Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

A tablet that fails to impress, as either a tablet or as an e-reader

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Amazon Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Kindle Fire

Pros

  • Extremely low price
  • Reasonably powerful specifications
  • Compact 7in design

Cons

  • Lacks Android Market access
  • Amazon content limited in Australia
  • Not available outside the US initially

Bottom Line

Amazon's Kindle Fire is an impressive looking 7in tablet that runs a customised version of Android, providing access to a wide selection of Amazon content including movies, TV shows, books, magazines and newspapers. However, it's only available in the US, at least initially.

Would you buy this?

I can't help but wonder how much of what I saw on the Fire was a design decision that sacrificed one thing for another. My streaming and downloaded Amazon Instant Videos always looked soft, and often pixelated. Text was soft, too, in the Newsstand and in books at some font and text combinations. (I liked the Lucida font best, and even then it wasn't as smooth as I've seen on the most-capable Android tablets, including models with similar resolution and screen size.) Even audio playback was wonky: Audio reached a reasonable volume and body for music, but sounded downright anaemic on videos played through the Amazon video player, and via the Hulu Plus app (other apps had fairly low volume, too).

For me, those trade-offs are simply not worthwhile, even to save a few bucks. What's the point of being able to procure video easily, if my videos are going to be soft, have artifacts, and not sound great?

Amazon Kindle Fire: Specs and performance

Tablets are more about usability than specs. That said, the Kindle Fire's skimpy specs clearly reflect the compromises that Amazon made to achieve its US$200 price.

Amazon employs a Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core processor; in use, however, the Fire didn't feel like a dual-core tablet. It lagged on transitions, even simple ones such as turning book pages or rotating orientation; it also produced jerky animations and repeatedly generated pixelated video playback. It's unclear whether all of the blame lies solely with the 512MB of RAM — half what's standard on 7in tablets from companies like Acer and Samsung. Software optimization could also be part of the issue here; after all, Amazon's custom build of the Android 2.3 operating system could have some kinks, too. But in my trials, I became all too familiar with the spinning-ball wait indicator that appeared as something loaded, and I felt as if I paid with my time what I saved in money on the Fire’s modest price.

Some missing elements weren't obvious immediately, though. For example, the Kindle Fire has neither a front-facing camera nor a rear-facing one, and it lacks GPS. None of these felt like onerous omissions on their own, but they are standard amenities in the pricier top-tier competitive set, and their absence here means you're making a choice not to use your tablet for conducting video chat, scanning an image, or navigating your way around town — all of which are practical uses that you may miss having in the long run. At US$200, you’re getting what you pay for.

If you plan to pack this tablet with apps, music, books, and movies, you'll be disappointed: The Fire has only 8GB of storage space, and only 6.54GB is user-accessible. I found that it took little to blast through a couple of gigabytes of space, and even Amazon admits in its specs that the on-board storage can hold only ten movies at a time, for example. And unlike Barnes & Noble's US$200 Nook Colour and US$250 Nook Tablet, the Kindle Fire has no MicroSD card slot, so you can't add more space as needed.

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Read more on these topics: amazon, Apple, mobility, Kindle Fire, mobile solutions, iPad

C J

1

Looks like it's nowhere near as good as an iPad with the Kindle app.

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