Kindle Fire – Unfiltered Kindle Fire first impressions

Got the Kindle Fire yesterday morning (thanks Nick!), and these are the first 10 things that registered strongly.

It’s a LOT better than the press would have you believe

After expecting something terrible, it was a pleasant surprise to find out it’s a really good tablet. It seems the press was suffering from ‘$200 = $500′ disease. It’s understandable – since tech bloggers get ‘free’ review units and they don’t have to decide whether Device X is worth $300 more of their hard-earned money.

For a $200 Tablet, the Kindle Fire is really, really good. The rest of this post has some rather harsh words. However, it’s all within the context of:

Amazon’s Kindle Fire has continued the tradition that Nook Color started and IMPROVED on it. Value tablets are now providing 80% of what high-end Tablets provide.

It’s going to be a massacre – unless Apple releases Tablets in the $300 to $350 range soon (by mid 2012).

Warning: If you value form over function, do not even think about buying the Kindle Fire. If you’re a ‘value for money’ and ‘ease of use’ type of gal, you’ll love Kindle Fire. If you’re an ‘animated page turns are more important than the words’ kind of guy, you’ll hate Kindle Fire.

The 7″ Screen and overall Kindle Fire Size and Weight are great and underrated

Quite a few Kindle Fire reviews from tech pretend-journalists have claimed that 10″ is some magical size for Tablets. That’s complete nonsense.

There’s a special term for people who claim that moving from a physical keyboard and a 21″ monitor to the iPad’s keyboard and 10″ monitor is no problem at all, but moving from a 10″ screen to a 7″ screen is a cataclysm – vocal minority.

At least 75% of people will find the 7″ screen size better.

You have to look at the context: Apple was tired of struggling against Windows (Mac currently has 5% global market share) and wanted to make post-PC devices. It really did think, and probably still thinks, that 10″ tablets can replace desktop PCs and laptops.

The 10″ screen was not the result of some pure aim to make the best Tablet. It was an attempt to replace laptops and netbooks.

The real questions are – What is the best size screen for a tablet? Should an actual Tablet be something you can hold in one hand? Should it be something you can carry around easily?

B&N and Amazon are making Tablets you can actually hold and carry around easily.

7″ is a much better screen size for most things – reading, watching movies, carrying, portability. You have to consider size and weight and how much of the screen you can reach.

Here’s an example of Apple devotees’ arguments about having a screen size that is ‘accessible':

  • iPhone screen size of 3.5″ is better than 4.3″ screen size of rival smartphones because ‘you can’t reach more than 3.5″ of the screen with your fingers’ while holding a phone.

Well, that exact same argument holds for why a 7″ Tablet is more convenient. Plus the additional problem that a 10″ Tablet is too heavy and awkward to hold with one hand. It even tires you out if you hold it with two hands.

My recommendation would be to consider the things you’ll be doing with your Tablet – watching movies, reading books, surfing the web, doing email, shopping. For most of these – a Tablet that is easy to hold, and where the screen is easy to reach, is much more valuable than a larger, heavier one.

Reading in bed, at night, is a perfect example – 10″ is way too big for most people. It’s supposed to be a Tablet not a pillow.

Kindle Fire is more of a Store than a Tablet

It’s hard not to notice that everything in the Tablet seems optimized towards stuff you bought from Amazon.

If you’re looking for a tablet that supports your relationship with Amazon – Kindle Fire is perfect.

The Carousel was a really easy way to go through all my Kindle purchases and pick out the ones that are interesting. It’s just strange that the only way to interact with content is the Carousel and Shelves. Plus the amount of finger dexterity required is just ridiculous. It’s made for guitarists and piano players.

Kindle Fire is a Tablet meant for you to buy Kindle books and Kindle Store magazines and download Amazon Music and movies. Apps take a backstage and things you might want to add yourself – even more so.

Silk might as well be Sandpaper

The whole grand Silk browser and its caching in the clouds either seems worthless or it’s only making up for some coding deficiency in the browser. The Kindle Fire’s browser was exactly as fast as Nook Color’s browser – when averaged across various sites. It was marginally faster on 4 sites and marginally slower on 2 sites. Not what you’d expect after all that Silk talk.

Kindle Fire isn’t demonstrably better than Nook Color

Bottom line: I would not replace my 1-year-old Nook Color with the Kindle Fire. This should be very worrying to Amazon if it intends to steal existing Nook Color owners.

Of course, chances are that Amazon doesn’t care at all about existing Nook Color owners as prospective Kindle Fire owners. Perhaps it only wants to scoop up existing Amazon customers. Kindle Fire is pretty good for that.

Kindle Fire is about as good as Nook Color when you consider various pros and cons – other than the connection to Amazon. The addition of a tight connection to Amazon will probably seem like a big win for existing Amazon customers.

Kindle Fire is literally a connection to Amazon

This point is intriguing and might lead to a lot in the future.

Amazon isn’t so much selling you a Tablet as an umbilical cord to Amazon. That’s why a device that is $203 in just parts (which excludes software costs, shipping, marketing, customer service) is sold for $199.

Firstly, Kindle Fire is more of a store than a tablet (covered above). Secondly, it’s literally a connection to Amazon and it’s interesting/worrying/curious just how strong the connection is.

I get the feeling Silk is more about safe-guarding the user’s path to Amazon than it is about Speed. Making sure Google or someone else doesn’t get in the way. That explains why there was so much focus on ‘speed of Silk’ when it isn’t noticeably faster. Perhaps Amazon just wants to deflect attention from how it’s kicking Google out of the customer purchase path.

Jeff Bezos needs to hire Jonathan Ive

Please Mr. Bezos.

Now you have a phone in the works. There are endless generations of Kindles and Kindle Fires and Kindle Phones lined up.

Please, for the love of all that is beautiful on this Earth, hire someone like Jonathan Ive who will add that missing dimension. Someone, anyone, who will stand up to you and say – It’s NOT OK to send out a device that looks like a Scion XB.

It doesn’t take money, it just takes someone with the conviction to say – For the same amount of effort and money we can ship something absolutely beautiful. Adding Gorilla Glass does not mean you have to make the Tablet a Gorilla.

If Jonathan Ive makes future Kindles and Kindle Fires and Kindle Phones as pretty as Audrey Hepburn, then he gets the recognition he deserves as one of the greatest designers ever.

Right now, Kindle Fire is literally a block. It’s just a slab with a beautiful Tablet inside it. That whole ‘the statue is already in the rock, and we just have to carve away the excessive rock’ thing. Well, Amazon forgot to carve out the excessive rock.

The design of the buttons at the bottom almost makes you cry and the border around the screen and near the edges is just terrible. The ‘slide to unlock’ strip must have been design by committee because there’s no single person capable of something so completely tasteless. Bonus points for making the font size of the date literally 1/7th the font size of the time.

Kindle Fire is, overall, a demonstration of Amazon’s strengths and weaknesses

It highlights what Amazon does well -

  1. Provide a Store and sell things.
  2. Create strong connections to users.
  3. Do good software.
  4. Make things simple to use.
  5. Provide a complete solution for buying everything or almost everything.
  6. Cut on prices while not compromising quality much.
  7. Cater to everyone without any qualifiers.

It also, unfortunately, highlights what Amazon doesn’t do well -

  1. Make pure devices that are ‘the best device available’ when separated from the ecosystem. Kindle Fire’s biggest strengths are its connection to Amazon and its low price – as opposed to the quality of the device itself.
  2. Polish V1 products to super high quality. Kindle Fire is a 5 to 10 million person Beta Test.
  3. Make big radical changes. Kindle Fire is supposedly built on the Playbook design. The design sure does look like it was photocopied from some other device’s blueprint.
  4. Think of devices as things users own. We see it with the lack of the option to set screensavers. Android supports live wallpapers but those aren’t supported either. It’s Amazon’s store-front in your hands and they like to control what you see. It also preserves the option to later add sponsored screensavers for Kindle Fire.
  5. Release only finished products. Amazon loves to do continuous beta testing and Kindle Fire is the starkest example yet.

Just a Quick Note: $100 bet that Amazon had thought of using sponsored screensavers to sell other Amazon things even before the Kindle was launched in 2007. That the plan all along was to build up to this ‘Kindle Fire AKA Kindle Store’ in users’ hands.

Kindle Fire represents Amazon’s biggest strengths and most exploitable weaknesses.

$199 is a very good price, and we are all in a Beta Test

My rough estimate would be – You’re getting a device worth $350 but in Beta Stage. So it’s more like getting a $250 device.

If you’re an existing Amazon customer – it’s a steal and a very valuable Tablet. If you’re not an existing Amazon customer – consider whether you will benefit or not from becoming an Amazon customer.

You could also, if you so choose, root the Kindle Fire and use it as an Android Tablet. However, my suspicion is that the 512 MB of RAM just isn’t enough for it to work with a version of Android that isn’t optimized for Kindle Fire. Would hate to have to use the already slow browser without ‘Cloud Silk Condensation Spider Poison’ magic.

The Tablet for everyone else

My overall impression of Kindle Fire is much better than I thought it would be. It’s a Beta Test and it’s unpolished but it’s a winner.

Yes, it’s a connection to Amazon and it’s built primarily as a means to get people to buy more things, digital and physical, from Amazon. However, what we end up with is a very capable 7″ Tablet that is easy to use. It’s also not difficult to root – plus you can install apps on it from other sources without rooting.

Once you’ve bought it, it’s yours. You can choose not to buy anything from Amazon. You can choose to root it and install Android 4.0 (when it becomes available). You could also choose to partake from the Amazon umbilical cord in small doses.

Kindle Fire ignites the low-price, high-quality Tablet race. B&N has cut Nook Color’s price to $199. It has released its new powerful Nook Tablet for $249. It is lining up video content. Lots of other Tablet companies are going to participate in this race. It will bring high quality Tablets to a LOT of people. People spurned by the narrow-minded companies selling $500 Tablets.

Kindle Fire and Nook Color and Nook Tablet and other low-price, high quality Tablets will bring high quality Tablets to the rest of us. It will fill lots of stockings which aren’t big enough to hold $500 Tablets.

The Kindle Fire at $200 is a good buy. My recommendation would be to peruse some Nook Tablet reviews from actual users over the next few days and also read the Kindle Fire reviews at Amazon. You should then get a pretty clear picture of which is the better Tablet for you.

If money is no object, then iPad is definitely the most polished Tablet and some other Tablets like Asus’ Transformer are much better netbook and mini-laptop replacements.

A Kindle Fire inspired question – What is the aim of technology?

Is it to provide 99% quality to the 10% of people who can afford to pay a lot? Is it to provide 80% quality to the 50% of people who can afford to pay a reasonable amount?

Kindle Fire is filling the huge void left by Tablets made for rich people. Nook Color and Nook Tablet will fill it too. All the arguments against low-price, high quality Tablets are amusing exercises dealing in ‘intangibles’ and ‘things that can’t really be put into words’. When you have something solid like $300 on one side, then there needs to be something more substantial than ‘intangibles’ on the other.

Kindle Fire does two very critical things – It anchors the price for Tablets at $199. It sets the benchmark for how tightly you can connect a customer to a store.

The first is great for users and the second is great for retailers. $500 Tablets are going to have to capitulate and bring out cheaper models. For $300 less, Kindle Fire provides 80% of the benefits that $500 Tablets do. It also has advantages in size and weight. Because Amazon can keep making money from Kindle Fire owners over the years, it can sell Kindle Fire at a price that is really hard to compete with.

12 Responses

  1. “Just a Quick Note: $100 bet that Amazon had thought of using sponsored screensavers to sell other Amazon things even before the Kindle was launched in 2007. That the plan all along was to build up to this ‘Kindle Fire AKA Kindle Store’ in users’ hands.”

    My nickname of six months ago, “Kindeal,” is looking increasingly apt. (Here’s another one: “KanDeal.”)

    “The whole grand Silk browser and its caching in the clouds either seems worthless or it’s only making up for some coding deficiency in the browser. The Kindle Fire’s browser was exactly as fast as Nook Color’s browser”

    Supposedly, Silk’s speed comes from its ability to anticipate users’ next requests, which depends on its building up a record of prior user requests, which it hasn’t got yet. If true, in a month it should be working better.

    “the amount of finger dexterity required is just ridiculous. It’s made for guitarists and piano players.”

    It’s not just the Carousel—reviewers have mentioned other rough spots with the touch interface, such as lags after a press, and accidental mispresses of a neighboring button. These are bound to occur on a 7″ tablet, as Jobs predicted.

    I wish Amazon would consider a better means of interacting with these small-form tablets: via buttons and “five-ways” on the back, to which the user’s fingers would be kept-in-contact via elastic finger-loops. Other buttons or button-combinations (“key-chords”) could do other things, like Back, Home, Menu, etc.

    A trackball under the thumb, in front, could function like a “mouse” to control an on-screen cursor. Pressing the trackball would be a mouse-click; double-pressing it would be a right-click. A mode-shift button (also in front, near the thumb) could make each switchable button do double, triple, or quadruple duty. An on-screen bar would display the current mode and the accompanying function of the buttons.

    To enable left-handed control, the Fire would be turned upside down. It would recognize the new orientation and turn the display upside down too, as well as “flopping” the function of the buttons on back, so the index finger would still perform the same function.

    The loop(s) would also enable the user to hold the tablet more securely when reading or carrying the item. The finger-loops would consist of pop-up humps on a single strip of material; it would have a free end that could be pulled out and anchored to the tablet so that the loops would lie flat when being transported in a bag. The free end would be pushed down to its alternative anchor point, to cause the loops to pop up.

    “For $300 less, Kindle Fire provides 80% of the benefits that $500 Tablets do.”

    I’d say it provides 65% of the benefits. An 85%-benefit Fire would really hit the sweet spot; it could be sold for $350 with the following form-change:

    First, retain the finger-loop/back-button interface described above. Then, provide two screens of the current size, hinged to each other along the wide side. When unfolded and rotated to “portrait” orientation (7.4″ high by 5″ wide), this would provide a screen roughly 2/3 the height and width of an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet, or just about big enough to allow magazines & PDFs to be read by most people (especially since the margins of the paper versions would be eliminated), a vital attribute. When folded, the tablet would be as portable as the current model.

    The conspicuousness of the “seam” along the hinge could be minimized by use of a double-jointed hinge that would first rotate open, then detach from its fulcrum and allow the two sides to be pressed tightly together, where they’d snap in place.

    The hinge could have a midpoint, “laptop”-type setting that would allow half the screen to lie back a bit from the vertical, while the other would lie flat and function as a touch-screen virtual keyboard.

    The hinge could also have an “easel”-type setting, allowing the Kindle to be read hands-free on a table or tummy (in bed). (In landscape orientation and with only the front-facing screen active.)

    An e-ink Kindle could/should also be made in this configuration.

    The additional width of a hinged configuration means that there would be room for two sets of buttons and finger loops. In left-handed mode, the left-hand set would duplicate the function of the right. In two-handed mode, the left-hand set would perform additional tasks, enabling “key-chord” presses that could perform the functions of a full keyboard. Accomplished users could actually type more rapidly on this than on the keyboard of their home computers.

    “Please Mr. Bezos.
    “Now you have a phone in the works. There are endless generations of Kindles and Kindle Fires and Kindle Phones lined up.
    “Please, for the love of all that is beautiful on this Earth, hire someone … anyone, who will stand up to you.”

    Job description: Kindle kibitzer.

    Sounds great. I’d do it for free. (Heck, I’m doing it already—and so are you.) I’d love to hop in my car, fix them with my glittering eye, and give them a piece of my mind. I’d even pay! (It would be fun for them too, squashing my absurdities.)

  2. So what’s a “tech pretend-journalist?”

  3. I guess its great if it works- mine froze within 5 minutes from a software update that apparently irreparably freezes the screen. And you have no option to not do the upday

  4. Maybe it’s just me?
    As to the Fire, I can’t help but think back to the ORIGINAL kindle I bought mostly on Oprah Winfrey’s raves. Compare the clunky original to the 2nd gen..
    I can’t wait to see what the Fire2 is like. I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long. This feeling is based on me no sooner getting the 2nd gen when the 3rd was announced!

  5. We got our Fire on Wednesday, and I’ve been playing around with it. I agree with some of the points already made. As an industrial designer I think the design is uninspired, the power button hard to access, no hardware ‘home’ button and the onscreen keyboard, as noted is too imprecise to type on, though I’m sure I’d get used to it in time. As for Jeff hiring someone like Jonathan Ive, forget it, because Jeff Bezos thinks he already knows how to do good design.

    I’ve been frustrated trying to load content for my wife (it’s her Fire). I don’t think the Amazon-sanitized version of the Android App Market has as many of the specific apps I’m looking for, but our needs may be different than the average user and when I learn to side-load apps, the gripe may become moot.

    While the Fire and the iPad do weigh about the same, as noted, the Fire is easier to hold. I agree that all who bought this V1 device are guinea pigs, but do are all V1 purchasers. Even companies like Apple, with the best efforts of people like Ive and Jobs don’t get all things right out of the chute.

    BTW, the reason why the iPad screen is 10″ is because in landscape the onscreen keyboard is easier to use. Apple DOES see the iPad as a notebook replacement. It’s not, particularly for power users, but it can be for many. The Fire fits that “check email, consume media demographic” well. It’ll be a good device for my wife to get her ‘tablet-feet’ wet, but I wouldn’t take a Fire to a business meeting and expect to get any work done, not till it’s more refined, and that may never happen because it very well may not fit Amazon’s goals for their version of the category.

    As for iPads being toys for the wealthy, get over it. My first color PDA, an HP Jornada cost far more than my iPad and did far less.

  6. What is reading a pdf on a 7″ tablet like compared to a 10″ tablet or a netbook?

  7. Nice to see this. NO QUESTION the reviews of the Fire are so off-base. I ordered one, as did my Father, but he is out of the country and hasn’t been home to see his. He emailed me yesterday asking if he should return it unopened when he returns, based on the reviews he was reading. It does not replace iPads, Netbooks, Notebooks, Desktops, Servers, Phones or an abacus, but it provides great value.

    The battery life is long enough to not consider. I think I read it’s about 8 hours. It’s long enough.

    The screen size is ideal for some things, sub-optimal for others. 7″ is GREAT for books. The device is easier to hand hold, and for reading, I love it. Is eInk easier to read? Sure. I prefer having a few “extra things”.

    It’s okay for news, since they format it appropriately. It’s terrible for magazines compared to an iPad. That’s just a facet of screen size. The iPad sometimes is less than perfect, when I use Zinio I have to zoom in a lot for articles with smaller print. But I’m a serious reader, and spend most of my time in books and newspapers, so it works well.

    The carousel is useless for browsing, since it contains EVERY book I own on Kindle (hundreds upon hundreds), but is great to quickly open recently viewed apps, books, etc. The shelves are an okay metaphor… but where’s support for multiple shelves – something akin to collections. That said the search feature is helpful in the meantime.

    The complaints that the interface is slow and sluggish is unfounded. The iPad has a bit more polish in speed of scrolling and animations, but the Kindle is snappy and responsive.

    That said, the iPad is a TERRIFIC tablet, I realize you seem biased against it sometimes… but it truly is a marvelous product. Fire is an EXCELLENT alternative to Kindles, if you aren’t sensitive to LCD reading, and if you want a little bit “more” than just book reading.

  8. Oh and one thing I forgot to mention. There’s a big disconnect between Google’s tablet OSes and the fact that there are TONS of tablets running the regular Android release. 4.0 will help some of that, but in the mean time, app developers really need to step up and support larger screen resolutions/form factors. I tried some of the big apps, like Netflix and Hulu, and they work great, but most of the apps I tried on the marketplace are just really awkward looking apps meant to run on a phone. It doesn’t matter whose to blame (lazy developers, bad app store cultivating by Amazon, Google-induced fragmentation, manufacturers insisting on using the non-Tablet blessed release of Android), it’s important to note that the consumer suffers. That’s why the iOS app store is so attractive. Android apps look bad because of this issue. Blackberry and Windows have almost no selection. Apple is choking themselves on tablet optimized apps. I suspect there’s a boat load of money for developers who start releasing tablet compatible apps that aren’t quick ports of phone apps for these tablets, especially now that there’s probably a few new million tablets, all called Fire, all running the same hardware and same screen resolution.

  9. I hope you’ll be doing a review of the Nook Tablet. Right now my decision is basically between buying a Nook Tablet or waiting for the Fire II.

    • Yes, my friend is sending me my Nook Tablet from US and I get it Monday or Tuesday. I’ve also been reading the current Nook Tablet reviews. So I should be able to provide a good comparison for you.

  10. You provide an able rebuttal to panicked attacks from followers of The Church of the Ninth Letter. I look forward to taking a Kindle Fire on my next cross-country trip. I don’t mind a connection to Amazon. I would not, for any money, subject myself to a similar connection with the aforesaid church and its rabid congregation of wanna-be snobs. As for Nook, well, I found some complaints at the Department of Consumer Affairs that concern me.

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