Reviewing the Reviews: Amazon’s Kindle Fire

November 15, 2011

First impressions

Engadget and The Verge noted distinct similarities between the Kindle Fire and RIM’s PlayBook tablet, even if The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky did claim that the design was ‘anything but inspired’.

The Kindle Fire has dimensions of 190 x 120 x 11.4mm – not dissimilar to the PlayBook – and weighs 413g, making it substantially lighter than the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. It was this lightness which prompted Topolsky to claim that, unlike with his iPad, he never felt tired when reading with the Kindle Fire.

Internal hardware specs

Reviewers were not overly fussed by the 1GHz TI OMAP processor but many expressed dismay at the just 8MB of internal storage (only 6MB of which is available to download content), which significantly limits of content you can download to the device. Engadget says that these issues are overcome by the ability for users to stream media to the device.

The Verge was slightly disappointed that there was no light sensor for various reading environments, while more than one source were quick to point out the lack of 3G, GPS, a home button and a back button.

Display

Endadget says that the panel appears to be the same as used on RIM’s PlayBook and reviewers were in the consensus that the inclusion of the 7-inch IPS 1024 x 600 resolution display is one of the brighter points of Amazon's tablet.

“While it won't wow you with its maximum brightness, color reproduction is good and viewing angles are just as broad as you'd expect from an IPS panel”, said Stevens.

Wired’s Jon Phillips was equally impressed with the display’s quality; saying that the display delivers ‘quite nice image quality’ with ‘solid’ off-axis viewing, while CNET’s Donald Bell believes the Kindle Fire is bucking an industry trend of poor screen quality of sub-$300 tablets.

Battery Life

The tablet scored well in terms of battery life, with Engadget clocking the device lasting seven hours and 42 minutes when watching video.

“I never really found myself worrying about charging the device — it went for days at a time without needed to be plugged in”, said The Verge’s Topolsky.

Performance

A variety of reviewers came to the conclusion that the Fire doesn’t always deliver a very smooth or seamless experience, with browsing sometimes slow and changing apps often cumbersome.

Despite this, Engadget found the tablet achieved a respectable score of 2,440 on SunSpider 9.1 (it was not 100% confident in the score, due to the ‘mysteries’ of the Silk browser), and The Verge reported an average of 34 MFLOPs in Linpack, and a SunSpider result of 2541.9ms when in the browser.

Not everyone was overly impressed with the Fire’s performance. “You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger”, wrote The New York Times’ David Pogue.

“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”.

Software

There was some admiration and criticism of Amazon’s Carousel user interface, a stack of recently-used items, including apps, books and movies.

Engadget complained that the system is sometimes too intricate, and too touch sensitive when trying to launch an application, while The Verge said that the lack of ‘back’ and ‘home’ buttons sometimes made the Carousel hard to navigate.

In terms of pre-loaded applications on the home screen, the reviewers noted Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs and Apps, as well as a Web app, which essentially launched Amazon’s Silk browser.

Reviewers saw a simple lay-out for finding local and cloud-based content, and the virtual bookshelf home-screen, which houses the most recently used applications and favourite programmes, was generally admired, if not without criticism.

“This is a highly polished device and collection of services”, said Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff. “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”.

Silk browser

Engadget says that the Silk browser is ‘mighty-quick’ given limited internals and was not far behind the iPad 2 for rendering web pages, but still view was not held by others, who deemed the browser to be sluggish and far from smooth.

Both Gizmodo and The New York Times came to this view, with the latter’s David Pogue claiming that pages took twice as long to load as they did on his iPad, even pages that were supposedly remembered as favourites by Amazon’s EC2 cloud system.

Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle was generally fairly upbeat on the browser, as he was impressed with the page rendering and ability to bookmark and tab, but CNET, while impressed with the browsing, was more concerned with the screen size.

“Unfortunately, no matter how fast a page loads, browsing the web on a 7-inch tablet is inherently disappointing. It's just not a screen size that lends itself to the web”, said CNET’s Donald Bell.

One source considered Amazon’s EC2 cloud system, and believes that browsing was speeded up for the most popular websites.

“The Fire’s Silk browser is nice and quick, and only gets faster as it wises up to your browsing patterns”, said Wilson Rothman of MSNBC. “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”.

Reading

The reading experience divided reviewers, with some happy to read magazines and comics, and others disappointed with the magazine formatting.

Engadget’s Tim Stevens enjoyed the reading experience but admitted that he often needed to zoom in or out, while Wired’s Jon Philips claimed that the Kindle Fire is not adequately proportioned for magazine content, and not suited for those who want to read for longer periods.

“Because of the size, reading is easier than on an iPad, though kids' entertainment and other engrossing interactive content isn't as fun”, said MSNBC’s Rothman.

Gizmodo was more upbeat about the reading experience, claiming that books look great in landscape or portrait mode.

Music

Engadget was not impressed with the audio fidelity, citing a constant hiss during playback and blasting the ‘tinny’ speakers.

Audio control is relatively simple, with artwork on the left of the screen, and playback controls on the right, according to Stevens.

Video

As with all other content, reviewers admired the simplicity of the list of local and cloud-based content, even if they remained disappointed with the 8GB of storage.

The 8GB of internal storage makes room for about 10 movies, but users can choose to save local storage by streaming through Amazon’s Primed service and the soon-to-be-released Netflix and Hulu Plus.

“When it comes to watching video, the Kindle Fire's combination of 7-inch IPS screen and a one-click library of TV shows and movies (not to mention Flash-based Web content) is an unmatched proposition”, said CNET.

This view was not necessarily shared by Wired, which wile was impressed with the video quality, advised buyers to be aware of the storage limitations when buying content.

“Fire owners are afforded unlimited Amazon Cloud storage for anything and everything they might buy via the Amazon store. But you can’t access the cloud if you’re not on Wi-Fi, as the Fire doesn’t include 3G support”.

Summary

 Engadget's Tim Stevens labelled the Kindle Fire as 'quite an achievement at under $200'. “The Kindle Fire is great value and perhaps the best, tightest integration of digital content acquisition into a mobile device that we've yet seen. Instead of having a standalone shopping app the entire tablet is a store", said Stevens.

“Simply, the Fire is a wonderful IRL compliment to Amazon's digital abundance. It's a terrific, compact little friend, and—is this even saying anything?—the best Android tablet to date”, commented Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle.

CNET's Donald Bell took a different take on the introduction of the Kindle Fire, claiming that the device is not so much as an iPad contender, but a market in its own right.  “The Kindle Fire marks an important milestone in the history of tablets. While the industry has been competing with Apple for the claim of the fastest, thinnest, or most feature-packed tablet, Amazon started in on its own slow race to make the first "good enough" tablet at a game-changing price. If you remember what Netbooks did to the laptop industry, this probably feels like déjà vu”.

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