The Kindle Fire looks like the best Android tablet yet. Why? Because it doesn’t look or act like an Android tablet. We just got up close with the Fire, Amazon’s new $199 slate that completely replaces Google’s interface with its own. No, we weren’t allowed to touch the Fire, but we did get a feel for the device’s design, interface, and capabilities. Here’s our initial impressions, plus plenty of photos to tide you over until we bring you our full review in November.
Design and Display
As rumored, the Kindle Fire looks a lot like the BlackBerry PlayBook, and we’re not complaining. It’s fairly light at 14.6 ounces and it looks to have a soft-touch back that should provide sure grip. It measures 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 inches, so this tablet is portable enough to slip into a purse or coat pocket. Interestingly, the Kindle Fire has a Kindle Logo on the back but not the name Fire. The device features a USB port for charging and a 7-inch display.
The Kindle Fire’s screen is pretty amazing, boasting an IPS panel with ultra-wide viewing angles and a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. The panel is made of Gorilla Glass, which means it’s 20 times stiffer than plastic. The glossy screen could prove difficult to read outdoors, but the Fire wasn’t designed for that purpose.
The Kindle Fire features a speedy TI OMAP dual-core processor along with 8GB of flash storage. Amazon says that’s enough for 80 apps, plus either 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books. The device features Wi-Fi connectivity and a microUSB port, 3.5 mm headphone jack, and top-mounted stereo speakers.
Although the Kindle Fire runs Android 2.3, the interface on this tablet is completely unique. The UI is modeled off a book shelf, where the latest content you’ve accessed automatically rises to the top of a carousel you can easily flip through. You can also save specific apps or content to a place lower on the shelf for easy access. If you’re playing a tune while you’re reading a book, you can access playback controls towards the top of the screen.
As we expected, the emphasis with the Fire is on content. You’ll see a search box towards the top of the display, with tabs beneath for Newsstand, Books, Music, Videos, Docs, Apps, and Web.
In addition to millions of books, 17 million songs, and 100,000 movies and TV shows, the Fire can also access full-color magazines. Choices range from Wired and Oprah to Vanity Fair. Amazon also includes its own app store. All of this content is tied to your Amazon account, and because your device comes pre-registered with your info, you’ll be able to start making purchases right out of the box.
Silk Web Browser
One of the most compelling features of the Kindle Fire is its Silk web browser, which Amazon built from scratch to deliver pages faster than the competition. It uses a split architecture, so that Amazon Web Services cloud does a lot of the back-end work. In a demo, the Fire loaded sites in just a few seconds—complete with Flash—but we’d like to conduct some hands-on tests to see just how much speedier the Fire is than the iPad or Galaxy Tab.
The Kindle Fire comes with an e-mail client, but we didn’t have a chance to see it in action. According to Amazon, the client (which has a black background) will aggregate email from multiple accounts. You’ll also be able to download other email clients from the Amazon Appstore. A built-in document reader will ensure you can open those attachments, including Word and PDF docs.
The Kindle Fire should last up to 8 hours on a charge with mixed use, or 7.5 hours if you’re going to be watching movies. Amazon says battery life will vary based on how often you use the Wi-Fi. The average tablet we’ve tested gets about 6.5 hours, so 8 hours would be pretty good for a 7-inch slate.
The Kindle Fire doesn’t offer built-in 3G connectivity, which we expect for the price. You also don’t get a camera on the front or back. Some may not miss this functionality, but we would have appreciated the option of making video calls. There’s no HDMI-out port for exporting content to a big screen and, as far as we know, there’s no DLNA sharing option or Bluetooth support. As far as we can tell, you can’t expand the memory on the Kindle Fire either.
We would like to spend a lot more time with the Kindle Fire to see how well it performs, but it has all the makings of a hit. We love the intuitive interface, crisp and bright display, and easy access to content and apps. Then there’s the $199 price, which is $50 less than the Nook Color and hundreds less than other tablets. Yes, Honeycomb-based slates are more versatile, but they’re also more confusing for the masses. Amazon made the right call by starting from scratch with the Fire, and it looks like its going to burn most of the competition this holiday season.