Kindle Fire Reviews Run Hot and Cold

Amazon's Kindle Fire arrives a day earlier than expected—here's what everyone's saying so far.

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Amazon’s Kindle Fire arrives on Tuesday to shake up the tablet market, and the reviews are rolling in. Although it’s impossible to review the Kindle Fire’s key feature–the $199 price tag–the idea of a cheap tablet loaded with apps, videos, books and music has certainly warmed critics hearts. Here’s what reviews are saying about Amazon’s first tablet:

Hardware Design

The Kindle Fire has a 7-inch display and reportedly uses the same reference design as Research in Motion’s Blackberry Playbook, but its bezels and button layouts are a bit different. The similarities aren’t a bad thing, as Engadget’s Tim Stevens points out:

Like the PlayBook, this thing feels incredibly solid, as if Amazon simply put a chisel to a big piece of slate, gave it a good whack and then put the resulting slab into a Frustration-Free box. The rubberized back may not look or feel particularly posh, but the entire assembly is reassuringly stout.

Still, The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky thinks the lack of hardware buttons for volume and navigation presents some trouble:

That means that Amazon had to create software navigation for getting around the tablet, which would be fine… if the home button wasn’t always disappearing into a hidden menu. Also, I found myself accidentally pressing the power button when I was typing or holding the tablet in certain positions, causing the Fire to think I wanted to shut it down.

(MORE: Nook Tablet vs. Kindle Fire: A Guide to Decide)

Software Interface

The Kindle Fire is based on Google’s Android operating system, which means it can run Android apps, but the interface is modified beyond the point of recognition, made to resemble a wooden shelf full of books, videos, music and apps. Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle liked the layout:

The emphasis is squarely on picking out stuff to stimulate your eyeballs (and ears) with—all else is secondary. This makes for a UI that’s not only simple, but intuitive.

But Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff (and Biddle, too) thought the metaphor wasn’t perfect:

To be honest, it’s a cute concept on the Fire, but with a somewhat clumsy execution. Whatever you looked at recently — books, a movie, apps, web pages, etc. — all sits on the top shelf. As a result, it’s a hodgepodge of icons. Some are movie boxes or posters, which look good. Book covers look great as well; giant icons for email, Facebook, Angry Birds, the Wired Magazine app — look ridiculous.

Also, several reviewers noticed that the carousel for swiping through content is a bit too sensitive to swiping, and not sensitive enough to tapping, making it difficult to actually select content–an easy thing for Amazon to fix, I’m sure.

Performance

Here’s where things get messy. The Kindle Fire has a dual-core processor and 512 MB of RAM, but apparently those specs aren’t enough to provide a zippy experience. The New York Times‘s David Pogue doesn’t pull punches:

You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you’d think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don’t register. There are no progress or “wait” indicators, so you frequently don’t know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn’t been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery.

At least once you’re in an app, the experience improves. Engadget noted that “2D games like the omnipresent Angry Birds ran without issue, and simple 3D games like Fruit Ninja had no problems either.”

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