So - what is the new Kindle
Fire? Is it a tablet that also has
an eBook reader built in; or is it an eBook reader that also has
generic tablet computing capabilities too? Who should buy
a Fire, and who should instead buy an entry level ($79) Kindle
eBook reader, and for that matter, who should buy a $500+ iPad?
Read on for our impressions, and our conclusion that perhaps the most important
aspects of this lovely and affordable new device are the things
you can't see rather than the things you can see.
Please see also our earlier
three part series
introducing the Kindle Fire and Amazon's other new Kindle
No Memory Expansion Card
One perceived drawback of
the Fire is that it can not accept external memory cards (eg SD
or Micro-SD cards) to boost its local storage capacity.
The Fire has 8GB of local
storage built in to the device. That is enough to store an
unthinkable number of books (many thousands) but if you are also
wanting to store music and/or video, then the 8GB can get filled
very quickly (quick rule of thumb - each 1GB of storage is good
for a little more than an hour of video).
Yes, it is unfortunate that
Amazon omitted the ability to plug in and swap over external
memory cards. Why did they leave this out? Perhaps
as part of their brave struggle to get the price under $200?
But does it really matter?
It depends on how you plan to use the Fire.
If you're simply wanting to
use the Fire to read books and browse the internet, then you
have more storage than you're ever likely to need.
Furthermore, because Amazon keeps copies of all books you buy on
their servers, for ever, and free of charge, you can always
delete some books if you're somehow running light on space, and
then simply download them again from Amazon as and when you want
to re-read them.
If you want to watch movies
on it, then they could be streamed to you if you have Wi-fi
internet access at home. This means they don't need to be
stored on the device, and don't take up any storage space.
But if you are traveling on
the road, you may or may not have access to a sufficiently fast
Wi-fi connection to support streamed movies while in your hotel,
or on a plane, or whatever/wherever else.
And if you're traveling
somewhere away from convenient fast internet, then for sure you
will want to download movies prior to traveling. But
while you can download movies you are either 'renting' or
buying, you can't download the free movies as part of a Prime
package - these can only be streamed realtime; they can't be
downloaded and saved for future viewing.
Probably, for most people,
the memory limitation of the Fire will seldom intrude on their
normal usage patterns.
Comparing the Kindle Silk
Accelerated Web Browser to the Browser on an iPad or Laptop
One of the things Amazon
proudly promotes is its 'Silk' web browsing accelerator.
This technology uses some clever techniques back, upstream on
the internet, to reduce the amount of interaction that is needed
between your Fire and the internet to download a webpage, and to
do some other clever things, with the bottom line being said to
be that web pages load faster on the Fire than they would with a
Lots of things determine the
speed with which web pages are rendered (ie displayed) on a
computer, and there is of course no way to compare the speed
with which a web page is loaded on a Fire with all the Silk
features enabled and with all the Silk features disabled.
We tested the browser in the
Fire with the browser in an original iPad; a newer iPad 2 would
probably render pages slightly faster than an original iPad.
Pages sometimes appeared at
similar speeds, sometimes slightly faster on the Fire, and it
was noticeable that the Fire would suddenly display almost
complete pages whereas the iPad would 'build' a page up section
by section - presumably due to the Silk features.
However, overall there was
no particularly noticeable faster browsing experience on the
Fire than on the iPad.
When compared with the
Chrome browser on my Dell laptop, the laptop proved to be
massively faster than the Fire (both were using the same
internet connection). This was not altogether unexpected,
and so we conclude that although the Silk service might slightly
speed things up, it does not massively accelerate the browsing
Who Needs a Fire? Kindle
Software on Other Devices
Part of Amazon's extension
of its role in selling eBooks has been to release its eBook
reading software for other devices, freeing it from being tied
only to its Kindle eReaders.
It could be said this is a
very clever 'flip' - instead of removing copy protection from
the books it sells, it instead allows the books to be read on
many different devices - a range of other tablets and phones and
Interestingly, if we
consider an iPad to be a primary competitor to the entire family
of Amazon Kindle devices, Amazon has already released Kindle
reading software for the iPad, allowing Amazon to 'win' no
matter whether you buy an iPad or a Fire to read its eBooks on.
However, Amazon is now also
making an interesting change - its growing range of free
services included in its $79 annual Prime membership such as
being able to borrow books will only work on Amazon's own Kindle
devices, not on any other devices that are running Amazon's
So although Amazon will let
you buy and read books on other devices, clearly it is
increasingly hoping you'll choose one of its own devices, and
with a $200 price point on the Fire, it is making this a
financially tempting consideration too.
Amazon Prime and
If we look back to the
release of the Apple iPod, it seems plain, with the benefit of
hindsight, that there were two reasons for its runaway success
and subsequent total market dominance. A similar issue
applied to the iPhone and then the iPad too.
This is the 'infrastructure'
that supports these three extraordinarily successful families of
devices. When you buy one of these items, you are not just
getting a bare bones piece of electronic hardware. You are
getting access to the iTunes store, which is full of music,
video, games, programs, and just about every other imaginable
Until now, the lack of an
iTunes analog has been a huge hindrance to companies seeking to
compete with Apple's products.
Amazon has slowly but
steadily lining up the elements needed to provide a fully
featured range of similar services to those available for iOS
type devices, a strategy that makes excellent synergistic use of
the distributed cloud computing capabilities it has created over
the last half dozen years or so.
While in some areas not as
extensive or as polished perhaps as the Apple product, Amazon
now offers a growing infrastructure that is very similar to
everything offered by Apple for iOS devices. It has the
infrastructure needed to give users a completely integrated
experience, and a 'one stop shop' for all their
Add to this a device that is
only $200 rather than $500 - $830 on which to enjoy the digital
content, and you can see the value proposition Amazon offers to
Much of the special added
value benefits that Amazon is now offering come as part of its
Prime membership program. In return for paying a $79
annual membership fee, you get a range of benefits - free second
day shipping on orders with no minimum purchase, access to
10,000+ free movies and television shows, and the ability to
borrow and read, for free, from a selection of thousands of
Fire - Glass Half Full or
Some reviewers have praised
the Fire for what it can do, others have lamented about what it
There are two key things to
keep in mind when evaluating the Kindle Fire.
The first is to appreciate
you are getting a device for a mere $200; by comparison the
cheapest iPad is $500 (and the most expensive is $830). You could get two Fires
plus buy a year's worth of Amazon Prime
membership, and still have $21 left over, compared to the price
of the cheapest most basic iPad.
The second thing to
understand is that this device has a 7" diagonal screen.
This is very much larger than a typical phone screen (3.5" -
4.5"), but also very much
smaller than the 9.7" diagonal screen on an iPad.
The screen size doesn't
really matter if you are simply reading a novel that comprises
text only. I've happily read entire Dan Brown books (ie
very long ones) on my phone's 3.5" screen.
But if you're wanting to
browse some websites that are designed for bigger screens, or if
you're wanting to read text books or magazines with more layout
and graphical elements than a text-only fiction book, then
you'll definitely notice the smaller screen size compared to an
This smaller screen size is
not all bad, however. On the plus side, the smaller screen
means a smaller device overall, and also lighter too (than an
iPad). That makes it easier to carry with you and less
tiring to hold when reading.
Kindle Fire vs Nook Tablet
It is probably most
appropriate to compare the Kindle Fire to the new Nook Tablet, also
being released this week by Barnes & Noble.
On paper, the two devices
are almost identical, and intended for identical purposes - both
are eBook readers that have been extended into a subset of a
regular Tablet's capabilities too, and both are powered by
Android. The Nook Tablet is perhaps a little
superior (more internal memory and the ability to accept
external memory cards) but also more expensive ($250 compared to
$200 for the Kindle Fire).
But comparing these two
devices should not revolve around a list of hardware features.
That is the same as comparing two different safety razors based
only on their handles, not their blades.
The big difference
between the two devices is nothing to do with the hardware
itself at all. It is all to do with the infrastructure
that supports the two devices, ranging from simplistic things
like a count of the books available for each device and the
prices they are sold at, to much more nuanced things like the
differing policies on lending titles to other people and
borrowing books for free, and on through cloud storage for
music, video streaming, and other related benefits.
Barnes & Noble has an almost
impossible uphill battle to compete against Amazon on these
other issues. Sure, the Nook Tablet is a decent enough
eBook reader, also based on the Android operating system, and
with a very similar screen to the Kindle Fire.
But the real difference is
in everything you don't see, rather than what you do see.
It is in the hugely greater corporate commitment Amazon has
to electronic distribution compared to B&N, and to its already
in place Android marketplace for apps, its already in place
cloud services for video and audio, and the other related
'bonus' benefits of its Prime membership.
We don't see a single
distinctive 'deal point' in favor of the B&N total
system/solution, whereas we see a whole bunch in favor of the
With all due respect to
Barnes & Noble, the company is a bricks and mortar based
bookseller that is trying to catch a ride on the eBook
phenomenon which it was slow to welcome. It is being
forced into the electronic marketplace. On the other hand,
Amazon is first and foremost a non bricks and mortar vendor that
lives in the electronic world, and is building much of its
strategic future around electronic content delivery and related
Barnes & Noble deserve
credit for releasing their Nook Color last year, well in advance
of Amazon's release of the Fire, but it is hard to look into the
future and to confidently predict a future leading role for B&N
alongside giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon.
For this reason, we would
argue in favor of choosing the Amazon and Fire approach.
Should You Buy a Fire?
At last, the question you've
probably been most seeking an answer to. Should you buy a
The short answer is 'it
depends'. In reality, of course, you might already know
the answer to this question. But if you don't, here are
some possible scenarios and suggestions.
If you already have an iPad
If you already have an iPad,
there is little reason to double up on the capabilities of the
iPad and buy a Fire, too, unless you feel that the free book
rentals and free video streaming offered to Amazon Prime members
is of such value as to justify the $200 investment in a Fire
(and maybe they are, particularly when you adjust for the other
values/benefits in a Prime membership too).
Maybe you already have an
iPad and want a second screen - one for you and one for your
partner or children or something. If you buy a second
iPad, you have the benefit of interchangeability, and all the
apps you've already bought for one iPad can be duplicated onto
the second iPad at no extra cost.
But if your iPad is being
used simply to surf the internet, send/receive email, read books
and possibly watch some video, you don't have such an investment
in the iPad and it might make sense to get a Fire as a less
costly second screen.
A Fire could also give you a
more portable device - for example, ladies can fit a Fire into a
handbag, but probably can't fit an iPad.
If you already have another
Kindle e-reading device
If you already have another
Kindle device, upgrading to a Fire won't give you any
appreciable improvement in the reading experience for regular,
unformatted, text-only, fiction.
Indeed, you'll probably
sacrifice some battery life as part of the change.
But if you see your reading
moving more to non-fiction titles, which might have substantial
color pictures, then you definitely need some sort of color
You could argue whether an
iPad or a Fire is the better platform to read such books on, of
course. The iPad Kindle software supports multi-media and
video clips in books, whereas the Fire software does not (at
least, not yet).
If you see value in the
added abilities of the Fire to access the internet and email, etc, then maybe that is a good reason to upgrade.
If you don't yet have a Kindle
If you're only now
considering getting some sort of tablet and/or an eBook reader, should you spent $200
on a Fire or $500+ on an iPad?
That really depends on the
main purposes the device will be used for. The iPad has a
larger screen, but is not as portable due to its larger size,
and is also heavier. On the other hand, it can do many more
things than a Fire, and has a camera and GPS receiver built in
to it, and has access to a much greater library of software apps.
But the Fire opens the door
to the free content offering from the Amazon Prime program, and
while the screen is smaller, it is also more portable. And
let's not forget the cost saving as well.
If the main purpose is to
read books, then you don't really need the larger iPad screen,
and the Fire would be the best choice (or perhaps simply buy a
cheaper regular Kindle with black and white screen, for as
little as $79).
If the main purpose is to
watch video, then the iPad would probably be a better choice
(due to its bigger screen)
The new Amazon Kindle Fire
does a great job as an eBook reader, plus does an okay job of
offering many but not all the functions typically found and
expected in a tablet style computer.
Its $200 price makes it a
great choice for people who vaguely want some sort of tablet,
but who don't have specific and specialized needs for the device
they buy, and who might find it harder to justify the $500+ cost
of an iPad.
On the other hand, for
people who just want to read fiction books and nothing else, why
not simply pay $79 and get the entry level monochrome Kindle
For More Information
This is the second part of a
two part review of the new Kindle Fire. Please also see
our first part for the balance
of the Kindle Fire review.
Please also see our earlier
three part series introducing the
new Kindle Fire and other Amazon Kindle devices.
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18 Nov 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.