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Summary:

Tablets (or any gadget) are supposed to be our companions for a long time. And in order to review them, you really have to live with them. So, after using the new Kindle Fire for about three days, all I can offer are my early impressions.

Kindle Fire HD - 7


When last week, Amazon announced a whole slew of new Kindle devices including a new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD, I asked the Seattle-based company if they would send me a device. I normally don’t really review devices — that is what my colleague Kevin Tofel excels at — but this time I was a tad curious. I am sure Kevin is going to write his own impressions.

I use these new devices to learn about them, to compare them with some of the other devices that crowd my workspace and to form an educated opinion about them especially when writing about respective companies or platforms strategies. I will dispense with the requisite review stuff — packaging, features and details — and leave better experts to extol those virtues (or lack thereof.) Instead, here are some of my early impressions after using the seven-inch Kindle Fire HD for about three days.

First, what’s good about the Kindle Fire HD:

  • The new 7-inch Kindle Fire is simple, sleek and easy to hold, though it is a little bigger than Google’s 7-inch Nexus tablet made by Asus. They weigh almost the same and both of them are easy to hold and use. Kindle Fire feels more solid in my hands as well and, as Amazon promised, it boasts amazing WiFi connectivity — perhaps the best so far in any device I have either owned or tried.
  • How does it stack up against the first generation Kindle Fire? Think of the transformation of an ugly duckling with a limp to an elegant swan.
  • The most impressive thing about Kindle Fire is something I liked in its first iteration, too: It is not an iPad clone. Amazon has developed a good user interface and deserves credit for it.
  • When it comes to the screen, Kindle Fire feels a little less sharp than Google’s Nexus — but to be honest, I find both of them lacking. I am used to the Retina display on my iPad 3 and as a result expect a certain crispness from the screen that is just not there on Android-based tablets.
  • If this is Android, then you can’t really tell. It is buried under Amazon’s UI that is optimized almost entirely to showcase Amazon’s digital offerings — books, movies and music. Sure you can buy other things from Amazon too, but this device is made for “digital content.”
  • The iTunes Coverflow style navigation through latest pieces of content has become smoother and more fluid. It very quickly becomes a default behavior on the tablet.
  • Buying books is so simple. The one-click purchase meant that I have blown through about $30 on various Kindle Singles. To be honest, the book buying and reading experience is so seamless that it makes the shortcomings of the Kindle app on iPad quite glaring.
  • Being an Amazon Prime member means I get access to a lot of video content for free. It is easy to stream movies and television shows, but I found the quality of video not quite up to the mark. I have the Amazon Prime app on my iPad and when compared to Kindle Fire, it just is better. This is an area where Amazon can and should improve.
  • These days I don’t really buy music — I use Spotify for all my listening, so from that perspective I am not sure I would use Amazon’s music service. However, I have a Amazon Cloud Player account and accessed my older music on the Kindle Fire. It was a flawless experience, and thanks to a very robust home network, I enjoyed listening to music via my Bowers & Wilkins headphones without a problem. The experience, like the book store, is pretty seamless.
  • Frankly, I saw no problems with ads on the device. They are very tastefully done and the offers are actually useful and interesting. In a post-Groupon world, they feel a lot less commercial.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he wanted people to use his devices and that he wanted people to buy stuff on their devices. From that standpoint, Kindle Fire does deliver — especially when it comes to digital content. However, it is not all peaches and champagne. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HD edition has some key shortcomings in my opinion.

  • Unlike Kevin Tofel, I am having a tough time getting used to browsing on the 7-inch screen.
  • The Silk browser might have added a few hundred horsepower since its birth, but it still doesn’t feel fluid enough to me.
  • The pesky Retina display has raised my expectations when it comes to web-surfing and I found the web browsing experience a let down.
  • The OS that powered the first version of Kindle Fire was as smooth as the skin on the feet of a long distance runner. The new Kindle Fire is a remarkable improvement, but I found it was a shade less fluid than the Google’s Nexus. I do think iOS powered iPad is the gold standard. A few more iterations and Amazon is going to get there.
  • While reading apps like Twitter and ESPN Center apps are good enough to use on this tablet, I wasn’t blown away by apps-on-Fire. Sure you can play games, but even in three days, I felt that there was something missing. You can feel, for the lack of a better word, “that five percent.”
  • Amazon made a big song-and-dance about its mail app – and let’s just say, it didn’t meet expectations. (Not that Apple’s email app is anything to write home about, either.)
  • The keyboard keys are not as sharp as one would expect and I had a tough time typing long email replies.
  • Amazon could spend some time making searching through its store for non-digital content easier — visual perhaps — and smoother.

So what is the bottom line?

Admittedly, I am biased towards iPad, having used it from the time it went on sale. I am used to its gestures. I know how to get the most out of it. It is perhaps one of the biggest challenges I have when using non-iPad devices. However, my three-day hands-on experience is enough to say that despite the shortcomings, Amazon has become an option.

If you are tied to the Amazon ecosystem — you know you buy books, movies and music from them — then this is a device that should find an easy room in your bag, especially if your other option was buying a standalone Kindle. And if you are one of those who has never owned a tablet and are on a tight budget, then Kindle Fire is worth a consideration — well, unless Apple announces a similar 7-inch device. I know what I would buy.

  1. Does it come with that keyboard?

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    1. Lol, that is my iPad in the background. ;-)

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      1. Check out the Archos 101 XS, it’s MSRP $399 with a better keyboard, the Archos is thinner, lighter, better for video, has USB Host, HDMI out, and runs a faster OMAP4470 processor with a better memory bandwidth and GPU than Tegra3 and iPad. 99% of the 700 thousand Android apps work perfectly on all Android tablets, because the Android SDK since 2008 has always been clever in automatically allowing all apps to look great on any screen size, any screen resolution and at any pixel density.

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      2. does the nook have wifi????

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  2. Good analysis as always.

    It seems to me the Kindle Fire may make a good iPad replacement if you only watch video, listen to music and read books. But it lacks the app ecosystem that iPad offers that makes it a good laptop replacement in many instances. That seems to be a big difference between the two.

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    1. Doug

      The point with this device is — its not iPad and as such is limited in its appeal, but that appeal is very strong. If I had never used iPad before, I would have found this something I would consider buying, mostly because I do buy a lot of things from Amazon.

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  3. Why would any true geek want to buy a device without Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Play Store, Google Drive, etc.

    The only way true geeks care about the Kindle Fire is when/if it gets possible to root the device and install a VANILLA Android Jelly Bean installation on it, and that it must have no bugs and be fully hardware accelerated.

    Amazon has one big problem, that is that they seem to think they’d make more money making an anti-Google walled garden implementation of Android, when I’m pretty sure any 19-year-old statistics and marketing intern can prove that Amazon would make WAY MORE money on their Kindles Fire and future Kindle Phone if they quite simply OPEN THEM UP, and make it clear Amazon has no problem shipping Vanilla Jelly Bean with Google Apps on the device, there is NO PROBLEM in all the Amazon apps then also being pre-loaded and quite simply highlighted in the default installed UI. Just let every user know they can get all 700 thousand apps on Google Play Store, 99% of which work PERFECTLY on all Android tablets, and that Amazon’s own Android Marketplace can then have special deals for apps with exclusive pricing perhaps or any number of other ways that’d make people attracted to that. But more importantly than app markets, Amazon should mainly care about how they can integrate Amazon Prime with their Android devices, that means make every Android device the best way to buy on Amazon, include all the worlds content in Prime streaming etc.

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    1. I don’t think true geeks are their target market. I use iPad and can use any of the Amazon products on it and I assume their apps are all available on Android, so they do not lose. The true geek you speak of can get his Nexus and still have his Amazon. I think they purposely put their own overlay on Android to create a product that differentiates and acts as a portal to Amazon with an experience they control.

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      1. Doug

        Good and fair points. I think this is a low cost front end to Amazon’s digital products. Please note – I don’t think their shop for non-digital goods feels that great on this device. It is a good price tablet and if I was Amazon, I would cut the price for this into half for people who sign-up for Amazon Cloud Player and Amazon Prime.

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      2. Jeff Bezos specifically said that customers do not want gadgets (which was even in the mistaken description for this article). He said that customers want services that work and get better over time. That is what he is offering. Geeks can and will always be able to root and install whatever they want (I rooted the first Kindle Fire I received within a week of getting it, and it runs faster (and geekier) on Cyanogenmod. There is nothing wrong with not offering an explicit geek-oriented model (geeks will geek out anyway) or their prices, which are awesome. Wake up and smell the market-share boys!

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  4. Wait, does the keyboard come with it?

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    1. No.

      I think what you see in the picture is Om’s iPad set-up.

      FWIW, the Fire does have bluetooth so, connected a physical keyboard is possible.

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      1. It is totally possible though I just think the 10 inch tablets are perfect for writing – now that WordPress app works well.

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  5. Solid first take. I’m going to be following the reviews very closely this time around because this is the first tablet that could win my purchase. I’ve been waiting for a 7″ iPad, so we’ll have to see if/when that comes out. But right now leaning towards the Kindle HD. Love the idea of multiple profiles and automated timers for the kids’ activities.

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    1. Travis

      I don’t have kids and I am single so my usage is very selfish. I do think Bezos should try and get the price down even further – 99$ be best.

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  6. Om, are you serious about Amazon reducing the price of the Kindle Fire HD to half of its launch price?

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  7. Two things will keep me from buying it;
    1) Ads …. do a opt out policy
    2) lack of google apps usage

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  8. The only thing keeping me from buying a kindle fire HD is that I have the first generation kindle fire which already has a place in my life. The two features I want are the upgraded sound system and text to speech for books.

    But my kindle fire model 1 does what I need in a tablet, casual surfing, music (pandora and amazon), casual video (netflix). I don’t use it for reading except pdf I have a Kindle for reading.

    Also Kindle Fire #1 supports flash — which is nice when casual surfing.

    My wife has ipad 1 and does the exact same thing with her ipad except she reads books on it.

    When we need to work we move to our laptops.

    BTW: Load in Dolphin browser and avoid silk.

    I have never suffered for the lack of apps.

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  9. Waiting for mine to be delivered, then will commet

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  10. Can anyone advise me as a first timer to tablet gagets – how many books can I store & read when I am out of wi fi range ?

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    1. Lochness Lass – Most eBooks are under 1MB in size, which is quite small. The Kindle Fire HD comes with at least 16GB (a.k.a 16,000MB) of storage, so you could download around 16,000 books to read when you’re away from an internet connection.

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