Analysis: Is Kindle Fire already losing its spark?

Now the initial hype has died down, reality sets in
  • Eric Mack (PC World (US online))
  • 19 November, 2011 03:44

After months of advance hype, some of the shine is coming off the Kindle Fire now that the 7-inch tablet is finally in the hands of real users. The $199 slate has plenty of satisfied customers to be sure, but since consumers have had a few days to play with it and subject it to the real world, some flaws and cut corners in design are becoming more apparent.

The loudest complaints so far seem to be demanding easier volume control. Almost everything I've read on Amazon's tablet mentions the need for physical volume control buttons. The current interface requires navigating to the dashboard to raise or lower sound levels.

"The lack of buttons makes controls harder," writes user Billy Radcliffe in a popular review of the Kindle Fire on Amazon, but that's just the start of his list of gripes. "The accessible storage memory is limited to just 5GB, which seems awfully small when carrying my own video content on a trip, and overall the interface of the system is just a little awkward and unfinished. Sometimes the back button doesn't work, buttons are hard to push accurately or launch the wrong function, navigation isn't exactly intuitive, etc."

Radcliffe still gave the Kindle Fire three out of five stars, citing the quality of the screen and overall value proposition, including signing up for Amazon Prime for the included free video streaming and monthly "lending library" e-book.

In fact, the Kindle Fire currently averages four out of five stars in more than a thousand user reviews on Amazon. Most satisfied reviewers mention something about the Kindle Fire being great "for the price." But while it's easy to adopt the "you get what you pay for" mantra, there also seem to be plenty of usability issues that feel more like oversights. Instapaper creator Marco Arment catalogs many of them in a lengthy screed about his many complaints with the tablet:

-- Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive.

-- Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It's often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.

-- The on-screen Back button often doesn't respond, which is particularly frustrating since it's essential to so much navigation.

-- I keep performing small drags when I intend to tap, especially on the home screen. This makes the most common home-screen action -- launching something -- unnecessarily difficult and unreliable.

Other common issues surfacing even in positive reviews include underwhelming battery life and responsiveness of the touchscreen.

"There are moments where feedback is not instant," writes user A. Dent in a, adding "the battery life is not as good as my XOOMs..."

Meanwhile, it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for users of the new Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble, either. The news that users only get direct access to 1 GB of the Nook's built-in storage, basically requiring the purchase of an SD memory card, came as a rude surprise to many.

The New York Times' David Pogue has also gone so far as to accuse Barnes & Noble of lying about the Nook Tablet's HD video capability.

So it turns out that in the tablet wars, things can sometimes get ugly, and occasionally users lose out in the battle of expectations.

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