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Cali Lewis with the Kindle FireNow that I’ve been playing with the Kindle Fire for a few days, here’s my review. We’re going to get to the big bad question… is this good enough to buy? But first, let’s take it from the top.

Kindle Fire Specs

The Kindle Fire is a 7” multi-touch display tablet, with a dual core processor, 8GB of on-board storage and a promised 8 hours of battery life. With 8 gigs of storage, they say you can get 80 apps, plus 10 movies OR 80 apps plus 800 songs, OR just 6,000 songs. And the battery life – 8 hours for reading only. You’re looking at 6-7 hours of real battery life with normal use. It weighs 14.6 ounces – slightly lighter than the Galaxy Tab. It is a bit thicker…though it has no problem fitting in the cases made for the Tab.

Specs wise, it’s a good device. Apps run well on it (Angry Birds is fast) and reading is a good experience. It’s not eInk so you will get the glare you get on any tablet.

Kindle Fire Features

The ONLY button on this thing is the power button. There is NO volume button. Which kind of drives me nuts – if you’re listening to something and need to turn it down real quick, you’ll need to unlock, click settings, then turn it down.

There isn’t a camera. That may come later like it did with the iPad. There is no physical home button. This is Android but a completely revamped version. If you’re a regular Android user, you will have to kind of relearn some things. The homepage is only somewhat customizable. You can add favorite apps to the Shelf, but you can’t remove or change the Previously Used section at the top. And if you love Swype, forget about it! No Swype. It doesn’t have GPS. It’s Wi-Fi only – no 3G or 4G.

Oh…and…I’m about to go on a rant. You’ve been forwarned. NO GOOGLE APPS WHATSOEVER. I understand that Amazon and Google are competitors, but Amazon locking out Google altogether means they have just thrown me into the arms of their other competitors. I mean, for goodness sake! Even Apple allows us to use Google apps!

Is the Kindle Fire a $200 Tablet?

Here’s the deal. It is NOT a tablet. I was excited by the idea of a $200 tablet that might be as good as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. This isn’t it. I really thought I was going to love this thing. But as a tablet, it is unusable. I can’t download a Gmail app, and if you set up Gmail on the native mail app, the capabilities are hindered. You can’t even archive – you can only delete or leave a message in the inbox.

Target Market for the Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire is good for someone who wants a Kindle and entertainment device. Someone who wants to read some books or watch some movies on Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant streaming. The browser is much better than other Kindle devices, but as a whole, it’s not going to provide you with everything you want at all times. Now, that being said, if you haven’t been spoiled by a tablet like the Galaxy Tab, you probably won’t hate the Kindle Fire. It’s probably a pretty cool device. But I also think that even if you haven’t had a Tab or iPad…pay the extra $100 for a full tablet experience and get a Galaxy Tab.

What do YOU think about the Fire?

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About The Author

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John P. is CEO of Livid Lobster and co-host of Geek Beat TV. You can also find him on Twitter and Google+.

31 Responses

  1. -

    This is usually a fantastic web page plus a excellent summation right here.

  2. Zed

    Wow. You’re a tech blog? Really? And you don’t know anything about sideloading, rooting, or tweaking a device to serve your needs?!?!

    Let me lay this out for you: You can side-load almost any app into the Kindle Fire, including most Google Apps. This doesn’t require rooting, either. You just load the .apk and then install it using one of many different installers available for the Fire.

    But if you root it, which is pretty easy, you can install the Android Market, too.

    Without rooting you can easily install Go Launcher EX and make it look and act like any other tablet.

    So YES, it’s a tablet. YES, it runs standard Android. YES, you can load Google Apps on it. YES, you can install the Android Market. YES, you can install several other markets without even needing to root it. YES, it handles most modern apps you throw at it. YES, it supports an external mic/headset. YES, you can make VOIP calls from it.

    So I don’t know how you can get away with calling this “geekbeat” when you don’t even spend ten second on Google searching for “sideload Kindle Fire”. Honestly, a real geek has this think doing anything he wants before the end of the first day.

    • Zed

      And yes, I see you briefly mentioned sideloading, but you really glossed over what you can do with it. Answer: Anything you can do with any other Android device, short of taking pictures or using Bluetooth.

      • Zed

        Sorry, I see that the sideloading mention is in comments, not in the article. My original points stand, John P.. How can you call yourself a geek, or write for a damned tech blog, when you don’t even spend a little time learning how to properly deal with the shortcomings you mentioned in your write-up?

        Yeah, if you’re a common jerk who doesn’t want to do a Google search for “Kindle Fire Google Apps”, you might not get far, but anyone who calls himself a geek should KNOW to do this, and HOW to do this.

        Jeez. Hire me. I’ll write far better reviews. I at least learn about the device’s capabilities before whining about it and declaring it something it is not.

  3. John

    I’ve used all three. Fire, Galaxy, and ipad. Should there be a discussion. If an ipad is a tablet. Galaxy and Fire are not. What are they? Palm Pilots sitting in your desk from 10 years ago. Junk.

  4. rad4d

    Wow. Is everyone here nuts? I’m tired of hearing all the BS about the Kindle Fire not being a tablet, and only being an eReader. It is more of what a tablet should be in almost every sense over most of the other Android tablets. Amazon is trying to do for ‘an’ Android tablet what Apple did for the iPad, and that’s create a cohesive ‘experience’ that makes sense to ‘most’ people.

    Most Android tablets out there have severely missed the mark, and taken the approach of giving you a piece of hardware with an OS. Go find your content and learn to configure it yourself, though. No – not difficult for most of us tweakers, but obviously not selling, either. Why? Because most people aren’t looking for a tablet to get all geeky with. It’s a device to pick up and use quickly, which means it’s access to content and UI needs to be simple. The Fire does that on all counts.

    I mean, really, how many people are truly using a tablet for productivity beyond web access, notetaking and cloud-based file management? I can use my Fire to manage my company’s CMS, my development projects through Jira (web-based), and keep notes using Evernote. I can access my Outlook Mail through Touchdown, GMail through Kitaen Mail, Google Calendars through CalenGoo, and travel through TripIt. I beg to ask how many users truly use their tablets for much more than those basic productivity tools on a regular basis. I know that Skype comes up, and it would be nice, but I can Skype on my phone if I need to.

    The Fire works wonderfully for all of these functions.

    Want to load a few apps that may not be in the Amazon Market yet? You can either sideload (if you know how to access APKs from another Android source), or, even easier, go out to alternative Android markets, such as GetJar (m.getjar.com), and download many of them legally and quickly to your tablet. I was actually able to download Skype – and make it work by using a headset mic with the Fire.

    There are absolutely reasons for getting other tablets, but saying that the Fire is simply an eReader and not a real tablet is just plain ingenuous.

  5. Clarke

    I love you guys but I have to agree with some of the other people reviewing here, THIS IS NOT A TABLET! The Kindle is by its nature a reader, and in this case it is a reader with color. I bought this for my wife and she loves it! She hates techy stuff and has a hard time with even a cell phone.
    The Fire is simple to use for the basic functions it is suppose to do. My wife can download books from all over even free book sites. She can also share some home pictures with her co-workers, and the picture quality is very good and large enough that no one has to put on their reading glasses to see them. When she is in a WiFi area she can view videos, and the picture quality is very good.
    Sometimes it is better to keep it simple, it is not tecky but it is true.

  6. chris leiter

    If it looks like it, smells like it, and tastes like it….

    The Kindle Fire is a tablet. That being said, it’s not a full featured tablet like the iPad, Galaxy Tab, or other wannabes.. If you want an iPad-like experience… well, you’re pretty much stuck with the iPad or one of its many copycats. Stick to the big guns. iPad, Galaxy Tab, etc. These one-off tablets are just shooting themselves in the foot trying to tout specs over usability. (look at the TouchPad).

  7. Fran Coleman

    Thank you for saving me 200 smackers. I have the Acer Iconia a500 OS 3.2 & I simply adore it!
    It can’t be used in sunlight or even on my shady porch on a sunny day. That sucks. That is my only issue with it.
    Are you reviewing the new B&N Tablet soon?

  8. Mark Eastwood

    @Sharon mentions e-ink… I think they had to switch away from e-ink because of the video which means they had to add a back light too. I loved eInk for reading it was a better, easier on the eyes experience. I didn’t mind needing a light source because it really was like reading a book.

  9. Mark Eastwood

    I’m with you guys. I loved my Kindle DX until the little joy stick thing broke. It was only a reader but it did the job well. I was hoping the Fire would be a great reader + video content and what John said: Google email, calendar, contacts. I’d be happy with it Buying the Fire I know I’m not getting a tablet and that’s OK. I get what I care about.

  10. Michael L

    I agree with Cali,not Mark so much. The Fire was promoted as the first affordable tablet with Amazons services as its backbone,NOT an e-reader with entertainment features. Without having to say it, Amazon all but insisted this was a cheap alternative to the ipad….seriously thats what it has been compared to since day one. Whether it is or not(and as the reviews roll in we are finding its not,not even close),more folks are going to be disappointed than converts. Many out there will think that this is the best that android tablets can be,and thats a pity. Amazon has a great feature set,not comparable to the ipad infrastructure, but it can get that good in time. I, and many others,wish that Amazon would have made a better effort…like Barnes and Noble did with their Nook Tablet. If B&N had Amazons resources, the ipad would have had a serious threat, as it stands, the Kindle is more a toy than a real tablet, not worthy of even the paltry price they are asking for it.
    I see alot of folks on this thread saying that they will get it right IN THE FUTURE ,like the ipad did with its camera in its second generation….but you would thing Amazon would have learned from Apples mistake and included one from the off,and it would have been so easy for them to do it, they just didnt, and theres no excuse at all for that. Sorry,the Kindle, while a good idea on paper, just isnt what it was built up to be. And thats it in a nutshell.

  11. Sharon T

    Why isn’t anyone mentioning how unsuitable it is as an e-book? Going away from the e-ink technology is a mistake. I can read for hours on a device that IS NOT back lit, plus my battery lasts for weeks. Plus the Amazon DRM is annoying, ePUB should be the standard for all.

    • Brian Hartman

      Amazon isn’t going away from e-ink technology. On the same day they announced the Fire, they announced a whole new family of e-ink devices.

      I think that’s the point: This *isn’t* meant to be solely an e-reader, although you can certainly read e-books on it. It’s meant to be a (relatively) low-cost tablet, minus the bells and whistles of something like an iPad, but also minus the compromises you’d have with a tablet you bought at CVS or Walgreen’s.

      I think saying it’s not a tablet is a mistake. It *is* a tablet. It’s just not a tablet for hardcore techies.

  12. Pushwall

    Thanks for your honest review, Cali. That’s why I always check out what you have to say on the latest gadgets. The Kindle Fire looks okay for what it does, but I want more so it’s not for me.

  13. Ewan

    The initial impression given by Amazon when they first announced the Fire was that it would be a bridge between a standard Kindle and a tablet. From reading Cali’s review and the comments from others, I think they’ve probably done exactly what they wanted.

    Will it be a success? Probably.

    This isn’t to say that it’s any good – Cali mentions that the colour (sorry – I’m from the UK) screen means there’s no e-ink, so you could buy the cheapest tablet you can find (£70 in the UK, so about $113 US – just look in Amazon.co.uk) and shove the Kindle app on it. That would give you full access to the Android Marketplace, GMail and your precious books for a fraction of the price. Can you stream films to it from Amazon? Who cares!!! Download VLC Media Player & Streamer and you’re up & running without any issues. The reason the Kindle Fire will do so well is because most people will not bother to look for alternatives.

    Well done Amazon; you’re selling something for $200 that will net you an incredible profit. You could have sold it for $150 and still made money but with Black Friday coming up, you may as well maximise your profits now.

  14. Shawn H.

    Cali, I agree with your review but do consider that this is a perfect gift for a preteen/teenager. My 11 year old has been begging for an iPad all year but I am not about to drop $600+ for him. The Kindle Fire delivers everything he wants and the price point is reasonable. Needless to say, he is going to have a very Merry Christmas.

  15. Al Robbins

    Another agreement with Mark Trbojevic. The Fire is not a tablet. It is a reader and entertainment device. Comparing it to a full-on tablet is like berating a compact car because it won’t haul 15 tons of freight.

  16. Chris

    I third Mark’s comments. I’ve used a Kindle Keyboard for the past year and loved it for the specific function that it was designed for. I also loved it for the “experimental” features it included such as the web browser and the MP3 player. I’m a fan of e-ink but longed for a full-color display. So much so that I found myself reading more content on my EVO than I did on the actual Kindle. Along comes the Kindle Fire, and it is exactly what I wanted: a super-powered version of my original Kindle! Like Mark said, I bought a Kindle because I want an e-reader. Couple that with a larger, full-color display, flash-enabled browser, access to the most popular android games (Words with Friends and Sentinel 3 FTW!), a free book a month through the lending library, Netflix, Hulu+, Comixology, magazine subscriptions, and unlimited Amazon Prime movie and TV streaming (including the ENTIRE series of 24!!!!!!)… I was happy with my Kindle Keyboard… I am doing backflips over my Kindle FIRE!!

  17. Elizabeth

    New tech tends to blur categories and the Kindle Fire is no exception. It is more than an ereader but most would say that it is not a tablet. I’m not sure what the definition of a tablet is since it too is evolving. Camera required – not on first iPad but still called a tablet. So you see what I mean about evolving definitions.

    Back to Kindle Fire. I love mine. It is very portable, fast, and has a gorgeous screen.

    Yes, there are some tweaks needed and the lack of volume button is a much desired future fix. The out of the box email is a bit limiting but the Enhanced Email app does allow archiving and more.

    No Google apps but I just bookmarked my Google page and added it to my favorites on the home screen.

    I added the GO Launcher EX for times when I want more of an Android experience.

    You can sideload apps AND if you are willing to root the device you can add the Android Market (and then un-root the device so you can use Prime Video streaming again). See post at http://liliputing.com/2011/11/how-to-sideload-apps-even-the-android-market-on-the-amazon-kindle-fire.html

  18. Stella

    totally agree with Mark Trbojevic. it´s not a tablet so you shouldn´t compare it to one…a Kindle Fire user wouldn´t be looking for a “tablet experience” but for a reader with some extras.

  19. Mark Trbojevic

    What is wrong with you people!?! It’s a KINDLE Fire, not a TABLET! You even point out that the Kindle Fire is NOT a tablet, but you still waste most of the review trying to compare it to one! It’s a KINDLE device focused on providing AMAZON related content. For people who want it for the Amazon related content, it’s a slam dunk. The fact that is also provides SOME functionality that you would normally find on a typical TABLET device, is just a bonus.

    Review it for it’s intended audience and not for what you wish it were. People who want and need proper tablet functionality will buy themselves a TABLET. People who want the next evolution of a KINDLE reader, will buy a Kindle Fire.

    • MichaelTunnell.com

      It is true that it is technically not in the same market as most tablets and they shouldn’t compare it to tablets in general and should compare to stuff like the Nook. HOWEVER, people who want a tablet and don’t know the difference between the fire and a tablet would buy the tablet and then be pissed off.

      Someone wanting a good reader would not pay $200 to get the few extras when they can pay less than $100 and get an eink kindle which is MUCH better for reading.

      With all of that said…their argument of saving up the extra $100 is VERY valid because if you are going to spend 2/3 for something tablet-ish why not save for the full 3/3 and get a real tablet?

      If the Kindle Fire was $150 or lower I could see the appeal but when someone can save up an extra $100 and get a Tab…there is no reason to get the Fire.

  20. Marco

    No they did not lock out google, they just went with the Open-Source version of Andoid.

    • Brian Hartman

      If Cali had done any research on this story *at all*, she would know that Amazon didn’t lock Google out. Google locked *Amazon* out. It’s Google’s decision whether or not a company can preload Google Apps and the Android Market.