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.