This is one of those times when the name “iPad killer” is avoided at all cost by the maker of a new tablet and so the device it created manager to succeed, even without comparing itself to the Apple toys. I’m talking about the Amazon Kindle Fire, the $200 tablet that seems to have gathered a lot of fans over the past weeks. Luckily, I received an unit for review. What came out can be seen in the video below.
This device is a 7 inch slate, made by Quanta Computer, as proved by its resemblance to the BlackBerry PlayBook. After all they have the same hardware manufacturer. Especially the back side of the Kindle Fire reminds me of the BlackBerry tablet, since it’s got that rubbery look and feel. This is an Android 2.3 Gingerbread unit, but the Android on it has been customized with Amazon’s UI and services. Let’s get the list of things that the slate lacks out of our way: it doesn’t have 3G, a camera, GPS or volume buttons.
That last bit about the volume buttons is a bit of a downside, since it’s pretty annoying to have to rely on virtual volume buttons, especially if you’re playing a game and have to pause it and look for controls. Amazon decided to use as little ports and buttons as possible, so the only things that stop the perfect flow of the chassis are the two stereo speakers, power button, microUSB port and audio jack. These 3 are placed at the bottom of the slate (when held in portrait mode), for reasons I can’t imagine.
Kindle Fire measures 12.4mm in thickness, it weighs 414 grams and relies on a 7 inch IPS display with a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution. Its specs also include a TI OMAP 4 dual core 1GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 8 GB of internal memory and more storage in the cloud. Its battery will provide 8 hours of e-reading and about 7.5 hours of video playback (no WiFi activated). One must note that the device comes without a microUSB cable or headphones, so you’ll have to find replacements for yourself.
As far as the UI goes, there’s a Favourites list at the bottom of the screen (showing your favourite apps), while at the center there’s a carousel with the latest opened books, magazines, applications and web pages. Next up, on top of the screen there are tabs: Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. The Newsstand section allows you buy and read magazines and newspapers, either making a monthly subscription or buying a single edition of the papers. You can also sync your already bought publications to the cloud.
In the Books section, we purchased the biography of Steve Jobs and had a fun time reading it. The e-reading experience is fantastic, as you’d expect from the maker of the Kindle series. You can change background color, typeface, font size, alignment, space between lines, frames, look up words on the web or in the dictionary by keeping your finger pressed on the screen and much more. There’s also a content section, for you to skip to further chapters whenever you feel the need to.
In the Music and Video section you can make purchases of your favourite music albums and movies and view them on the tablet or sync them with the cloud for later viewing. The movie playback experience is great and so is the audio one, with a pretty decent volume on those stereo speakers. Know that the native player on the Amazon Kindle Fire doesn’t support .avi files, only playing back .MP4 and .3GP. As far as applications go, you can make use of the Amazon App Store to download Android apps, since there’s no Android Market around.
If you want third party apps on the Amazon tablet, we found a workaround to do that. Since there’s no file manager on the slate, all you need to do is download one such as ES File Manager on your PC, upload it on a server, access the server from the Kindle Fire and download the .apk. Then in the Amazon Silk browser’s download section you’ll see the ES File Manager .apk and install it. Next up, you’ll copy all the third party apps you want from the PC to tablet via microUSB connection and install them using the file manager that you’ve just made available. Easy as pie, right?
As far as the web is concerned, Amazon Silk promises a smooth experience, but doesn’t quite live up to the expectations. It uses a proxy server for cache and you’d expect a speedier browsing and loading time, but that doesn’t happen. Other than that, the experience is intuitive, opening a new tab is easy and al the content is displayed correctly. In the area above the tabs on the screen, you’ll also find a search bar and a notification are, triggered by pressing the battery/settings zone. This is where you tweak the volume, brightness and more.
Overall, the Amazon Kindle Fire is a pretty good device and for $200 it’s a must buy, especially if you consider that many people are working on porting Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich on it right now. Can you imagine owning an Android 4.0 dual core slate with less than half the price of the iPad 2? And at some point during Black Friday, the product even reached as low as $123… If you want a solid e-reading experience and a new way of using Android, I say go for it and it’s no wonder the experts predict 6 million units shipped for this tablet in the following months, since it’s the bomb!