Not a picture of my
own Fire. I swear.
You are… my fire! The one desire! Believe when I say, I want it that way! When I unwrapped my Kindle Fire on Christmas, that iconic Backstreet Boys song popped into my head. I wondered if the device would live up to those words… would the Fire be ‘nothin’ but a heartache’? The answer is no. The Fire is not a heartache or a mistake. Let me tell you why.
On first look, the Fire looks small and feels heavier than its looks belie, an electronic fruit cake if you will. I thought the extra weight would be annoying, but like a nice pen, the weight gives it a sense of biblio-tangibility (made-up word!) that I often missed with my original Kindle. Turn the device on (fully charged, by the way), and you’ll be instantly greeted with vibrant colors and screen resolution that compares favorably to the iPad. Unfortunately, that comparison falls apart pretty fast.
Where the iPad excels, with Apple’s knack for intuitive and rock solid operating systems, the Fire falls a bit flat. The interface divides the ‘home’ screen into four regions — settings across the top, categorical menu items below that, media carousel next, and favorites at the bottom. The category menu is divided into ‘content streams’ – Apps, Docs, Web, Apps, Video, Music, etc. Below the horizontal selection menu is what the Fire calls your carousel. The carousel functions like a ‘Recently Used’ drop down menu with all the items you’ve interacted with, most recent on top. It’s a handy function for someone who bounces between different types of media, but frequently causes hiccups in the system that freeze the carousel, forcing you to enter into the deeper submenus anyway. Below the carousel is a favorites section where the user can create a series of shortcuts to their favorite apps and media. These work fine and function just like the app icons on an iDevice.
The rough edges in the OS, are reflected in many of apps. Although running on an android platform, many of the apps available through the Fire app store are at best beta versions. Even the ones that work well, seem clunky compared to their iDoppelganger. Add in the fact that bringing in non-Amazon content can be difficult, those looking for a do-it-all small tablet should look elsewhere.
However, I’m not so sure Amazon had any intention of competing in that market. The Fire is a media delivery system and from that perspective it’s tremendous. eReading on the Fire is a pleasure. The page turns never lag, and the addition of the touch screen to look-up words, highlight passages, and take notes augments the reading experience from the previous generations of Kindle. For current Kindle users the back lit screen will provide freedom from reading lights, but be aware that outdoor will become difficult as glare is a real issue.
From a video and music angle, the Fire also lands high marks. The Amazon storefront works great to acquire content, and the Fire players do everything you want them to. Be aware though that given the limited storage capacity on the device, downloading and storing media is difficult. Sure, the Cloud provides a way to store it, but on a plane or a long car ride you’ll have to make choices about what to bring with you. Likewise, Amazon Prime has been billed as a big value added for the Fire. In many ways the purchase price of $199 is somewhat inaccurate as to truly take advantage of the device it’s almost necessary to pay the $79/year Prime membership. Except, that ‘advantage’ is stunted. While a ton of free media is available, it is only free to stream, not to download, making Prime useless when traveling.
|Calibre is a powerful tool for eReaders|
For those coming from an Apple or Nook platform and heavily invested in their media libraries, the transition to Amazon is going to be labor intensive at best and impossible for those without some technical savvy. I’m not a big music listener, or video watcher, so for me the only difficulty lay in my non-Kindle books. Calibre solved most of those problems, but it’s not a completely simple process to strip DRM and convert to MOBI, something to consider for someone who reads in multiple formats.
Technically, the Fire lacks a few features that would have gone a long way toward making it more user friendly. The first is tactile volume control. Small enough to fit in a coat pocket, the Fire is absolutely a device that can be used to walk around and listen to, but volume control is impossible without opening the device, entering the settings menu, and touching the slider. Second, the battery life isn’t anything to write home about. I’m forced to plug mine in every night without fail (side note: it charges fast). And third, the external speaker sucks, so much so that cooking eggs is enough to drown it out. Am I whining? Probably.
Complaints aside, the Fire is an excellent reading device, a solid portal into Amazon’s content stores, and a poor man’s iPad. I’m sure Amazon is happy with that arrangement and likely what they set out to build. I’ve been eReading since 2008. I own the original Kindle, a Kindle Dx, and a Kindle 2nd Generation. I own an iPad and iPad2, and I’ve used all the major eReading apps at one time or another. I’ve read over 200 books electronically and I’ve never had a better reading experience than I have on the Fire. Am I disappointed it won’t completely replace my iPad? Maybe a little. But, with some work on the OS and improved user driven app support, Apple may have a real competition on their hands. And wouldn’t a little market competition be nice?
Side note and rant: The biggest problem with the iPad vs. Fire vs. Nook vs. Kobo vs. Whatever is the format war and DRM stubbornness. As long as we continue to be forced into purchasing closed devices that lock us into formats, DRM, and content portals, we aren’t masters of our own entertainment. That needs to change and I hope that by bringing more competitive devices to market we’ll start to see a shift to single format, no-DRM, open systems. A guy can dream, right?