Kindle Fire gets knocked on usability

A usability expert says the Kindle Fire is too heavy and that its interface has some trouble spots

The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

Amazon's Kindle Fire "offers a disappointingly poor user experience," according to an expert on usability.

Jakob Nielsen, who has a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction, studied the behavior of four Kindle Fire users. Although that's a tiny sample, Nielsen argues that small, qualitative studies offer more insight than bigger studies focused on metrics.

The Kindle Fire hardware is too heavy, and unpleasant to hold for long periods at a time, Nielsen observed. "Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can't comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening."

Granted, this is true of most 7-inch tablets. And although some lighter tablets are available, such as Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, PCWorld's Melissa Perenson didn't find the Fire particularly tiresome in her review. Nielsen also derided the Kindle Fire's lack of physical buttons for turning e-book pages, but again, that's true of every tablet on the market (and I don't think it's as frustrating as Nielsen makes it out to be).

The bigger issue, according to Nielsen, is software. The Kindle Fire interface has some trouble spots, like buttons that are too small and screen updates that are too slow. Indeed, sluggish performance was one of the main gripes in PCWorld's Kindle Fire review.

Nielsen also reserved some scorn for apps and websites, as viewed on the Kindle Fire. Mistaken taps were common among users, he noted. Full-sized websites were hard to read and interact with, and mobile-optimized sites are better suited for the 7-inch display.

If Kindle Fire users will kindly put down their pitchforks for a moment, I think there's a good point that Nielsen is trying to make here: you can't shoehorn the interface of a smartphone app or a 10-inch tablet app into a 7-inch display. "A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform," Nielsen writes.

Until now, app and website developers haven't had any good reason to design for 7-inch displays. The good news is that Amazon's Kindle Fire is becoming a bigger commercial success than any other non-iPad tablet, so we may see more developers catering to 7-inch screens. I don't think users should be satisfied with viewing mobile-optimized websites on a small tablet, especially because so many mobile sites are awful.

And before you get too upset about Nielsen's findings, keep in mind that finding usability weak points is his job. He found plenty of nits to pick with Apple's iPad as well.

Follow Jared on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ for even more tech news and commentary.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags amazontablet PCamazon.comapple ipadhardware systemstabletsKindle Fire

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?