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:
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.
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.
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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Amazon made a big deal about the Kindle Fire’s Silk Browser, which taps into Amazon’s servers to improve page load times. The results? Mixed. MSNBC’s Wilson Rothman felt something was happening:
Speaking of fluid, the Fire’s Silk browser is nice and quick, and only gets faster as it wises up to your browsing patterns. If you always hit the msnbc.com home page then jump to Tech/Sci, it will start caching Tech/Sci in anticipation of your click.
Topolsky, over at the Verge, didn’t notice a difference:
It sounds good on paper, but in my testing, I didn’t notice any page load times that I would consider noticeably speedier … In fact, the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 10.1 had much faster load times on most sites I tested side-by-side.”
Oh, and those lag issues are ever-present in the browser, as Wired‘s Jon Phillips points out:
Besides poor load times, the Fire’s browser lurches in fits and starts when swiping through already loaded web pages. And sometimes the browser doesn’t react to touch gestures at all, requiring that oh-so-annoying second tap or swipe instead. Pinching in and out of magnified views is also a test of one’s loyalty — this action looks like choppy stop-motion video on the Fire, whereas on the iPad 2, it’s fluid and seamless.
Reviewers seem willing to redeem the Kindle Fire, in part, on the strength of its content. Although the Amazon Appstore has a smaller selection than the Android Market, MSNBC’s Rothman viewed it as a positive:
Amazon’s Appstore is a huge asset. Because it is tied to Amazon’s own purchasing system, it’s easier for you to buy apps from a trusted source. And because Amazon went with quality over quantity, it lacks the feel of Google’s Android Market, which can get so slimy that it could use a hosing down from time to time.
Mashable’s Ulanoff reminds readers to look at all they’re getting in one package:
This is a highly polished device and collection of services. It bakes in books, music, movies, apps/games, magazines, multi-tasking, universal search, easy access to anything you have in Amazon’s cloud, and a sense that this device and Amazon know you.
Looking through the reviews, I see some big complaints with the Kindle Fire. Performance is laggy, the interface needs some tweaking to make navigation easier and there’s only 6 GB of space for your own locally-stored content. If the Fire was a $500 tablet, I’m sure it’d get panned. But for $200, the Kindle Fire simply has to be good enough, and most critics think Amazon pulled it off. Here’s Donald Bell of CNet:
[A]s much as I like this tablet, the Kindle Fire isn’t getting our best rating or an Editors’ Choice. There’s no doubt that I would choose an iPad 2 over a Kindle Fire in a heartbeat. In fact, I’d take an original iPad over a Kindle Fire.
But I don’t live in a fantasy world where people are offering me free iPads. I live in a world where even $199 sounds like a lot of money. In that world, I applaud Amazon for making the best tablet value on the market.