Monday, November 14, 2011

A Round-up of Interesting Views from Kindle Fire Reviews (long) - UPDATE


All the Kindle Fire reviews started coming in last night, and almost every single review is detailed and quite long.  Somewhat off the topic, someone posted a review of the Kindle Touch 3G, and for the most part she missed the physical keyboard.  I would too because I like to see the full screen when I'm typing a note, and I find the clunky keyboard more reliable than touchscreen, for me.  But the new Touch Kindles are faster, from all reports.

  Prospective buyers and even those who have already bought a Kindle Fire should read all the pros and cons in the articles linked to here -- there are also helpful tips on using some of the features, besides.
  And even tips on bugs or glitches :-), both of which would be of interest to both groups.

So, although I'm choosing what I felt were stand-out points from the various reviews and will bold-face more unusual notes (especially one with an answer to a question often asked), I encourage going to the articles linked here.

  You'll see that some reviewers had disappointing sessions with the browser while others thought it was wonderful. I don't know whether that has to do with the amount of info-gathering the Silk browser requires before it knows which elements to serve up quickly, or whether some WiFi-setups are slower than others, but all the reviewers know what a normal, fast browsing situation is on the WiFi networks they use.  One reviewer I'm quoting seems to mainly just not like 7" tablets, but I've enjoyed my NookColor for over a year despite his complaints about the downsides of that size unit.  I find the size more 'handy' than the larger 10" and actually would not mind having both sizes for different circumstances, if the price is right.

MSNBC Technolog's Wilson Rothman
Headline: Kindle Fire review: Yes, it's that good

He points out that
' Because of the size, reading is easier than on an iPad, though kids' entertainment and other engrossing interactive content isn't as fun...
  [Another review pointed out you can't pinch-zoom in the Children's books.]
. . .
  And because the Fire is widescreen, unlike the more 4x3 iPad, videos look almost as big as they do on Apple's much larger device.  As far as screen quality goes, it's on par with the iPad.  In other words, as an opening move, hardware-wise, Amazon's getting it right.
. . .
  Speaking of fluid, the Fire's Silk browser is nice and quick, and only gets faster as it wises up to your browsing patterns...And though it tends to trigger the mobile versions of websites, it has few problems with the full versions, including embedded video and other features.
  [I also read that you can choose 'mobile' or 'desktop' mode]
. . .
  But for Apple, this still spells trouble. The Kindle Fire can handle about 80 percent of what I want to do on an iPad, for 40 percent of the price. And much of what's missing won't be missing for long... '

Engadget's Tim Stevens
Headline: Amazon Kindle Fire review (That's straightforward!)

  The first thing that struck me is:
    "What isn't so impressive is the 169 ppi pixel density.  With more and more smartphones starting to offer 1280 x 800 resolutions in [smaller] displays, we might have hoped for a bit more here."

  The larger iPad has lower pixel density at 132 ppi though, and the Kindle Fire pixel density is identical to what's on the 7" Nook Tablet, both of which have this somewhat heavier density on a smaller device than the iPad, which is a good thing :-)  I've considered the NookColor the best looking screen of the 7" Android-based devices I'd seen in the last year.

  I think that many have been quite happy with the $500 basic iPad's lesser pixel density even for that larger space.  And the review, remember, is of a $200 device vs the usual $400-$600 ones.

  And then, "...a dual-core 1GHz TI OMAP chip, but here paired with only 512MB of RAM.  Perhaps it's the step down from the standard 1GB ..."

    But the iPad has only 512MB of RAM also ...

Stevens was trying to understand why "the Fire never delivers smooth, seamless performance." It's hard to say because reviewers run the gamut of reactions here.

  Commenters to his review wrote that the iPad doesn't acknowledge Flash and so doesn't even attempt to load Flash.  They add that he could have disabled the Flash option on the Kindle Fire to give a more equivalent look at what each device was loading, or not.   I didn't, though, notice any empty rectangles on the iPad indicating flash was used in the test pages.  I've seen the video only once so didn't look for that.

What is very useful (pro OR con about the Fire) is Engadget's VIDEO demos -- there are two of them:

  DEMO 1 of just the Kindle Fire: It's not quite 6 minutes and is a very good overview, but the demo is badly lit.  The demonstrator is clear and quick, but the camera person overexposed the lighting so that the demo person's hands are ghostly white.

    As a result of that poor lighting, the device doesn't show what would be the expected contrast or definition.

  DEMO 2 of A comparison of the iPad2, the Kindle Fire, and Samsung Galaxy 7" loading various webpages.  Also shown is the smooth, easy scrolling of the iPad via multiple touch while the other two are less smooth.

Mashable Tech's Lance Ulanoff
Headline: Amazon Kindle Fire, iPad's First True Competitor

' It’s not an iPad slayer, but it could be the first tablet to ably stand atop Mount Tabulous (or at least on a rock ledge just a few dozen feet lower) with Apple’s industry-dominating slab computer.

This is a product I wanted to love... now I’m discovering it’s a somewhat flawed gadget...
Kindle Fire is a tablet that simply works...From the moment you turn it on the minute you start watching a movie on the device and then continue watching on your HDTV — without connecting the device to the TV — you’re tablet with a fully thought-out ecosystem...
. . .
The speakers...can blast out near-room-filling-sound...
. . .
This interface is not always optimized for 1024×600 resolution on a 7-inch screen. While the bookshelf and items on it are large, some of the controls are tiny...
. . . can pinch and zoom, but then you’re only seeing part of the page.
  [This is true of the NookColor too.  But at least there are in-between sizes, and usually the segment of the page that I want to read fits in the zoomed-in area.]
 ...The device also does its own minicrashes. It does not shut down, but simply drops you out of what you were doing...To be fair, my iPad 1 crashes a fair amount -- though the crashes are all related to third-party apps, and not the native Apple iOS...
. . .
Most of these gripes are minor, and to fully appreciate the Amazon Kindle Fire, you have to step back and look at all you’re getting for $199 (the base 16GB iPad is $499, the Nook Tablet $249). This is a highly polished device and collection of services...
. . .
It is the closest tablet I’ve seen yet to an Apple iPad: a consistent, well-thought out marriage of hardware and services that offer an almost frictionless environment for app purchase and content consumption.  This is why the iPad has been so successful and why I think the Kindle Fire, despite its imperfections, is a winner, too.'

Gizmodo's Sam Biddle
Headline: The iPad Finally Has Serious Competition

As much as I do quote here, there is more at Biddle's article, so do go to the link for that.

It opens with:
' The Kindle Fire is stuck between e-ink minimalism and gleaming iPad decadence...  But the Fire will not be overlooked. Apple: Be afraid.

And what a piece it is, right?  ...a gorgeous 7-inch, 16-million color display beaming a custom Amazonian Android build, made specifically for Kindle's essence.

From the minute you turn it on, the device is puzzlingly simple.

You don't have to think about how to use the Fire...

Reading, watching, browsing, and listening on the Fire are all tremendous, easy fun.  Books, even very long ones, spring open quickly; page turning is, most of the time, very responsive.
...for a conventional LCD, it looks about as great as you can expect -- after hours of reading on a dark train, my eyes felt fine.  Graphics-rich magazines look lush, even when their pages don't quite fill the screen.  If you don't care so much about glossy layout, the Fire bakes in a stripped-down text mode, a la Instapaper.

...Silk?  It works just as well as Amazon said -- pages rendered fine and rapidly, thanks to the cloud-crunching,
[ Note how different the experience is for the various reviewers! ]
and can be bookmarked, emailed (via Amazon's capable little native client), Facebook shared—and yes, tabbed.
  [Re Silk]  Pinch it!  Zoom it!  It's great.  The best part is it'll only become faster as more beings start caching their online journeys for the rest of us.
. . .
...I said the Fire is very responsive, most of the time. Most of the time, yes.  But when it's not, it's awful.  There's absolutely no excuse for a machine with these guts to be unable to turn pages with zero lag...
. . .
Simply, the Fire is a wonderful IRL compliment to Amazon's digital abundance.  It's a terrific, compact little friend, and -- is this even saying anything? -- the best Android tablet to date. '

Wired's Jon Phillips
Headline: Is This Really the Tablet Everyone's Talking About?

This is fairly snarky, expecting the Kindle Fire to do, at $200, what the iPad can do for $500.  The reviewer doesn't like any 7" screen.  Everything he says about the drawbacks of magazine-viewing is true for my 7" NookColor.

  He writes that it doesn't match "the standards of the world's best tablets," (which, he doesn't mention, cost $500-$600).  And he says this right after informing us that it's being sold at "an insanely low price."  I don't know about others, but I don't expect a small car for a single person will match the standards of the world's best (larger) cars (or vice versa).

  He found web browsing "preternaturally slow," which is a valid concern, but he immediately follows that by pointing out what we already knew, the lack of a camera, 3G data connectivity, and a slot for removable storage, all of which would be nice but would raise the price (as we've seen with other devices).

  As mentioned, Silk developers say that browser processes depend on knowing the users' (collective) previous go-to's in order to load the pages faster, so it's not going to be as fast at first as when it has the information it needs.   In the Kindle announcements demo in September, they probably had all the browsed-to pages already 'known' of course.

I remember that the Nook Tablet was considered sluggish in a review too.  It's been a feature of Androids, relative to the iPad.

  That 7" problem
  The point that magazines and web-page-reading require zoom-in's to read text when you're in portrait mode particularly, is very true on a 7."  I'm used to that after a year with the NookColor.  It's a trade-off for not having to carry around the larger 10"-er. His statement that "The Fire's 7-inch, 1024x600 screen is too small for many key tablet activities" is an assessment of a category of devices.  But it's a reaction others will have too, so it should be heeded.

  He adds though that It's also a winning video playback device that uses Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon’s own digital storefront to deliver hundreds of thousands of movies and TV shows, many of them free.

  Another reminder by Phillips: "The Kindle’s 7-inch screen is still too small for any semblance of an immersive reading experience — even if that reading experience mostly involves looking at pictures."  Well, I have to say that I've enjoyed my photography and history-focused books with illustrations on the 7" NookColor. [Note to those who would buy the NookColor (Version 1) because of its now $199 price -- it cannot do Netflix, B&N says. I'd pay the extra $50 and go with the new one if wanting a Nook, if Netflix (or speed) is important.

  He does like the video feature. "...the Fire atones with a good deed in video playback.  The Fire’s wide-aspect-ratio video content plays in a 7-inch window.  While this window isn’t 720p (and therefore not true HD), it still holds up well to the 720p windows of the 9.7-inch iPad (9 inches at 720p) and all those 10.1-inch Android 3.0 tablets (9.75 inches at 720p)."

  Despite his web-browsing problems, "video playback was blissfully uneventful as far as framerate hiccups."  As most of us know, this is where one generally sees problems, much more so than in normal web browsing.

 He also found the quality "serviceable to good and considers the offerings a "fantastic wealth of video options..."
. . .
  "...a telling indicator of why so many people avoided 7-inch tablets the first time they were floated to the public last year: They suck for web browsing. And that’s a problem because web browsing is a key tablet responsibility."

  Yet I have happily web browsed on a 7" for a year! And, from what I read on BN forums, so have others.  Eventually, there'll be some who haven't tried a 7" who will eventually agree with him though, so I guess there is good reason to pound it home.

  A bit of rigidity creeps or stomps in when he says about music-playing on the tablet, "But is a 7-inch tablet a convenient portable music player? No, our smartphones and iPods own this function.  Case closed."

    What happened to the idea of one device doing a number of things we like, and saving us carrying weight?

  Personal Documents feature
  A number of Kindle owners have celebrated Amazon providing 5 free gigs of space for *personal* (non-Amazon) personal docs.  That includes our Word docs, straight text, and PDFs.  When I see interesting Web info I often copy a set of info I want to read at leisure into a Doc file and send it to my Kindle. I consider this a real feature.  People add recipes, etc (see Creative uses of the Kindle - a forum discussion).

  This means that if we want, Amazon backs these up on servers when we send them to the Kindle and we can re-download them if needed - it's a backup and of course material we can share with others.
  But, we can also sync the reading of these now, between the various Kindle-compatible devices, something long-requested by Kindle owners.  This includes NON-Amazon books that are not rights-protected.
  B&N will not back up non-B&N material nor sync the reading of them.

 What does Phillips have to say about this?
    "Huzzah.  More than anything, it seems like the user interface designers at Amazon wanted to fill a hole in the Fire’s main menu, so they added Docs as a placeholder."

His advice is to wait for Kindle Fire 2 or consider an iPad (for more than twice the cost).

CNet's Donald Bell
Headline: Amazon Kindle Fire : CNET Editors' review

This seems to be an expansion of an early "review" presented mid_October,
along with customer reviews dated back then, saying CNet should wait for a working
unit.  But the 'final marks' are dated Nov. 11/13-11/15.  Excerpts:
'The bottom line: Though it lacks the tech specs found on more-expensive Apple and Android tablets, the $199 Kindle Fire is an outstanding entertainment value that prizes simplicity over techno-wizardry.
. . .
... Fortunately, for those of you unwilling to shell out $500 for an Apple iPad 2, and wary of buying a piece of junk, Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire tablet should be at the top of your wish list.
. . .
The other good news is that Amazon's services don't suck. Their music store is absolutely on par with iTunes in terms of selection, and their prices are cheaper in most cases...
. . .
And then there's video.  In my view, this is where Amazon's tablet really shines...when it comes to watching video, the Kindle Fire's combination of 7-inch IPS screen and a one-click library of TV shows and movies (not to mention Flash-based Web content) is an unmatched proposition.
. . .
...Amazon hasn't included any parental controls on the Kindle...
I also have to give a nod to the Kindle Fire's audio quality. Amazon doesn't include any headphones with the Kindle Fire, so you might not trip across the Kindle's audio quality right away.  Most budget-priced Android tablets (and a surprising number of high-end models) are plagued with a noisy headphone amp stage.  The Kindle doesn't offer any high-tech sound enhancements or EQ settings, but the fact that they managed to pull off a clean, quiet headphone output is a rare accomplishment at this price.
. . .
I don't live in a fantasy world where people are offering me free iPads. I live in a world where even $199 sounds like a lot of money.  In that world, I applaud Amazon for making the best tablet value on the market.
Bell has tons more at the article.

PC Magazine's Sascha Segan
Headline: Amazon Kindle Fire Review & Rating
Incredible value for the price. Sharp, bright, hi-res screen. Extremely easy to use. Free cloud storage for Amazon content  [Actually, for NON-Amazon content too.]
Sometimes sluggish. Screen can be very reflective. Limited on-device storage.
  Bottom Line
The first easy-to-use, affordable small-screen tablet, the Amazon Kindle Fire is revolutionary.

The Amazon Kindle Fire puts the Apple iPad on notice. The Fire is the first small tablet that average users can pick up and immediately use, with a simple, clear interface.  Then there's the price:  Android along with amazing specs for just $199.

  It's open enough to attract geeks, too. While the user interface occasionally gets sluggish, we're willing to have a bit of patience to get a first-rate tablet for half of what most competitors charge, thus the Kindle Fire is our first Editors' Choice for small tablets. may have trouble reading in bright light because of the screen's sometimes mirror-like gloss...
. . .
[ Re Children's books] They look like straight flatbed scans, and you can't zoom in or out and there's no text-to-speech support there.  That's a less appealing experience than you get on the Nook, at least for now.
. . .
I also played my own media. The Kindle Fire handles MP3, AAC, and OGG music, including album art.  For video, it plays H.264 and MPEG4 only, at resolutions up to 1080p.  There's no Bluetooth stereo support, HDMI out, or way to connect the Kindle to a TV; Amazon would rather you play its cloud content through an Amazon-enabled set-top box like a TiVo.

A few apps I looked for, like Opera Mobile, weren't there, but there's another way to get apps onto the device.

This is still Android, and this tablet isn't locked down.  Plug the Kindle Fire into a PC or Mac and it pops up as a disk drive; you can drag and drop files into the 6.5GB of available memory at will.  For the tech-savvy, it's a simple task to extract any APK program file from an Android phone and drop it onto the Fire.  Amazon's app store includes the free Easy Installer, which lets you then install those apps on the Fire.

I installed a dozen free and paid apps from my HTC Sensation 4G ($199, 4 stars) phone...[several named, see article] all worked fine. The Gmail app and the official Facebook app (which I sideloaded) both crashed and wouldn't run during my test period.  Amazon hasn't yet expressed any problem with users rooting this device, so hack away.
[In fact, Amazon Silk Browser project director, Jon Jenkins, has said they're not actively stopping people from rooting it, just not helping them with it.  "It's going to get rooted, and what you do after you root it is up to you..."   Sascha Segan (who got that quote earlier) continues...]
Curiously, the Barnes & Noble Nook Android app runs beautifully if you prefer that store's book selection, although it can't download or read books that are restricted to the actual Nook tablets like most childrens books.

[ Something important to know ]
  Although the browser doesn't automatically reformat zoomed columns to avoid horizontal scrolling, double-tapping on a column of text zooms that column to the width of the screen.  [My NookColor does this also.]

You get [basic programs] and the Docs reader, which can turn Office documents into Kindle-readable versions.  Fortunately, better alternatives to everything are available in Amazon's app store.
[ See his article to get his recommendations for those. ]

[ Also see his paragraph on the bugs he encountered too.  He ends that with "Overall, though?  Pretty great for a $200 tablet."]
I can't emphasize this "ease of use" thing enough.  More than anything else, that's what's been holding non-iPad tablets back.  Amazon cracked it.  End of story.

I feel safe awarding it our Editors' Choice for small tablets. If the Nook lives up to its promise, it will also be a great tablet, and may get the same rating. But the Kindle Fire will still be a winner, if not the only winner, for this holiday season.

The Verge's Joshua Topolsky (article used by Washington Post too)
Headline: Amazon gets into the tablet game in a big way
Headline 2 - WashingtonPost: Changing the landscape of the tablet game

After pointing out that the Kindle Fire is "just incredibly unoriginal" (it's modeled after RIM's Blackberry PlayBook), Topolsky writes:
' It's got enough heft that it feels substantial, but it's not so heavy that you feel strain when holding it for extended periods.   Unlike the 1.3 pound iPad 2, I never felt fatigue after reading a book or magazine on the Fire.
. . .
After using this device and then going back to the iPad 2, I was struck at how big and bulky Apple's tablet feels.

Amazon says that the new browser will speed up load times because it offloads some of the work to the cloud.  I didn’t see much of a performance boost, and in fact, the iPad 2 and other Android tablets often outperformed the Fire.
. . .
If you're a Gmail user, you'll be happy to know that the device automatically sets up your mail as an Exchange account, thus allowing for push updates. also get multiple message management as well as the ability to view a unified inbox which aggregates multiple accounts.
The Fire relies predominately on streaming to get your content, meaning that if your connection is slow or you're out of Wi-Fi range, you're pretty much out of luck. You can sideload content, but I get the impression that mounting a drive on your computer and dumping files into it isn't what Amazon really had in mind when they made the Fire.
If you are storing lots of music and movies on the device, you're going to have to get into management of those files pretty quickly, and that can make for an unpleasant experience.

Minor complaints aside, my main takeaway from the Fire on the process of finding and purchasing content is this:

  Amazon has done it better and more elegantly than anyone else in the space right now, and I hope the competition follows suit.
[ He was "underwhelmed" with browser performance though. ]
...You're probably familiar with Whispersync for Kindle books, which lets you leave off in a specific place on one device, and then pick up in that same place on another.

  For the Kindle Fire, Amazon has extended the feature to video, which means that you can now pause something you're watching online or on a Roku, TV, or other box equipped with an Amazon Video application, and pick it up on your Fire, or vice versa.
. . .
Still, there's no question that the Fire is a really terrific tablet for its price...The device is decently designed, and the software — while lacking some polish — is still excellent compared to pretty much anything in this range (and that includes the Nook Color).

At any rate, I was amazed by the range of reactions expressed in these reviews.
Each article has more, so please visit the links to learn more of what they saw, tested, and describe in even more detail.  I think I may have missed a video in one or two of them too.

UPDATE: Jessalyn of MyKindleStuff sent a thorough review
by the Chicago Sun-Times's Andy Ihnatko
Headline: REVIEW: Kindle Fire is no iPad killer -- but it is a killer device

  I could just send you to the the full article at the link, since we have a large set here, but there are statements that pop out, and Kindle Edition subscribers can't read some webpages that easily. So, excerpts:
' Take an iPad, solve its two biggest problems, and you’d hope to wind up with something exactly like Amazon’s Kindle Fire. '
...the Fire packs 169 pixels per inch to the iPad’s 132.  Under magnification, the difference is obvious.  In real-world use, the added density simply helps to make up for the paperback-sized page layout.  Neither device can hold a candle to e-Ink and its true print-quality resolution...
. . .
...Seven inches is a Goldilocks screen size for many uses...
...Amazon Instant Video and the Lending Library aren’t exactly an infinite buffet of content, but there’s loads of great stuff in there...

... The EFF notes some important concerns, but on their site they say that they’re “generally satisfied with the privacy design of Silk.”
  Between the EFF’s reports and my conversations with Amazon, I’m cautiously satisfied with the safety of Silk.

  Ironically, the optimization delivers at least one privacy benefit: because the connection between the Fire and Amazon is always encrypted, the optimized Silk is far safer to use over an open, unencrypted WiFi connection than it is with the cloud optimizations turned off.

  ...its ability to use documents and data from outside the Amazon store ecosystem. Here, the Fire earns high marks...

  boatloads of onboard storage is far less important to a Kindle Fire user than it is to a Nook user, thanks to the Fire’s intimate connection to Amazon’s cloud services.  8 gigs is enough for several books, a few movies, a couple of TV shows, several hundred songs, and a pile of photos.
  That might not necessarily be enough to last you a couple of weeks, but it’ll certainly last until you find yourself near a hotspot and can swap out the stuff you’re sick of for some alternatives.  [Only 6.5 Gigs are available for consumer files though.]

  [ Important - Another answer to a question often asked ]
  You can tick a checkbox in its Settings to allow the Fire to run apps downloaded from any arbitrary source (such as, downloading from a website or an independent repository)

  [ Also: ]
  I now have what I’ve always wanted: a Kindle that can open and read ePUB books.  Mantano even supports Adobe DRM . . . so at least in theory, the Kindle Fire can even import the books you might have bought from a competing digital shop, such as the Google eBookstore.

  [ He shows that work is needed on accessibility features. ]

  Finally, there’s an Android-based tablet computer that people can justly get excited about. '

Believe it or not, I've left out 90% of the article, so visit the article to get much more info.

Kindle Touch 3G   Kindle Touch WiFi   Kindle Basic   (UK: KBasic)   Kindle Fire
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    Also, UK customers should see the UK store's Top 100 free bestsellers.

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  1. One comment stuck out for me. It was mentioned that the Fire is NOT integrated with your Cloud Drive which the reviewer (and me) think is a huge oversight.

    I can only speculate that Amazon will add it later as I can't think of any reason that the feature would not be included other than lack of time.

  2. I saw that and wondered if he just didn't have anything in the Cloud Drive yet. When I click on the link that's for STARTING your Cloud, it takes me to my existing cloud. It does that when you have something in your Cloud.

    Through the browser. At Amazon, at the left menu, I chouse Your Cloud Drive on the browser and am just taken there. Will try it on the Kindle Fire tomorrow if I get it.

    They charged my bank account but it still says only "shipping soon" and delivery 11/16...

  3. Yes, the reviews are all over the board. Good to hear it has that checkbox for allowing sideloaded apps.

    I won't be here when it arrives, but have tracking number for the Fire and it should be delivered Wed. And my KTouch is supposed to come Friday, a week ahead. Going to be a busy weekend...

  4. Tom,
    I was surprised to see that about the checkbox and it was yet another good surprise

    Sure am looking forward to it. My Touch 3G-SO I chose 2-day shipping for, so I'm due on Friday too. KFire, who knows? I hope it's tomorrow.

  5. Hi Andrys,
    Just found your very impressive blog, wondered if you were able to include a mention of my own kindle blog which lists a number of useful features and sites for beginners, its very popular in the UK,
    many thanks


  6. Willy,
    Good list! This should work as an intro. I get about 95% spam comments w/ people posting their site, but yours is info-heavy and very useful.

    I'd recommend as it is much more reliable for e-Ink kindles than the normal m.facebook one.


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