External volume troubles, accidental power-offs, a wonky touchscreen and privacy fit for a peeping Tom—Amazon’s Kindle Fire probably wishes it could dial back the clock to late September, when the device was just announced and everyone was still fawning. That, or it wishes certain media outlets would pay closer attention to what its users are actually saying.
“Is it Amazon’s Edsel?” asks the Detroit Free Press, referring to Ford’s legendary multimillions-losing late 1950s automobile and referencing a New York Times story everyone’s riffing on this morning. In the latter, tales of woes and returned devices—a summary of user critiques of Amazon’s “#1 most-gifted product,” though the Kindle Fire currently enjoys an otherwise respectable user rating of four out of five stars off 4,728 customer reviews, plus another 8,947 “Likes.”
Is the New York Times making a mountain out of a molehill? The paper seems to be looking for a way to correlate all the negative sentiment it piles into the article’s latter parts, including a few choice quotes from downbeat analysts: “I feel the Fire is going to be a failure,” says one, while another asks (rhetorically) what you’ll do with it, answering “nothing” and calling it ”a useless device unless you’re planning on putting books, a lot of books, on it.” To hear the Times tell it, the Fire’s a major misstep and people are sending it back en masse.
But while it’s easy to swing story sentiment one way or another by cherry-picking user reviews, the reality’s something else: Most on Amazon’s site are more than happy with the Fire: 2,226 give it full marks, followed by 902 rating it one star short of perfect. If we just went by Amazon’s user ratings, we’d have to call the device a resounding success.
That won’t assuage the minority vexed by the device’s supposed shortcomings, which for them include: the position of the external power button (it’s too easy to accidentally hit), the temperature (it gets hot), touchscreen accuracy issues, jittery scrolling and slow browsing, a lack of text-to-speech, no external volume switch or slider, poor dimming controls, no way to password-protect things and no way to remove your usage history—if someone else picks up (or steals) your Fire, they can apparently see everything you’ve been up to.
But read the other Amazon user reviews (as in: the clear majority) and you’ll find users who claim the web browser’s plenty fast, scrolling works great, the apps are “very fast and responsive,” the touchscreen “works flawlessly” and is “better than the HP Touchpad,” and who make no mention of privacy issues, volume switch quibbles, or lighting troubles (though the external power button positioning issue seems to be a recurring complaint in both the positive and negative reviews). The overall consensus is rather upbeat, markedly different from the tone struck by the Times story, which misleadingly focuses on the negatives.
In any case, Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener says the company plans to roll out an over-the-air update for the Kindle Fire “in less than two weeks.” While it’s clear the update can’t fix design choices like external button placement (or the lack thereof), it sounds like it should improve performance and tweak navigation, as well as allow users to edit “recent activity” lists, partly remedying privacy concerns.