All prices in this review are in US Dollars. Weights and measurements have been amended with metric system equivalents (far superior, we think).
All eyes are on the Amazon Kindle Fire to provide fresh competition for Apple's iPad 2, today's dominant tablet. Not so fast: Beneath the Kindle Fire's slick veneer and unparalleled shopping integration lies a tablet that fails to impress as either a tablet or as an e-reader. The Kindle Fire (US$200 as of November 15, 2011) is best considered a relatively inexpensive, hassle-free but flawed way to consume books, music, and videos purchased at Amazon. As a tablet, though, the Fire can't hold a candle to the best tablets available today: It has sub-par specs, a limited interface, and a surprisingly messy app store.
When the Fire was introduced, I immediately wondered where it would fit into the overall tablet universe. It runs a custom operating system based on Android 2.3, it limits you to buying apps solely via the Amazon Appstore, and it has just 8GB of storage: all red flags that made this tablet stand out as a curiosity amidst the Android crowd. But at US$200, and with the colossal weight of Amazon behind it, the Fire automatically became worth talking about.
The Fire's integration with Amazon's media storefronts is, bar none, the best thing about this tablet. Rather than giving you one place to shop and another to use your digital media, Amazon consolidates those experiences into one. The Newsstand, Books, Music, and Apps tabs all take you to your personal library first, and then offer a prominent but not offensive option to go to the store for that category. (The exception to this arrangement is the Video tab, which deposits you in the video storefront first, and then lets you hopscotch into your personal library.) The seamless interface makes acquiring content of any kind — be it for ownership, or, in the case of movies and TV shows, streaming or rental — the best media experience of any I've tried on a tablet.
In most other respects, though, the Kindle Fire left a tepid impression at best. Let's walk through the device step-by-step to see which marks it hits and which ones it misses.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Design
Physically, the Kindle Fire does little to distinguish itself. Contrary to some reports, it really doesn't resemble black tablets like the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, which was rumored to to be Amazon's starting point for the Kindle Fire. In fact, the Fire is smaller than the PlayBook, measuring 7.5 by 4.7 by 0.45 inches (19.05cm by 11.94cm by 1.14cm), and weighing 0.91 pound (413 grams). That's a hair heavier than the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and T-Mobile SpringBoard (each of which weighs 0.88 pound (399 grams)), and noticeably heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, which weighs 0.77 pound (349 grams).
While the Fire didn't feel especially heavy or tiresome to hold in one hand while I was reading, its weight is still less than ideal. In fact, my survey of five colleagues saw a clear preference for the weight and balance of the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. All preferred the Fire's velvety back, which has a smooth, rubberized texture that makes it easy to hold.