It's not hard to see why bookstores are having problems these days. If you've tried out an ereader, you probably can appreciate the ease and speed with which you can download and read new books. Personally, I've been using a Kindle (keyboard version) for well over a year and I love it. Don't get me wrong. I still purchase a lot of traditional books. But when I'm on a business trip, it's great to throw the Kindle in my carry-on bag and take off. I know I can get books on the road and I won't be board sitting in the airport waiting for my delayed plane.
But Amazon recently upped the ante in the ereader game, with the release of the Kindle Fire, a color, touch-screen table ereader that offers up a range of new options at a significantly discounted price.
If you're looking for pure value, the Amazon Fire definitely delivers, at a price of $199. If you're looking for a slick, user-friendly table that does more than download and display books, the Fire is a winner. But if you're looking for fast web performance and crisp video display, well, you might want to keep looking or consider an iPad. The Fire falls short in those areas. Overall, I consider the Fire a quality product at a very attractive price. It's a solid bet for business travelers (especially because of it's size, but it might not be a home run.
The Kindle Fire is a fantastic little tablet computer that also happens to be an ereader. The device has a 7" color display surrounded by black border and case. It's significantly heavier than a basic ereader (14.6 ounces, which definitely feels heavy in your hand), but lighter than a larger device like an Apple iPad. The overall dimensions are about 7.5 inches by 4.5 inches.
The Amazon Kindle Fire is pretty much the equivalent of any one of the recent crop of small mobile computer tablets that allow users to download applications, play music, videos, or movies, or simply surf the web.
Unlike Amazon's earlier Kindles, the Fire doesn't have any type mobile connectivity, but instead relies on Wi-Fi connectivity to your home or work network.
It includes 6 (usable) gigabytes of on-device storage for things like downloaded movies and books, and provides access (if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network) to the Amazon cloud storage services for even more space. The device includes free cloud storage for all your Amazon purchases.
The Fire has a USB charger and can be charged via a wall outlet or computer port. It takes about 4 hours to charge and seems (from my experience) to hold the charge for a good amount of time. The specs say it will play videos for up to 7.5 hours, with Wi-Fi off. It also claims 8 hours of reading time (the display requires much more energy than the traditional E-Ink ereader screens that enable basic ereaders to go weeks without charging) Your mileage may vary. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack (that's the standard size) for listing to music, movies, or audio books.
While the Fire is similar to other tablet computers, it's customized by Amazon and provides a slick and easy-to-use interface (more on that later) as well as a specialized Amazon Silk browser that's supposed to speed up your Web surfing experience (more on that later).
There's a lot to like about the Amazon Kindle Fire. First and foremost is its price, $199. It's a real value at that price, compared to other relatively equivalent tables costing $300 - $400. It's also a significant value when compared to the price of a basic black and white e-reader, like one of the other new Kindles.
I liked the unit's size and general feel. It's rugged and easy to hold. It's smaller than something like the iPad and provides many of the same functions. It's screen is big enough to easily read and browse newspapers or online magazines. In addition, unlike basic tablet computers, the Amazon Kindle Fire is designed for ease-of-use. Amazon's graphical menu system is easy to learn and allows users to quickly start downloading books, videos, applications, and more. It's definitely something I could give to my mother to use.
Another benefit of the Amazon Kindle Fire is its use of the Amazon Cloud Services, where users can store Amazon-related purchases and have the Kindle retrieve them as needed. It's also a good music player, and users can download (from the store, or via uploading their music collection) audio files to the Fire for offline use.
On the other hand, there are few significant negatives when it comes to the Amazon Kindle Fire. My biggest complaint had to do with the speed of the browser. Although Amazon claims that their Silk browser is designed to speed up web surfing, it seemed to do the opposite in my testing. Overall, the Amazon Kindle Fire was consistently slower than my iPhone when loading a range of pages, from the New York Times to CNN. I was consistently disappointed with the slow speed of Web surfing on the Fire.
The Fire's weight may also be a consideration for some people. This is much heavier than a basic ereader--about double the entry point Kindle, for example. 8 or 9 ounces may not seem like a lot, but when you're holding the unit or throwing it in your travel bag, it can make a big difference. This isn't so much Amazon's issue, but one of big differences between a basic E-Ink-based ereader and one with a color screen and all the extras.
Battery life is also way down compared to a basic ereader. If you don't want to have to charge your device every day, and if you're primarily going to be using it for reading, a standard E-Ink-based ereader is probably a better choice.
The resolution of videos and movies on the Fire was also suspect. Although the specs on the screen are rather good, movies and videos that I viewed on the Fire were disappointing. They definitely weren't as crisp as I would have expected or liked. Definitely watchable, and it may vary by movie or the content. But again, overall, I was somewhat disappointed.
Last, but not least, I found Amazon's front end for the Fire really irritating (even though it is easy-to-use). The main offender is that on the home page/first screen of the Fire, Amazon displays all your previous purchases in what they call a "carousel." You can easily flip through graphical representations of books and movies that you've purchased. However, you have no control of what shows up here. If you're purchased it in the past, it's here. Amazon should instead allow users to define collections or sets of materials (books, videos, etc.) that they want to display on the main screen, instead of dumping it all there. This seems to be an amazing poor design choice by Amazon, although not completely out of left field. It's very similar to how Amazon gave users NO control over the screen savers that display on the original Kindle, even though it would be childishly easy for them to do it.
Recommendations for Business Travelers
Overall, while I liked the Amazon Kindle Fire, it was disappointing. There's no arguing with the value, and for just about $100 more than a basic ereader, consumers can get a fully-functioning tablet computer that they can use to watch movies, play games, surf the Web, read magazines or newspapers, or even read books. It's solidly built, well designed, and a nifty device. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone--if they want it. But I also wouldn't hesitate to consider the alternatives.
In my experience, the browser is definitely much slower than my other mobile devices. Frustratingly slow sometimes. While the screen is great for reading books or newspapers, I wasn't impressed with it for watching movies or TV shows. Not sure if it's Amazon's Silk browser trying to optimize the video, or if it's the display itself, but movies on my little iPhone look a heck of a lot sharper than they do on the Kindle Fire.
Business travelers that are most interested in reading should bypass the Fire and pick up one of the latest black-and-white Kindles. They're cheaper, much lighter, and are more comfortable to hold and travel with. I'm not throwing my existing Kindle away any time soon.
Business travelers that want a replacement for an iPad will find the Amazon Kindle Fire somewhat workable. It does many of the same types of things, but it doesn't do them as well. The touchscreen is slow and sluggish. The screen isn't as crisp as it could be. The Web browsing is slow. And the really irritating Amazon carousel is front and center. For a little more money, weight, and size, the iPad is a better bet for actually getting work done, handling email, or simply browsing the Web.
If you are considering either an iPad or Kindle fire, it's probably worth reviewing the five reasons why the Amazon Fire is no iPad killer by About.com's Guide to iPads.