Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

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

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Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Expert Rating

    2.50 / 5

Pros

  • Easy shopping for Amazon books, music, videos
  • Smooth integration of cloud and local storage

Cons

  • Sluggish performance
  • Interface still has some bugs
  • Not as flexible and versatile as other tablets

Bottom Line

The 7in Android-based Amazon Fire will appeal to those who buy books, videos, and music at Amazon, but it will frustrate those looking for a more versatile slate.

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Overall, on the surface Amazon's grey-and-orange themed interface is an improvement over standard Android 2.3, with clearer labels and cleaner design on the whole. As I noted already, Amazon did a good job of integrating its stores into the Fire's individual content sections. Visually, the bookshelf metaphor for content libraries works well, even if that presentation lacks the personalization that many users crave. Moving between the content you have in Amazon's cloud locker and locally stored stuff is as simple as choosing cloud or device; the two are clearly delineated by a consistent visual element throughout all of the libraries. Find something you love, or something to remove? Just tap the item's cover and hold down; you can then pick between adding it to the favorites bar on the home screen or removing it from the tablet entirely.

I like how the Amazon video player functions. Even if you're watching a video streamed on demand from the Amazon cloud, you can still easily skip ahead a bit. And if you miss a few moments, no problem: Tap the 10-second rewind for a quick fix.

The built-in email app will get the job done for the basics. Its layout, however, is not especially optimized for landscape orientation, as you'll find with an Android 3.x Honeycomb tablet. And if you back out of the email app to do something else and then return, it puts you at the top of your email list, not at the last message you were viewing.

Forget about multitasking as a whole. The Kindle Fire lacks shortcuts to make moving between content easier, as you'll find in standard Android 2.3 or in the tablet-optimized Android 3.x.

Amazon's contacts app is uninspiring — and surprisingly, the Kindle Fire doesn't come with a basic calendar or clock app, two standard inclusions in Honeycomb tablets.

For all the fuss made about Amazon's Silk Web browser, which uses a proxy server to cache frequently accessed sites and purportedly speed up surfing, I can't say I noticed much of a difference in my Web browsing. Maybe I didn't hit the popular sites, or maybe the difference is so minimal that it won't be obvious in casual use. The Fire's browser supports tabs, at least, which is an improvement over the standard Android 2.3 browser, but I'm still a bit leery of how Amazon manages the whole caching process. And so far I'm not convinced of the efficiency of the process.

Even the Docs tab didn't behave as I'd expected. I thought it logical that all documents I've transferred to the device would show there, but only PDFs appeared there. My Microsoft Word and Excel documents were accessible only via the included Quickoffice document-viewer app, under the Apps tab. If you want document creation or editing, you'll have to step up to the full Quickoffice Pro or another compatible office suite.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Apps and the Appstore

App behaviors were all over the map. With no Google Android Market on the Fire, the curated Amazon Appstore is your sole source for apps, short of sideloading apps from another source — something I don't expect of the average Kindle Fire owner. But at launch, Amazon's Appstore was disappointing, and my experience with apps as a whole weighed down my impression of the Kindle Fire as a tablet.

For one thing, most of the apps I downloaded ended up looking as if they were phone apps blown out to fit the big screen. This a problem for any Android 2.2 or 2.3 tablet, which is why we don't recommend such tablets at this point. (Android 3.x Honeycomb tablets may have similar issues with legacy apps, but at least those tablets can also run apps optimized for tablets.)

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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

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