to any music.
I can watch violent movies without my son also watching them. I can play Angry Birds (whereas in the past I could mostly only play Hungry Hippos). In short, Amazon Kindle is excellent. I only wish it had an HDMI out so that I could connect it to my TV and were slightly more responsive. Otherwise, I highly recommend it and for $199 it is a steal.
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