Where there’s smoke (Why the Kindle Fire is not a great tablet and why that doesn’t matter)

First off, the two reviews of the Fire that have resonated with me:

IGN’s review that starts: “I wanted to love the Kindle Fire. I really did.”

And Slate’s review titled “The Underachiever”.

So let’s start with the one thing that everyone can agree on: The on button sucks. It’s hard to turn on when you want to, and easy to turn off when you don’t. The lack of other buttons is also somewhat limiting. I understand the push to move everything to malleable icons that can be controlled by the UI, but I miss the home button from my iPhone and some volume controls would be nice as well.

Speaking of the UI, it is functional, but not slick. If I was hoping for something with the practical ease of use as iOS, I would have been disappointed. The primary function of the UI seems to be to drive one to the Amazon store at any opportunity. The home page is dominated by a scrolling list of icons for apps, etc. that one has used recently, in order of use rather than in order of most used. Under that are smaller “shelves” of pinned icons, which are far more useful. The upper scrolling list could stand to be shrunk down to the same size as the other shelves, and I’m hopeful that will be addressed in a future update.

The screen is a decent resolution and the colors are vibrant. Unfortunately, in sunlight, the glare is a serious problem. Though I had planned to pass along my e-ink Kindle, I think now that I will keep it for reading. The Fire is a little too heavy to comfortably hold for extended periods while reading even without the glare. Watching Netflix has the same problem, but I’m hoping that a case (possibly this one) will offer enough support that I won’t have to hold the Fire while watching.

The app store apparently has some serious holes, but the only one I’ve noticed is Flipboard. Pulse, however, does a decent enough job as a news aggregator. The included e-mail app is serviceable. The web browsing is not as snappy as the pre-release hype would have indicated, but it does well enough. The biggest problem is that the fonts are not easily re-sized and the type is rather small. Good thing I’m near-sighted.

As I said before, I think the speakers are rather good, so I’m not sure what the Slate reviewer is complaining about there.

The touch screen seems less responsive than I’m used to with my iPhone. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the touch system, the UI, or the cpu, but the processor is supposed to be a dual-core, so I’m guessing one of the first two. The keyboard is not big enough to “touch” type on, nor small enough to use both thumbs, so I end up using one index finger, but since I’m used to that from my phone, it’s not that big of a deal.

After all this kvetching, you would have good reason to suspect that I’m disappointed in the Kindle Fire. But I’m not. Not exactly. Did I want it to be a better tablet than it is? Sure, but then I also want Ed McMahon to show up on my doorstep with a million dollars. He stopped doing that over a decade ago, and a $200 tablet is not going to be perfect.

The Kindle Fire is good enough. It’s not as good for reading as an e-ink platform, but it’s good enough. It’s not as slick as the iPad and doesn’t have as many apps as iTunes or even the full Android store, but it’s good enough. It doesn’t browse the web as well as a netbook, but it’s good enough. And it only costs $200.

It may be revolutionary not for how good it is, but by how many new people it brings into the tablet market. I know that I would have put off my purchase of an iPad for at least six months more, if not longer, and the Fire got me to take the plunge early.

I like my Kindle Fire, and I suspect it will tide me over for quite a while. It streams shows and movies from Netflix just fine when I’m lying in bed, and I can check Facebook and Twitter and e-mail and my RSS feeds from the couch. Eventually, I will probably want to upgrade to an iPad, but I can easily wait another generation or two. Unless my wife takes my Fire away from me first.

One response to “ Where there’s smoke (Why the Kindle Fire is not a great tablet and why that doesn’t matter) ”

  1. Maj-Lis says:

    Bah ha ha, I was thinking about maybe I should have the fire but since your review seems to be 50/50 I think I will get the iPad and you can keep the fire. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *