In many respects, there is
little that is new or exciting about Amazon's new Kindle Fire
eBook reader. Externally it is almost identical to the
In terms of functionality, it
offers nothing more than an Apple iPad - indeed, it is capable
of a great deal less.
And B&N's Nook Color, released
almost a year earlier, represented an almost identical
combination of eBook reader and Android tablet.
So how do these units stack
up? Which would be your best choice?
The Kindle Fire Compared to the Nook Color and iPad 2
There are of course competitors to the Fire, including, to a greater or
lesser extent, every other generic Android tablet out there, and also the
RIM/Blackberry Playbook which looks close to identical, being apparently
designed and built by the same Chinese company, but which uses a different
However, there are two clear competitors worthy of specific consideration -
the Nook Color, sold by Barnes & Noble, and the Apple iPad.
We discuss these now.
Barnes & Noble's Nook Color
Barnes & Noble deserves kudos for being the first to release an 'enhanced'
color eBook reader, the Nook Color, which was based on the Android operating system.
This unit was released in November 2010, but perhaps due either to Amazon's much
greater prominence, or to some problems which made the original Nook a
disappointing product, it has not achieved much prominence.
Being a year older than the new Fire also means the Nook Color is a bit
clunkier, measuring 8.1" x 5.0" x 0.48", compared to the Fire's slightly smaller
7.5" x 4.7" x 0.45". There's a corresponding difference in weight as well
- the Nook Color is 15.8 ounces, the Fire is 14.6 ounces. Claimed battery
life is about the same, although the Fire has a much faster dual processor than
the Nook Color.
The Nook Color has one advantage - it also accepts microSD memory cards which
the Fire does not. But with sufficient onboard storage for more books than
one could read in a lifetime and a handful of movies too, and with Amazon's
cloud storage for as much more as one could ever wish, maybe the need for large
onboard storage is not so great?
On the other hand, if you're on a long flight, you'd probably welcome the
ability to have a tiny matchbox with a couple of dozen microSD cards in it,
containing between them potentially hundreds of movies, giving you unlimited
choices of entertainment; something you couldn't have with the Fire whenever it
is disconnected from a fast internet connection.
The Nook Color is currently $249, compared to $199 for the Fire, although
we'd not be astonished to see B&N reducing its price to match the Fire.
On balance, the feature that is the 'tipping point' for us is simply that the
Fire is an Amazon supported product, whereas the Nook Color is not.
Amazon's huge commitment to electronic media of all sorts is reflected in its
growing library of streamable music and movies, something B&N does not have and
probably never will have.
Our feeling is that Amazon is one of the two market leaders in terms of
portable entertainment in its broadest form (reading books, listening to music,
watching movies, playing games, web surfing, and whatever else can be thought
up), with of course Apple being the other prominent player.
Noble, on the other hand, is a bricks and mortar chain of bookstores struggling
to add new media capabilities.
So we'd recommend you choose the Fire over the Nook.
Other Barnes & Noble eReaders
For the sake of completeness, it is fair to mention that not
only does B&N offer the Nook Color as a direct competitor to
Amazon's new Fire, but it has also released lesser Nook eReaders
that compete more or less with Amazon's Kindle range of readers.
Currently the other main reader in its range is the Nook
Simple, a touch screen based reader that sells for $139.
This could be considered analogous to the Kindle Touch.
If you're simply considering a Kindle Touch type reader
rather than a Fire, is a regular Nook reader a worthy
competitor? In hardware terms, probably yes.
But in terms of buying into an open ended future, probably
not. And considering the future is an essential issue with
eBook readers - please read on.
The Need for Future Support
One of the huge problems with eBooks and their readers is
that the copyright protection built into most books ties them to
only one type of reader. A Sony eBook won't work on a Nook
or Kindle, and neither will a Nook or Kindle eBook work on
either of the other two reader types either.
So what happens if you build up a collection of books in one
format, then in the future, decide you want to shift to another
brand? Can you somehow convert or copy the books to be
readable on your new reading device?
Alas, in most cases, no! All the titles you purchased
become lost to you if you switch to a different brand of eReader.
The only possible exception is if you switch from a closed
architecture eReader to an open architecture tablet device which
allows the reading software from multiple suppliers to run on
it. An example of this is an Apple iPad, which can not
only read its own Apple iTunes sourced/sold books, but also has
available apps for Amazon/Kindle and B&N/Nook books, too.
This means you need to be very careful when planning your
supplier of eBooks. For most people, 'being very careful'
is synonymous with 'choose Amazon'.
Apple deservedly shares equal
billing with Amazon for being an innovator and leader in the new portable
entertainment market place.
Apple deserves praise of the highest order for
releasing its revolutionary iPad in April 2010 (and for the minor upgrade, the
iPad 2 in March 2011), and to our astonishment, the iPad remains the clear
leader in terms of tablets, with no other credible competitor appearing to
challenge the iPad's supremacy, either in terms of price or functionality.
In comparing the iPad (for simplicity we'll omit the designator '2' but in
cases where there's a difference between the original iPad and the iPad 2, we'll
be considering the newer unit) to the Fire, there are several different almost
'philosophical' issues to consider.
The first of these revolves around screen size, and has as an almost
inseparably linked issue, that of size in general and of weight.
The iPad has a 9.7" diagonal screen and
an overall device size of 9.5" x 7.3" x 0.34". The Fire
has a 7" diagonal screen and an overall device size of 7.5" x
4.7" x 0.45" - the Fire is very much more compact.
In terms of weight, the iPad weighs 21.2 ounces, the Fire is a much
lighter 14.6 ounces.
Although the Fire's screen is physically smaller, it has almost exactly the
same number of pixels on it, which means it will show nearly as much information
as the iPad, just in a slightly smaller display size. Both have 1024
pixels in the long dimension; the iPad has 768 in the shorter dimension whereas
the Fire has 600.
On the face of it, the bigger the screen, the better. But remember
these are intended to be conveniently portable devices, so you need to trade off
'bigger is better' with the need to be small and light.
An iPad can not
fit in a pocket - if you are traveling somewhere with an iPad, you will need
some sort of bag to carry it in. A Fire will barely fit in an outside
jacket pocket - you'd probably not want to have one in your custom tailored best
suit, but in a more casual jacket with horizontal pockets, you could probably
fit it in and not be so concerned about the jacket then pulling on one side.
This added portability is a key plus for some people in some situations, but
of little value to other people in other situations. Apple, to date, has
been successfully betting on the bigger screen size as being more valuable than
the greater portability. Amazon are - initially at least (see below) -
building on their experiences of the smaller and larger screened Kindles they
have sold in the past, and
seem to believe that a 7" screen may be the best compromise.
The other part of this is weight. An iPad is heavy, and so
much so to the point where it interferes with the convenience of using it, and
requires you to selectively choose how you hold it (ie always resting it on
something rather than holding it unsupported). It is half as heavy again
as the Fire.
The weight saving offered by the Fire is another appreciable plus.
The next thing to consider is battery life. The biggest benefit of the
eInk based Kindles is their extended battery life, due to requiring much less
power than other similar devices with normal screens. It is difficult to
exactly measure the battery life of an eInk based reader, because it is a mix of
both total time powered on and total number of pages turned, but as a rule of
thumb, Amazon is claiming about 30 hours of reading on an eInk Kindle.
Any sort of non-eInk screen device will
have very much shorter battery life. The Fire is rated for about
8 hours of book reading or 7.5 hours of watching video - a huge
reduction over the Kindle units.
The iPad offers about 10 hours of watching video, and doesn't have a separate
claim for reading hours, but we'd estimate that to be perhaps 11 hours.
Both numbers are significantly more than those of the Fire, and you have to
decide how often the extra battery life of an iPad would be a material benefit
If you're preparing for a long international flight, or even
simply a coast to coast flight in the US with a stopover, it might seem conceivable that
you could end up wishing to use your device for more than 7.5 hours.
But in our experience, even on, eg, a very long 12 hour flight, by the time
we've allowed time for
eating, sleeping, possibly talking with a travel partner, watching airline
provided video, and whatever else, we usually find we're only relying on our
own device half the time or less.
In other words, the longer battery life
of the iPad is good, but maybe not entirely essential other than
on very rare occasions.
The Apple iPad uses Apple's iOS operating system, an operating system shared
with its iPhone products (and iPod Touch too). This system gives you
instant access to a huge universe of programs, games, and all sorts of
applications; and in many cases, if you've already purchased an app to run, eg,
on your iPhone, you can also add it to your iPad at no extra cost.
The Amazon Fire is an Android based system. The free Android operating
system, coordinated by Google, is also available on a wide range of phones,
tablets, and other devices. But it seems that Amazon will not
allow people who buy its Fire to access the open Android marketplace,
restricting users from full access to the huge range of Android programs and
other apps. Amazon will instead limit users to apps featured in its own
smaller Android marketplace.
On the other hand, it may be that there is very quickly a workaround released
to allow Fire owners to access all apps free of any Amazon restrictions.
As noted earlier in this article series, this would have the interesting side effect of allowing a Fire
owner to download the B&N Nook eBook reader and then buy and read B&N sourced
eBooks on their Amazon sourced eReader.
Other Capabilities and Uses
The iPad is an extremely versatile tablet device that can be used for all
manner of different applications. Some of the models include an in-built
GPS, compass, accelerometers and gyroscope, making it ideally suited for all
types of motion-based gaming (as well as for navigating).
The iPad also has built in applications that tie-in to Apple's various content
services available through iTunes, plus programs for things such as managing
your email, pretty much no matter what type of email service you use, and web
browsing (albeit notably without support for Flash). It also has two
cameras on it, extending its functionality into new realms such as video
conferencing in addition to simply recording images and video clips.
Based on what we currently know of the Fire, it seems that it will have none
of these extra hardware features. It will have some similar core software
services, and a funky enhanced type of web browser which Amazon claims will make
better use of bandwidth and get pages to you more quickly. It is unsure if
Flash will be supported, but our guess is that it probably will be.
If you are considering a Fire or other device from the perspective of
'something to read books on, to watch movies on, to listen to music with, to
send and receive email, to surf the internet, and not much else' - then you'll
be sacrificing little or nothing by choosing a Fire over an iPad.
If you are thinking 'It would be nice to have some games for the kids, too'
then you'll have access to many (but not as many as the iPad) games too,
although they won't be quite as fully interactive as the best iPad games can be.
So for these two types of future uses, there is no real compromise or loss in
choosing a Fire over an iPad. But if you wanted the GPS, or the cameras,
or just the absolute maximum in future capabilities, then clearly the iPad comes
into its own.
The iPad is far and away more expensive than a Fire.
The least expensive iPad is $499 (with no GPS and 16 GB of storage); whereas
the Fire is $199. Yes, you could buy a 'his and hers' pair of Fires and
still have $100 left over for videos and books (which you could share on both
devices) for the same money you would need to buy a single entry level iPad.
When considering cost as an issue, all of a sudden, one's choice gets thrown
into clearer focus. Yes, there are indeed some additional nice features on
an iPad (as well as the disadvantage of extra size and weight), but if you don't
have a quantifiable need for these extra features, why spend $300 and up to get
an iPad instead of a Fire?
A Fire will do most things for most people, and will do them very well.
Best of all, it will do these things at a wonderfully affordable price point
that makes it a compelling value proposition, eclipsing that offered by the
What of the Future
No-one will be surprised to learn that Amazon has already hinted at plans to
release additional and probably 'better' models of the Fire in the future.
What electronic device is not susceptible to regular updates and enhancements?
What is a bit more surprising, however, are reports that the new model
Fire(s) may be released very soon - perhaps at the beginning of 2012,
immediately after the conclusion of the 2011 Christmas buying season.
The reason for this short model life cycle is apparently due to the
development of the first Fire model taking longer than expected.
It seems Amazon planned to release the Fire much earlier in 2011,
and while we're now being treated to the release of information about the Fire
on 28 September, the actual availability of the unit for shipping is not
scheduled for another seven weeks; not until 15 November.
release announcement is unusually far in advance of the unit's availability, and
hints at Amazon's unhappiness with delays in production and its urgent desire to
get the product out into the marketplace.
Although the first model Fire suffered from delays in production, it seems
the second generation of Fire units have not similarly suffered, and so
they will be released as per the original schedule. What was to have been
close on a one year cycle between versions is instead compressing down to little
more than three months (or so it is expected at this stage).
Remember the true date to keep in mind is not when you are reading about
the Fire, today, or even when (if) you order it, but is when you would actually receive it (15 November at the very
earliest). So - should you buy a device today that might be obsolete in 3 - 6 months
after receiving it?
If you already have a Kindle or other tablet device (including an iPad) on
which you can read eBooks, we'd be tempted to say 'try and wait for the next
generation if you can'. But if you don't yet have a Kindle or other tablet
device, and are increasingly wishing to have one, then at the comparatively low
price of $199, why not treat yourself to a Fire.
You can for sure sell it on
Craigslist or eBay subsequently if you then decide to get a newer model Fire
when they are released early next year.
It seems likely that the new Fire model (or models) will feature a unit with
a larger screen. Beyond that, nothing much more is known about the second
generation of Fire eReaders.
Summary - What (If Anything)
Should You Buy and When
The new Amazon Fire is
indeed an exciting device that combines some (but not all) of
the best eBook reading functionality with some (but not all)
tablet capabilities too, all in a bargain basement priced
product (compared to regular tablet prices).
The three new Kindles offer
slight improvements in function and performance, and appreciable
further price drops.
Should you buy one of
these new devices? That depends.
If you already own an
eBook reader and are happy with it, don't buy anything.
If you already own an
eBook reader, but want to move to something more capable,
consider the Fire.
If you don't own an
eBook reader and want something primarily to read books,
consider a Kindle.
If you don't own an
eBook reader and want a multi-function table device that can
read books, consider an iPad or a Fire.
If you already have a
tablet and want to read books too, either buy a Kindle (for
the long battery life) or simply add the free eBook reading
software to your present tablet.
Read more about the Kindle
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).
And 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, 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. 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.
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 be a better choice.
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
This is the final part of a
three part series on Amazon's new Kindles and Fire.
Please also click to 'The
Evolution and Context of the Fire and New Kindles'
and 'The Four Different Models
Please also visit our subsequent
hands-on review of the Kindle Fire.
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28 Sep 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020
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