Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kindle Fire Review

We were visiting family recently and I mentioned having bought my wife the new Kindle Fire. I was asked if it was an early Christmas present, and when I replied "no," the reply came back: "Oh, it's an 'I Love My Wife' present." Yup.

There are a ton of reviews out about the new Kindle Fire--the features, the UI, the cloud computing (and fast browser), all of it. However, I want to cover it from a different angle.

Unlike a lot of other Apple products, there were a lot of very spot-on rumors in the IT world about what was coming: a tablet by Apple. Though the rumors were accurate, the reactions of most of these people to the iPad's reveal missed the point. They focused on the lack of power, extendable memory, USB ports and other details. They complained that it focused too much on the consumption of content rather than creating it.--that it was a dumbed-down device not worthy to be called a proper "tablet".

Well, that's the point.

Whatever you want to say about Steve Jobs, he understood that iPads would beat existing tablets the same way that the iPhone beat out Blackberry and other smart phones, and for the same reason: they are fundamentally different devices that appeal to a far broader range of people.

And so, Apple has gone and sold thirty million iPads. Why? Because having a great big touchscreen that lets you surf the web, look at your pictures, watch movies and play some games is a great product and people will shell out $500 for the base model. I'm not much of an Apple guy myself, but did I want one? Oh, yes I did. Did I ever get one? Nope.


That's a lot to spend on something that you don't really need (to whatever extent we really need computers). I've got a desktop and a laptop, and I'm in no hurry to drop half a grand on something that is just for fun. A lot of fun, admittedly, but only fun. However, when my wife's laptop died and the repair estimates kept coming back around $200, I took it as a sign that we could spend a little.

Perhaps not too surprisingly, I see a lot of the same people who complained about the iPad when it was revealed are now complaining about the Kindle Fire. It's got less memory, the battery isn't quite as small, it doesn't have a camera (on that last point, I consider it a plus--have you seen someone hold up an iPad to take a picture? Consider the absence a gift to your dignity). And you know what? We couldn't care less.

We use it to surf the web (including Facebook--great app), view pictures, watch an occasional video and play some games. And you know what? That's what iPad users are doing 95% of the time, except they spent $300 more on it. The screen is easy on my eyes and the video looks great. The Amazon Prime video library is pretty robust, and I've had some fun watching old episodes of Julia Child that I can't find elsewhere. The Netflix app works great as well.

The web surfing is fast and responsive, and I've been surprised at how much typing my wife easily does on it (the size of the screen makes it feel like a large smartphone keyboard). I honestly don't know what people are talking about when they say that the Kindle app lags--I've been using it since day 1 and haven't experienced any issues.

The size? Love it. It feels very solidly built, and I like how well I can hold it in one hand and maneuver it. It's got a rubber coating on the sides and back, and I can actually prop it up against a fairly light object (like the salt and pepper grinders on our dining room table) and know that it won't slide down. Oh, and by the way--when people talk about how you can fit it into your pocket: you can (I never realized that men's jeans/pants pockets had that much space in them, but it's true). Between the small size and price, we end up bringing it to a lot of places that we otherwise might not want to bring an iPad or other expensive piece of electronics. The fact that it uses a regular USB plug for recharging helps, too.

The only thing I wish it did better (and maybe there's a way around this and I just don't know it) is handle time away from wiifi. Unlike some models of the iPad, the Kindle Fire only comes with Wifi connectivity--even if we wanted to, we couldn't get one with a cellular connection. The closest we could do would be to pay for tethering/mobile wiifi hotspot on one of our cell phones. It's usually not a big deal, but when we're going to be in the car for a long drive to see family, it would be nice if we could somehow pre-load some streaming content onto the device to enjoy on the drive. We could always pay for the full downloads, but (a) the device's somewhat limited storage space makes this difficult, and (b) that costs extra. It's nothing close to a deal killer, but it would definitely be nice if something could be worked out.

In the end, I think it's an absolute steal for the money. For just $200, we have a small, easy to handle, lightweight tablet that runs the web, displays books and magazines, plays games and video whenever we want. It's easy to use, holds a solid charge, and is inexpensive enough that we can take it everywhere without worrying if we lose it.

All in all, a perfect "I Love My Wife" gift.

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