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Kindle Fire Offers 'Disappointingly Poor' Experience; 'Miserable' Magazines

Will the projected 3.9 million Kindle Fire buyers this quarter end up disappointed with their new tablets? User-experience guru Jakob Nielsen’s new usability report finds the Fire’s 7-inch screen troublesome, the magazine-reading experience poor and the device as a whole slow and heavy.

Nielsen’s full report is here. It doesn’t take into account the technical problems many Kindle Fire users have experienced, notably the inability to connect to WiFi. Some of Nielsen’s findings:

»  Fat-Finger Problem “Everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation.” Mobile sites work well on the Fire’s 7-inch screen, but full sites don’t, even though they work fine on the iPad’s 10-inch screen. “Using designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit. Not going to look good. But that’s what the Fire is trying to do,” Nielsen writes. He recommends that Kindle Fire users set the device to mobile view.

» Bad For Reading The Kindle Fire is heavy and “unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time,” Nielsen writes. “Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can’t comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening.” Of course, people who primarily want a device for reading straight text were never best off buying the Kindle Fire, and it hasn’t been heavily marketed as an e-reader.

The area where Kindle Fire could shine–full-color interactive magazine reading–is where it’s a particular failure, Nielsen says. A couple of his complaints:

–Many magazines don’t have a no “homepage” where users can return after finishing an article.
–Headlines on magazine covers aren’t clickable, even though we’ve known that users want this since our first iPad studies in early 2010. (Honorable exception: in our study, Vanity Fair did allow users to tap a headline on the cover to go directly to the corresponding story.)
–“Page View” is unreadable and “Text View” has the worst layout I’ve seen in years. Illustrations are either too big or too small and are usually located far from the place they’re discussed in the copy.

»  The Future Of 7-Inch Tablets Seven-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet “have either a glorious future or will fail miserably,” Nielsen concludes:

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices. Repurposed designs from print, mobile phones, 10-inch tablets, or desktop PCs will fail, because they offer a terrible user experience. A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform. Furthermore, these mid-sized tablets are so weak that suboptimal designs — that is, repurposed content — won’t work. Optimize for 7-inch or die.

Nielsen says developers need a prospect of high sales to create content specifically for the Kindle Fire and other 7-inch tablets. If the platform “becomes a raving success and quickly sells in large numbers (say, 50 million copies by end of 2013),” we’ll have the “economic foundation” to create that specific content. We’re already seeing publishers like the Wall Street Journal and Weather Channel create apps specifically for the Fire. Nielsen does not mention the broader problem our mobile editor Tom Krazit has raised, which is that Kindle Fire runs its own version of Android, so Fire-specific development may fragment the Android marketplace.

If the Kindle Fire’s sales aren’t as high as projected, “the platform will either die or be reduced to serving poor people who can’t afford a full-sized tablet,” Nielsen concludes. “A small audience won’t offer much incentive for providers to publish 7-inch-optimized content and services. The resulting unpleasant user experience will drive any remaining affluent users to buy bigger tablets.”

32 Responses to “Kindle Fire Offers 'Disappointingly Poor' Experience; 'Miserable' Magazines”

  1. When the iPad came out, I thought I would want one, but after playing with my kids’ iPads, I changed my mind. I like my iPhone, but didn’t want another device run by iTunes. It also seemed a bit clunky. 

    I got the Kindle Fire for color content and video. I’m very happy with it. Hulu Plus works great. It’s simple to use and my 6 year old grandson quickly picked up how to use it. 

    I think the fat finger comment is specious. I especially have that problem with my phone, but put up with it because I want my phone to be small. Fat fingers are less of a problem with the seven inch tablet so it’s not a deal breaker. Besides I don’t do much typing on my Fire. 

    The other criticism that I found fault with was the weight issue. The Kindle fire weighs 14.5 oz. I weighed several hardback books–they ranged from a low of 2.9 lbs to 12.7oz. According to this logic, no one would buy hardback books to read. If weight were the sole issue, the 7 inch tablets would win over  iPads. Lighter is better, but weight isn’t a deal breaker. 

    The real issue is content. It doesn’t really matter how great the hardware is for any device if content is sparse or hard to get. I’m very satisfied with the content available for my Kindle Fire. It even has most of my favorite iPhone apps.  It’s a very good device for $199.

  2. I love my Kindle Fire.  I read on it, watch movies and go on the internet.  For the purposes that I need it for it is wonderful!!  A Kindle Fire is not an iPad and an iPad is not a Kindle Fire.  For most people, a Kindle Fire is more than what they are looking for.

  3. Lulu Chang

    I love my Fire. I use mine to browse the web, read & watch videos.  The Fire has worked perfectly fine for all those. It’s affordable & the screen may not be 10inches but it’s ideal to be carried around in my purse. Of course there could be things that can be improved, and i’m sure that i’ll buy another one further down the line.  I do agree with the magazine interface however, that is a drag & I stopped using it to read magazines on for that reason. 

  4. I had previously read the entirety of Jakob Nielsen’s review — a complete flight of fancy, in my opinion (to use the most generous term possible).  Now this shameless piggyback review; in my view, this sort of false reviewing is as unprofessional as blatantly false advertising.  Not ONE of the ‘complaints’ is true, in my experience.   

    Before my Kindle Fire, the limits of my touch-screen experience was on my Android phone (HTC Hero running Android 2.3) and occasional use of other people’s iPads.  Since I’ve not yet met an adult with an iPad (I know there are millions of them; I just haven’t met them yet) I will admit a predisposition against the iPad, for most of the apps that I’ve seen are locked in to the ‘juvenile’ Apple ecosystem.

    I use the term ‘juvenile’ as a descriptor, not a disparagement.  One looks at the iPad experience — especially in white — as something for little kids.  Full disclosure: as an engineer who uses workstations every day, I have become set in my ways and biased, no doubt.  I prefer metal to plastic, and functional applications to silly games.  I’m also a lifelong reader, but had always held off on eBooks and eReaders, until now.

    The Kindle Fire is transforming the way I think about reading, web surfing, email, and watching movies.  I bought the reader I always wanted, and am totally smitten with the Kindle Fire.  I would suggest taking Jakob Nielsen’s review, turning every point 180 degrees out of phase, and there’s the truth of the thing.

    Will I appreciate an external volume control, and maybe even an 8.9″ screen vs. this 7″ one?  Indeed; and I’ll buy another Fire (or whatever the next model is called) and pass this one down to one of the many family members who LOVE the Kindle Fire.

    There.  Now Adam Gonnerman has his sought-after ‘single positive review’…among the thousands presently online.

    Such embarrassing reporting; my stars… 

  5. RadioFreeOmaha

    Is it just me, or do you also find Jakob Nielsen’s advice hard to use? … That said, cut-rate tablets like the Fire run the same risk as did cut-rate movie producers who retrofitted their 2D films into 3D to catch the fad, but then provided audiences with cut-rate 3D experiences that turned them off from attending more.

  6. Alfred Soyemi

    Our daugter got this kindle Nov16, she is 6 years old, one of our family friends kids 2years plus also got one, whose mom has an Ipad. our older daugter has FT3. few of the other family members siblings has ipad2, galaxy s etc. During this last Thanksgiving familky get together at Cypress Texas, we parents end up setting up schedules for the kids (about 8 of them, total of 6 tablets, 2 of which were kindle Fire) on rotational use of the kindle fire because all of these kids just wanted to use the kindle fire compared to the other 4 tablets. When we ask them why suddenly the kindle fire, here are their general notes: It is easier to hold, most of what they wanted to consume media wise were there, they taught is is slick, you tube, netflix etc were just awesome for all they care, UI was simplified they do not need to dig deep to find anything. It just simply works. Guess what, there were 9 orders of kindle fire placed that day for xmas presents. My wifes best friend that came from U.K got one she could not wait untill possible January for U.K release.

    My point is if little kids ages ranging from 2 to 15 years can emjoy this device without complaint, some of whoom have used Xoom, samsung, Acer, ipad etc and some of us parents also find it very useful as major media consumption and at price point of $200 I’ll beg to differ with the horseshit this writter is feeding readers in this article.

  7. Laura Hazard Owen

    @Dave @facebook-100001396842793:disqus @yahoo-Z6ZTHGAVKPB34TJZH52D3IEEHY:disqus Just to be clear, publishing an article about a usability study of a non-iPad tablet does not signify that I endorse the iPad, or that I endorse any product. And of course I haven’t been paid by Apple. If you disagree with the study’s findings, leave a constructive comment.

  8. WHAT?!?!  I don’t agree w/ any of that commentary.  I got my Kindle Fire about 3 weeks ago, and I’ve had no problems whatsoever.  No problems connecting to Wi-Fi.  Typing is VERY easy on the Fire.  I don’t have any problems reading magazines or novels.  I’ve watched over 30 hours’ worth of movies & streaming video w/o problem either.  I have absolutely NO regrets over my Kindle Fire purchase.

  9. I have had mine for 3 Days and it is my new best Friend!!!

    I got so tired of lugging around My 13 inch macbook
    and to me a 10 inch  ipad is not that much more convenient
    When sitting at my local laundry place

    Besides When doing comparisons you should only be comparing the Ipad to OTHER $500+ tablets and yes Ipad rules that Tier.

    Now compare Kindle fire to OTHER $200 tablets with its seamless link to the Amazon eco-system and you start seeing the value.
    and I found a great Free program for OSX called “Calibre” that Converts Nearly any Document to the Kindle and various E reader formats .

    very pleased with this purchase

  10. This article refers to a study done by a grand total of four people. Yes, that’s right; four. In this case, there’s not enough data to support the findings that the Fire isn’t worth it.

    First of all, “Fat Fingers”. There’s one solution in particular that works just fine; get a stylus. The stylus works much better than your fingers on touchscreen devices in most regards, primarily for accuracy and lack of smudging. This problem is fixable.

    Secondly, “Bad for Reading”. You already knew that this pseudo-tablet wasn’t designed for reading. If you really want a reading device, buy a different Kindle, or even a Nook if you feel like it. The device was designed for “media consumption”, which doesn’t just include books. PS: You could also root the device to fix this, but most people don’t want the trouble.

    Finally, the “7-inch Factor”. Video is already working just fine on 7-inch tablets, and the rest can be fixed with software updates. This is an “if” problem. “IF” I’m stuck in the middle of the ocean with no service, my cellphone will not work well. Does this mean the phone isn’t good? Duh, no.

    Honestly, the panel did a poor job of coming up with real problems for the device. All in all, price and software are what sells the hardware the most, and this device does just fine in both aspects.

  11. MaryInChicago

    I’ve had an iPad and a Kindle 3 for about a year…now I have a Kindle Fire.  Yes, it isn’t as good as Kindle 3 for reading (heavier, pagination more difficult), but except for the smaller screen…which is a matter of pure personal taste/preference (has pros and cons for me) the Kindle Fire’s responsiveness to touch and all other aspects of its user friendliness are very much SUPERIOR to iPad.  The keypad is smaller but it does not overreact…it seems to “know” an intentional touch from a tiny accidental brush.  Cutting or copy/pasting is MUCH better on Kindle, and it’s only a matter of time before the magazine publishers create better interfaces…that’s a content creator problem, not a Kindle problem.


    Some think the writer has been paid by Apple? Oh dear, get a life. It is a potential nightmare as Magazine Design said for producers of content. Not all publishers are redesigning their content to suit new devices. In the early years of the net newspapers were absolutely dreadful. They thought they only had to push the print version onto the net and that would be fine. We are small company, digital content producer. I can’t believe some the’big boys’ didn’t think a ‘table of contents’ and a ‘home page’ would be useful to the reader/user.

  13. have an ipad. have a fire. fire = fine. Some klugeyness but drops me out of the browser far less often (never) than the ipad safari (often).  Fine to hold and read ebooks, easier than ipad due to bookish shape and smaller width. Pleased with product @ the pricepoint.

  14. This notion of creating device-specific magazine content has to stop at some point. If there are going to be new versions to generate with a separate set of specs every time a new gadget comes out, smaller content producers simply won’t be able to keep up. Much like in the early years (and even today) of web browsers, competing standards make content production a nightmare. If there isn’t already one in the works, perhaps it’s time for a tablet consortium along the lines of the W3C to keep magazine formats from proliferating out of control. Competition between devices is healthy — driving graphics departments insane is not.

  15. I wonder how much apple payed this fangirl? I own a kindle fire, and I’m happy with it. and this idea about the kindle fire will help drive more sales towards the ipad…LOL doubt it. that will happen only when apple lowers the price of the ipad, or create the ipad mini I’ve been hearing about.

  16. mushroom 58

    the fire is just the thing i’ve been looking for — i would not own or buy an iPad if you paid me.  i’ve watched live game streaming, video on netflix and amazon, played games, listened to music, stayed caught up on my fantasy football and applied for jobs with it — i dont get all the negative reviews about the fire — we get it — it’s not an iPad and that’s a good thing!

  17. It doesn’t matter how un-usable a piece of junk like the Kindle Fire is as long as the price is right. This is Economics 101 in America. This means the winners are megastores where shoppers pepper-spray each other (Wal-Mart) and operating systems that have been user interface nightmares for years (Windows, Android). It doesn’t need to be good as long as it’s cheap.

  18. I like my kindle fire. I don’t have big fingers/.  It’s just fine to play games, watch videos, play music surf the web a little and read for a short time.  I’d rather read books on my older e-ink kindle, though.  It’s more soothing to my eyes.  I have a leather targus cover that converts to a stand.  So, I haven’t really held the thing in my hands for long periods of time.  I’d definitely buy one again.

  19. Fire works just fine for me.  I don’t need to pay laptop computer prices (e.g. IPad, Galaxy Tab, etc.) to simply enjoy digital content.  If I do choose to pay laptop computer prices, i want a fully capable computer, and not something in between an e-reader, digital content device and computer.  Yes, content providers will need to optimize their content for a best-in-class user experience, but this comes with product acceptance and maturity.

  20. GlobalParadox

    My experience is much different than the author. I love the fire and have been taking it on business trips instead of the iPad. (OK, a Phone, laptop and table for a one week trip is a bit of electronic overkill.) However, I would much rather use the fire sitting on a plane than my iPad. The same goes for my pleasure reading on a road trip. My experience web surfing on the fire is fine, more or less the same as iPad. I can’t speak to the magazine issues because I haven’t used the fire or iPad for that purpose.

  21. unbound55

    Ah yes.  Jakob Nielsen of the Nielson Norman Group who maintains one of the least usable websites around.  Which begs the question of why do people listen to this idiot?

  22. What are you talking about?!  I own an iPad, Asus Transformer and now a Kindle Fire, and must say the fire is the best mobile experience of any of them simply because of the form factor.  There is not UI delays that you speak of (I guess I have a magical one…)  The latest upage 6.2 fixed most if not all the funky touch input issues and also browser slowness.  The biggest thing that amazon and all android platforms need to do it turn web plugins to on-demand – this will make your browsing expirence much better as its not loading all the flash ads that many sites post EVERYWHERE…

    I find it hard that people are having issues hitting the correct links on the websites, I have never seen it register the wrong link when I press on the screen.
    Viewing movies and tv shows through netflix, amazons, or Hulu+ is a breeze, and performs better than any other tablet device on the market in this respect (video load times, searching within a video, and buffer speed).Reading on the device is wonderful – it is about 1/2lb less than the iPad or Transformer – and you can easily hold it in one hand (palm it).

    Magazines are quite bad at this moment, but I expect this to change quickly as more companies build kindle specific versions… just like the ipad, etc.  currently they are simply PDF style documents not designed for the wide screen aspect ratio…

    For most users of tablets this is a perfect device, it plays the games they want (angry birds, cut the rope, fruit ninja, scrabble, monopoly, etc..) and connects them to their kindle library, music, and movies/tv shows.


  23. I am probably still buying one of these because I’m looking for something bigger than my smart phone and cheaper than an iPad. I’d love an iPad, but $500 (to start) is not in my near future.  Full web pages may not work great on a 7in screen, but they work much worse on a 3in screen.  I think of it as an entry-level tablet, like the hatchback is an entry-level car.  It’s ugly, but it will get you where you need to go for a lot less.

    • What’s BS is your comment. The minute someone post something true.. “Apple has been paying for negative reviews”. Come on!

      Have you ever USED a Kindle Fire and an iPad? If you have, what wasn’t true? Have you ever tried reading a magazine on a 7″ inch screen as opposed to a 10″ inch one. The experience is QUITE different.

      If you guys are going to talk BS at least test the damn devices before posting your nonsense.