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Evaluating Amazon’s Kindle Fire

Evaluating Amazon’s Kindle Fire

The new tablet that everybody’s watching is Amazon’s Kindle Fire. In a nutshell, the Fire is smaller than the iPad, costs considerably less, and is hard-wired into Amazon’s wealth of online content. At just $199, it fits into a lot more budgets than a $499 (or more) iPad.

But the Fire is considerably more – and less – than the these simple specifications. It’s really a tablet of a different color, in that it offers only a subset of the functionality you find on the iPad. Now, if that subset of functionality describes precisely what you want to use it for (and it might), then then $199 price point makes it a no-brainer purchase. However, if you want it to do even a little bit more than what it does, the more expensive iPad will remain the tablet of choice.

Figure 2 Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Before we examine what the Fire does, you have to understand its roots. Amazon is best known as an online retailer; in fact, it’s one of the largest sellers of books, movies, music, and other media in the world. To that end, Amazon selling a reader for electronic books makes a lot sense, hence the introduction of the Kindle in 2007. Since then, Kindle has become the most popular eBook reader on the market, and has gone through several iterations – the latest of which is the Kindle Fire.

Wait a minute, you’re asking – is the Fire an eBook reader or a tablet? The answer is, yes.

That is, the Kindle Fire is an evolution of the Kindle eBook reader, but with enough added oomph and functionality to qualify it as a full-fledged tablet computer. It has a touchscreen LCD display (7” vs. the iPad’s 9.7”), is based on Google’s Android operating system, includes a web browser, and runs a variety of third-party apps. That makes it a tablet computer.

But the Kindle Fire is actually somewhat limited as to what it can do, computing-wise. Unlike the iPad, the Fire doesn’t include a built-in camera or microphone, so forget about video conferencing or even voice messaging. The number of apps available through the Amazon AppStore (16,000 or so) might seem like a lot, until you compare it with the 500,000 or so apps available for the iPad. And the types of apps are much different; the Fire isn’t as good at creating content or facilitating communication as is the iPad, and that’s reflected in the AppStore choices.

In short, the Kindle Fire is a great device for consuming media, but not for creating it. If you want to read a book, watch a movie, or even listen to music, the Fire does a good job. If you want to create or edit a report, however, or experience the wide wide world of apps available on the iPad, the Fire disappoints.

In fact, the Fire disappoints if you want to do anything that isn’t explicitly related to Amazon. That is, it’s pretty much hard wired into the Amazon website for its media usage; you can purchase eBooks and MP3 tracks and TV shows and movies from the Amazon store, but not from anyplace else on the Internet. So if you’re tied into and happy with Amazon’s ecosystem, the Kindle Fire works fine. If you want a more open experience – well, it’s just not available. Amazon keeps the Fire tethered fairly tight.

In short, the Kindle Fire is really a sales tool and consumption device for stuff that Amazon sells. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – especially when you consider the $199 price, plus availability of more than 1 million eBooks, 17 million songs, and 100,000 movies and TV shows direct from Amazon. If you want a device just to read and watch and listen to stuff, it’s certainly tempting.

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