Kindle Fire: Second Look Review

Amazon’s super hot (no pun intended) Kindle Fire tablet has been selling like hotcakes, despite some negative reviews coming from several tech writers. I have never been one to take someone else’s opinion at face value – especially tech writers who are often fan boys. At $200, the Kindle Fire’s potential for “amazing” outweighs the potential “woe” so I bought one. Well, I’ve had my Kindle Fire for about three weeks now and I’ve got lots to say about it – some good, some bad. More after the break.

First, let’s go ahead and get the negatives out of the way.

Negative #1 – The Kindle Fire App Store suffers from anti-competitive practices. In my opinion, most of the great apps that have been omitted (or outright removed) from the Kindle Fire App Store have the potential for affecting Amazon’s business. This is not surprising given that Amazon is reportedly taking a loss on the Fire at the point of sale, but it still sucks that it is so limited. Fortunately, you can “sideload” apps (requires a cable) if you can find an “apk” file (android app package). However, you cannot sideload the Android Market. In fact, any web links to the Android Market automatically redirect to the Kindle Fire App Store. Boooooooo! The only way, currently, to get access to the Android Market is to “root” the Fire and go through a fairly painful process. The pain was worth it to me, so I do have access to the Android Market on my Kindle Fire.

Negative #2 – “Multi-touch” is limited. One of the first apps I downloaded was a piano app because I occasionally like to tap out melodies. To my surprise, the Fire only detected two simultaneous touch points. While this is fine for most things (pinching and zooming) it obviously falls short for other things.

Negative #3 – The power button location is, well, stupid. It’s on the bottom of the Fire. I’ve trained myself at this point, but that training came at a high cost – my frustration. I kept turning the thing off just by resting it on my lap! Come one, seriously? I would bet the next Fire will have a relocated power button.

Negative #4 – Sometimes, the Fire does not recognize my touches. Sometimes, I have to hit the on-screen controls twice before it recognizes that I touched it. A recent update has greatly reduced this problem, but it’s still there. Speaking of the update, I was very unhappy that Amazon pushed and installed the update to the Fire without my permission. On the other hand, the update brought a very noticeable increase in responsiveness and performance of the device.

Negative #5 – No home button. I get it, Amazon – you want me to press the little arrow icon to get a menu, from which I can choose “home” – but this is another step for something that should require only one press.

Whew. Not too bad. Now, for the positives!

Positive #1 – $200 is a bargain for this device. I am still amazed that I get all this functionality from a $200 device. I also still consider my purchase to be one of the best bargains I’ve ever enjoyed. This tablet, despite the negatives mentioned above, is still an amazing device. Some people have lamented the absence of a camera and microphone. Perhaps I just don’t know what I am missing since the iPad I bought (and subsequently sold) was the first-generation that also lacked those features. – but I honestly do not “miss” a camera and microphone.

Positive #2 – The Carousel rocks. The Carousel is a “cover-flow-like” area at the top of the “home” screen that contains all of your recently accessed media – be they music, videos, docs, photos, or even apps. It is very convenient – especially in the case of sharing a piece¬† of media between apps. You can press-and-hold on an icon which will give you a pop-up menu for adding any Carousel item to your favorites. When you use the Carousel and the “favorites” shelves together, you can be highly productive. By the way, many people don’t know this, but you can re-arrange items on the favorites shelves but holding and dragging.

Positive #3 – Free Paid App Per Day. I love this feature of the Amazon Kindle Fire App Store. Every single day, they take a paid app and make it free for the day! I’ve picked up some great stuff, like a full license to Documents to Go, Enhanced Email, Exchange by Touchdown,¬† and Drawing Pad. Granted, not all of the daily freebies are going to be something I want, but many have been so far.

Positive #4 – Amazon Cloud Services. The Fire’s integration of Amazon’s Cloud Services is pretty good. Your music typically streams from the cloud, but if you know you’ll be away from the cloud you can download selections to the device for offline listening. Additionally, any digital content that you buy from Amazon can be stored on the cloud for free, including music, movies, books, etc. Even your apps can live on the cloud until you need them. You can instantly remove an app from your device, and reinstall it from the cloud just as easily. There are some mis-steps with the cloud, like the lack of photo syncing or user document syncing to the cloud. There are some work-arounds using the silk browser to access your cloud page on Amazon.com, but that is not ideal. Overall, however, the cloud works very well. Of course, Amazon’s movie service is another cloud-based feature – and it simply rocks. Daily, I consider ditching Netflix altogether for Amazon’s Prime Membership, which includes free movie streaming.

Positive #5 – It’s the perfect size. I have always had issues with the iPad having nearly the same footprint as a notebook PC with a fraction of the functionality. It just doesn’t make sense, to me, to carry around a 10″ tablet when I can grab my 13″ Macbook Pro with barely any additional felt bulk and have a full computer at my fingertips. I use the Kindle Fire for reading, surfing the web, playing games, watching movies, and I even preach sermons at my church with it. I have yet to feel like I needed more screen size for those tasks. To me, the 7″ form factor is perfect.

Positive #6 – Rooting makes the Kindle Fire really shine. Having rooted my Kindle Fire, I now have all the Google apps on my device (gmail, google calendar, google reader, youtube, google docs, google+, etc.), the Android Market, and a ton of apps that Amazon won’t sell through their app store (dropbox, for example). At this point, I have all the functionality that I hoped for from a $500 iPad, for $200.

Conclusions:

The Kindle Fire is one of the best purchasing decisions I have ever made. I absolutely recommend it, even if you aren’t going to “root” it. No, it’s not as polished and well-executed as an iPad, but for $200, I’ll suffer a few negatives. Oh, and rooting it is well worth the effort.

9 Replies to “Kindle Fire: Second Look Review”

  1. NIce review. I have recommended it to several people that want an iPad but cannot afford it financially. It really is a game changer for the tablet market.

  2. 2 questions for a pastor tech idiot who just got a Fire for Christmas:
    What and how is “rooting?”
    and what app do you preach from?

    1. Devices like iPads and Kindles are “locked down” meaning you can only access and use only a fraction of the devices full potential, relegated to what the device manufacturer trusts you with. “Rooting” is “hacking” the device so you can have full (aka root) access to the device. This let’s you do anything you want with it – sort of like you can with your PC at home/office.

      I am going to do a video-post about preaching from the Kindle Fire, but since you asked, I’ll go ahead and tell you I use QuickOffice.

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