Amazon Fire

Great Price.  Overall, a disappointment.

Over the years, I have bought every variant of the Amazon Kindle.  On the other hand, once the Kindle app was on the iPad I switched all my reading to the iPad and gave away my other Kindles to my family members.  When I upgraded to the iPad 2 when it came out, my wife got the original iPad and found it a big upgrade from the Kindle 2 I had given her.

I am a committed eBook reader as the original Amazon Kindles and the iPads have saved my back by not having to lug around 4-5 hard cover business books when I travel.  So I couldn’t wait to try the tablet version of the Kindle.

When I got home on the night of December 11 after a long day of meetings in Seattle in the cold and rain walking to and fro, I found my new Amazon Kindle Fire awaiting me.   In wonderful Amazon fashion, it arrived a day ahead of the scheduled delivery date.

I ordered my Kindle Fire within minutes of Jeff Bezos announcement as I was happy to see that somebody finally priced an Android Tablet at the right price point (underneath the IPAD by a significant amount).

You can see the cracking open of the Amazon Kindle Fire on TechRepublic.

The bottom line – it won’t replace my iPad.

Not that I thought it would, but it is not there yet.  For those that have enjoyed the Kindle but aren’t ready to upgrade to an iPad it is a good starter tablet and the price is right.

So the following are my first impressions:

  • The packaging is spare.  The only printed material in the box is a business card sized document that basically says plug it in.
  • The Kindle fire booted right up and then to my surprise blew right by the registering.  Somehow they had preloaded my registration and account information on the device and it knew who I was and I didn’t have to enter a thing.  But the first thing it did after getting on the network was to “phone home” to download the latest software.
  • I had a bit of a problem getting the network to work right.  It connected to the network enough to download the software but then somehow didn’t connect enough to allow me to buy books or stream videos or use the new Amazon browser.
  • After disconnecting and connecting the network connections I finally got a full internet connection.
  • Indeed the device is smaller (and lighter) than the iPad as you can see from the attached photo.
  • The screen is quite nice.
  • However, I found the touch to get something to happen often took several tries.
  • Amazingly, all of my books were sort of already there (well over 500 of them).  That is the device downloaded all the Kindle books that I had because of course they were in the Amazon cloud.  So all I had to do was touch one of the books and in a few seconds it was downloaded to my Kindle Fire.  Of course, I realized that what I really wanted was a download all.  Still can’t find that button.
  • Unfortunately, it didn’t synchronize very well with the book I was reading on my iPad.  Not sure what is going on there.
  • Yet today when I went to read a book that I’d ordered on the iPad and had started reading it opened to the right place on the Fire
  • With a book I purchased on the Fire, when I went to the iPad it was not in my local store.  It took a while to realize I had to go over to the “cloud” and manually download the book.
  • Video:  The one frustrating thing about the iPad is that I can’t view any of the Amazon Prime videos.  So I was delighted to finally have a mobile device that can watch all of the Amazon Prime movies and TV shows that I get free access to.  Now I have another option for “media” in bed or while travelling that is very high quality.
  • The one extremely irritating feature (or lack thereof) on the Fire is the volume control.  there is no physical volume control – a huge mistake.
  • Instead there sometimes is a visual slider bar for the volume.  I say sometimes because it seems relatively random when it shows up.  In watching a movie when it does show up I am unable to move the stupid bar.  When I touch the screen to bring up the control it comes up, but then when I go to try and move the slider bar it disappears.  Not very user friendly.
  • And I was completely unprepared for the complete lack of a volume control when I was in the Pandora app.  I could find no way to change the volume without leaving the app and going to the video player and bringing up a streaming video and moving the slider bar and then go back to Pandora.
  • Apps:  So seeing how good the video streaming was I went to the apps store to find the ABC television app which is so great on the iPad.  No such luck.  I can only hope that it comes out soon along with the TBS and TNT and the other video watching apps of relatively current material.  The downloading of the app is straightforward.  There just are relatively few of them in comparison to the iPad.  If I cared to have Angry Birds (which I have managed to avoid) there were lots of options for Angry Birds.
  • Music:  I don’t have any Amazon music so haven’t tried their music format.  However, one of the things that the music app points to is the cloud music loader.  So I downloaded that and am in the process of uploading the music to the cloud.  I tried playing the music in a streaming mode and it works fine.   Now to go through the 12+ hours to upload 5GB of content.
  • The embedded speakers aren’t very good and very loud.
  • So I went to my headphones.  The quality is much better and the music can be played louder
  •  However, I had trouble making the audio connector fit tightly with the socket.  It keeps slipping out.
  • Several early reports have noted how the initial display of what you’ve looked at on the Fire doesn’t work very well.  If you flick the interface the books go roaring by and it is hard to stop and get things to center so that you can click on them
  • The touch interface just doesn’t seem there yet.  I had to click on things several times to get them to open.
  • Search – i like that I can now search everything on the device.  This would be a nice feature to have on the iPad
  • Gmail:  I don’t like this interface at all.  Maybe they did this because of the small screen space but gmail on my android phone is much better and it should be a lot better on the Fire with the additional screen space.  The Gmail interface on the iPad is much better.
  • New Browser:  This is a big disappointment.  It seems to run slower and not faster.  It is very difficult to “hit” the place on the page to get to the next page.  Even when you expand the size of the page it is difficult to hit.  I tried using the amazon website and it was just a disaster trying to get it to work.  If you want an exercise in tedium, try to use the amazon website to search for covers for the Fire.  I had to reload it several times because it wouldn’t let me back up and the left hand menu options on the page wouldn’t work.
  • Store – the store interface is optimized for the device and is very usable.  I ordered several books from here.
  • Home Button – lack thereof.  I miss the home button that the iPad has.  You have to make an extra tap to move back up a level.  First you have to tap the device to get the home button and others on the bottom of the screen and then hit the soft button to move back up a level.
  • Fit and Finish – I really like the back of the tablet with its soft cover.  It is much better than the cold metal of the iPad 2.  Given that we are in winter time holding the iPad in a cold bedroom is cold on the hands sticking out of the covers.  The Kindle Fire is much better in that environment.
  • Kindle Name – I now have 9 kindle devices or PC variants so coming up with a unique name (versus Edward’s Kindle 4) is important.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to change the name (to FireTime) on the Manage Your Kindle page.

I am glad that I bought it and I am delighted that Amazon is making the tablet price approachable.  I can’t see the Kindle Fire replacing my iPad 2.  However, I expect that I will have both devices by the bedside – the iPad 2 to read with (Kindle app of course) and the Kindle Fire to watch videos with.

Now it will be interesting to see if Apple produces a smaller version of the iPad and if Amazon will produce a larger version that has a camera.  As I found with moving from the iPad 1 to the iPad2, the camera feature is critical for the kind of consulting work that I do.

Moving around I really like the small size and weight of the Kindle Fire.  But once I’m seated, I like the bigger screen and the wider range of apps for the iPad.

Since writing about my out of the box experience with the Amazon Kindle Fire several others are putting up their in depth review:

The real test will be to see if I take both the iPad and the Kindle Fire with me when I travel – either locally (travel light) or when I go on business travel (yet another device to put in my backpack and pull out for the wonderful folks at TSA in the airport).

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