Amazon Kindle Fire review: Is it for you?

by Robert Nazarian on

Amazon recently jumped into the tablet game with a vengeance. With decent specs, their name, and a price tag of $199, there’s no question they are going to sell a lot of these. The question is if you should jump in on the craze? Here is my full review, but you can also checkout my initial hands on video.

Design:

The Kindle Fire shares the same designer as the BlackBerry PlayBook so it’s no surprise they resemble each other. The Fire is solid, but pardon the pun, it feels like book in respect to its weight. It weighs a whopping 413 grams which is 68 grams heavier than the similar sized Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Even with the extra weight, I will say its comfortable in the hands. You won’t find any physical buttons, except for the power button, which is at the bottom. I found this to be odd as very few devices place it there, so I had a hard time getting used to it. The speaker placement is at the top (when holding it in portrait mode), but when watching a movie the speakers move to the left side which isn’t a big ideal.

Hardware:

The Kindle Fire has a 7-inch (1024 x 600) IPS display, 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP processor, 512MB RAM, 8GB for storage (about 6GB usable), 4400mAh battery, microUSB, 3.5mm stereo audio jack, and WiFi. You won’t find a camera or a microSD slot for extra storage. The lack of a camera is not a problem, but the lack of being able to increase storage is a big issue.

Battery:

The 4400mAh battery performs adequately. You will need to charge it once or twice a week depending on how much you use it. You will get roughly 7 to 8  hours of video or reading time, which is not as good as the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, but not all that bad.

Performance:

The lack of memory is an issue with the Kindle Fire. 512MB RAM is simply not enough as it can hesitate at times. I have seen other devices with the same memory perform better, so it’s possible the forked Android software is a factor. I think most consumers won’t have too many complaints though. The real question will be how it performs after 6 months of usage. Many lower end devices seem great out of the box, but over time can get bogged down. I suspect that this will be an issue, especially with the lack of memory and the fact that it shows sluggishness so early on.

Software:

The software is what separates the Kindle Fire from other Android devices. Amazon doesn’t promote “Android” at all, and most people won’t know it’s an Android device unless someone tells them. You may have seen UI skins like Sense, Touchwiz, and Blur (I didn’t call it that), but this is a complete fork job of the Android OS. There isn’t much to customize on the main screen except for your favorite apps, which are shown at the bottom. The top of the home screen has a horizontal display of icons for Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and the Web. The Fire is simple enough for anyone to pick up and figure out how to open up a book, watch a video, or checkout apps. This was really key for Amazon and they nailed it. A lot of Kindle Fire purchasers are going to be new to this type of technology and this UI won’t be daunting.

Is it for you:

Now its time to decide whether you should buy one or not. If the Kindle Fire was a pure Android tablet, or at least Android with a simple UI skin, I would have no issues in recommending it. My problem with it is that Amazon has decided to take Android and make their own ecosystem. Since Android is open and free, they have that right to do this, but it does cause complications for some users. For example, if you already have an Android phone, it doesn’t make sense to buy a Kindle Fire because the Android Market isn’t available to you on it. If you purchase an app from the Android Market, you will have to re-purchase the app for the Kindle Fire using the Amazon Appstore. That is if you are lucky enough to find it. There over 300,000 apps in the Android Market, but the Amazon Appstore doesn’t even have 25% of that. This is going to cause a lot of confusion for consumers.

Right now I can hear the hackers yelling out, “You can root it and put the Android Market on yourself or even install CyanogenMod.” Yes, that’s all true, but this article is for the average consumer, and the average consumer is not going to buy a Kindle Fire to hack.

Others might argue that they plan on buying the Fire for mostly reading, and apps aren’t a big deal. If that’s the case, then go get yourself a basic Kindle Touch for $99 and call it a day. The Kindle Fire is not an eReader as some have suggested. This is a tablet. As long as you can watch video, listen to music, download apps, and browse the Web it gets classified as a tablet in my opinion.

Going back to someone who already has an Android phone and who wants to buy a tablet (something more than just for reading) I can only recommend buying an Android tablet. The good news is that the Amazon ecosystem will still be available to any other Android tablet. You can still install the Amazon Appstore for your Free App of the day and you can still get access to the Kindle store for books. The Amazon MP3 store and cloud music player are also available. The one issue would be the instant video service which isn’t available in the Android Market, but you can still install it on your Android device with this apk file. The only real issue is price. The Kindle Fire costs $199, and most Android tablets are $399 and higher. There are options though, like the original Samsung Galaxy Tab which can be bought for $199. Even the ASUS Transformer is selling for $299 in certain places. Yes, that’s $100 more, but it has a 10-inch screen and better specs. There is also the Acer A100 and the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet A1 for $249. You might have to spend a little more, but you have the full power of Android and often better specs.

So who would I recommend a Kindle Fire to? Your Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, or Grandparents might make the most sense. Basically those that don’t own a smartphone or any other “smart” device. I wouldn’t hesitate in buying one for my Mom because I know she won’t ever have a smartphone. I also can’t stress enough that if you’re only interested in books, then get yourself a Kindle Touch and save $100.

Its simple to me. If someone has an iPhone, I recommend an iPad. If they have an Android phone, I recommend an Android tablet. For Android users, I can’t recommend a Kindle Fire even though technically it’s an Android device. It has a completely different ecosystem, but since that ecosystem is still available to Android users in general, it doesn’t make sense to confuse things. It might cost a little more, but it will be easier to set up and manage your apps. If you don’t have a smartphone and don’t plan on getting one, than go get yourself the Kindle Fire and have a blast.

» See more articles by Robert Nazarian


  • callipygian

    nice review!  minor comment that it’s an ecosystem instead of an ‘echo system’

  • Anonymous

    I paid some attention before it was launched and was considering getting one for myself. After it was launched and available in the store, I had a chance to put my hands on one sample. I was imidiately disappointed by its performance. It’s so laggy as some reviews pointed out. Also lack oh option to expand the storage is an issue to me because 6GB is just not enough if you plan to store lots of music, video, pictures, and other documents on the device. Don’t even mention installing some apps in the future. And then, Blackberry Playbook had a huge discount and was sold at the same price. I went to check it out and I really like it, even though it is lack of the option to expand storage as well but at least it has 16GB on board and it has both front and rear cameras. Finally just a fees days before the discount ended I got myself a 16GB Playbook. After couple of weeks using it, I am in love with it. In my personal opinion, the UI is much better than iPad (I own an iPhone 4). iDevices are still utilizing the HOME and SLEEP button for some operations while on Playbook you can do all without pressing it’s only power and volume buttons, including turn on/off the screen. Also, I carry a company issued Blackberry Bold 9700. The Blackberry Bridge makes it so useful to utilize the devices. If you use a Blackberry, it is definitely a must have tablet. If you are other smartphone owners or not owning a smartphone but want to have a tablet, you should give Playbook a try if you don’t mind the 7″ screen. If you are a diehard Apple fans, get a hands on on Playbook then you will realize that iPad is not so good and Apple can do better to get rid of the HOME button while it is actually possible if your iDevice is jailbroken.

  • Darkcobalt

    I suspect reviews for this device would have been much different had it included an SD expansion slot and Android Market support out of the box.  Even the SD card slot alone would be enough, despite performance issues, I think.

  • Matt

    Towards the end you mention how buying an Android tablet, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, would make more sense for owners of Android smartphone owners, however, I’d like to bring up a pretty important point:  unless you get the newer and more expensive wi-fi only version of the Galaxy Tab, you have to purchase a contract to get the $199 price tag.  When I plugged in my zip code, it quoted me at $50 a month for a tablet data plan.  With the Kindle Fire, there’s no contract involved.  Even with the 3G Kindles, there’s no contract; Amazon foots the bill.  I’m hoping that a Kindle Fire 3G/Wi-Fi 16GB comes out around the $299 price point in the future as that’d be more attractive to myself and I’m sure others would agree.

  • Raymond Crott

    Well, I found one on eBay for $120 and was dissapointed with it. So I rooted it and put CM9- Reloaded on it. Its a world of a difference. It runs just great, no hitches, no lagging, clean and crisp ICS (Android 4.) acces to google market and all your apps. You can easely clock the dualcore cpu to 1200Mhz.
    So for $120 I have a high quality and fast tablet with the newest android version.