|It downloads in a few seconds to the device, and it is also available on the iPhone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
This is my first Fire, so please bear in mind that I cannot contrast/compare to the Kindle Fire (traditional). I have numerous other Kindle e-readers, and work with numerous other Android and Apple tablets on a regular basis.
First impressions - when it arrived today, it looked very sleek. Well-packaged, easy-to-open (unlike reports of the Nexus 7). No power plug, but I have it charging as I write this using a standard USB charging kit. Please note that if you plan on charging this device, you will (preferably) need a USB power adapter that supplies a full 2 Amps of current (or better). Otherwise, the unit will take forever to charge. And by forever, you can just check the FireHD's site out - 13 hours. Yeah. More than all night. No thanks. :) I personally believe that not including such an adapter was a wise cost-cutting move on Amazon's part... many of us already have a 2A charging adapter from other tablets/etc, and it cut $10 off the cost of the unit (or $20, if you didn't buy Amazon's special charger when you ordered the FireHD). By the way, my particular FireHD came charged to 68%.
The size is perfect - it's got a good, solid feel, as well. Not too heavy, but heavy enough to let you know it's not a toy. The back is a nicely-textured matte finish. I don't like larger tablets that much, since it obviates one of the major advantages of a tablet in the first place (mobility). At iPad/Transformer sizes, I start to wonder why the person didn't just have a Netbook or regular laptop.
Setup: The FireHD comes, as all first-bought Kindles should, pre-registered to your Amazon.com account. After power-on, the device asks for a wireless network, a timezone, and (optionally) Facebook/Twitter integration. That's it. Then it gets to the carousel/shelf interface and is instantly linked to your account's purchases. All my latest books, music, and videos were there, even those purchased earlier today, along with a Kindle Fire Welcome Guide. The device automatically updated itself after the first sleep I put it in.
Incidentally, before the device arrived, I had pre-registered to remove the ads, for $15. From what I have heard on other Kindles, the ads are actually not very invasive or annoying, and actually can help pay for the Kindle over time through reduced prices or coupon offers. Me, I prefer an uncluttered and un-advertised-to interface, so I opted out. I think it was absolutely excellent of Amazon to offer this option in response to those who wanted out of that, but I would have been fine with them being there if there was no option to turn them off.
Screen: The screen is gorgeous. Here, Amazon has learned from its competitors, who on their tablets used an application where the LCD panel is laminated/applied directly to the back of the cover glass. This allows the FireHD to have a clear, crisp screen no matter what the viewing angle. When I first powered the unit on, I cringed for a few seconds because it felt like the screen was too small - like I would feel cramped. This, however, was absolutely not the case, once the Kindle was active and into all the content, it was very open and inviting. I can only imagine how big the 8.9" would be!
In terms of usability for the touch-like nature of the display, this is the best tablet thus far I have ever used. Even light presses register properly. Many other tablets I've used are very particular about how hard you need to press or linger before registering. And yet, even with the "hyper-sensitivity" this device has, I have yet to have it register anything false (wrong button pushes), which are another hallmark of other tablets. Bravo, Amazon.
Apps: The fire comes pre-loaded with OfficeSuite (a free version of a larger suite for editing documents), the Silk web browser, a Calendar, and various other supporting apps for things like Email, Contacts, IMDB, and Help. I like that they kept the initial load relatively free of bloatware (MOTOROLA: TAKE A HINT PLEASE!!!). I personally do not like the lack of some applications on the Amazon App Store... for instance, I would have liked to load Firefox or Chrome, but they are not there. Also, a link for Skype is on there but the app is not pre-loaded.
Books read well on this, and this being my first Fire, I like the interface for reading books, though I definitely prefer e-readers for eyestrain reasons. It's nice that the FireHD has text-to-speech, especially since the PaperWhite lost this functionality (which I think was a great move; that device is an e-READER, not e-audibleprovider). The three backgrounds should help users with some of the eyestrain for limited periods of reading.
I have not yet connected this to my corporate Exchange servers, and quite honestly I may not bother. But it's nice to know that's an option. Email for Gmail works well, with an occasional "stutter" to the interface while it's loading something from the web (see my comment in the next paragraph for Performance). I doubt I will do much email from this device, but again, it's nice to know that it's there, in a pinch.
Performance: The processor is fast. It's not perfectly smooth, but reasonable. The vast majority of the lag, from what I have seen, revolves around network operations. Basically, if a screen has to load an image, or some other content, from the Internet or Amazon, the device can, and will, "stutter" occasionally. I guess there could be adjustments done to the interface to avoid this, but the fact is that to me, it isn't distracting from the experience. Temple Run and various other games run very smoothly on the device. I know it's about to sound harsh, but I would expect nothing less from an Android 4.0-based device. :)
The storage (I got the 16GB version) is adequate for what I will use it for - mostly media streaming from the Web, plus some locally installed apps, games, and side-loaded books. Anything else will be on the Cloud. If you're a heavy movie watcher and want them loaded on the device itself (perhaps you would use this on a bus or commuter train), you may want to wait until October for the 32GB version; the $50 difference would be worth it, then.
Wireless: Out of the box, Bluetooth is disabled (which is a good thing, don't want anyone hacking our precious new toy, now do we?). Since I have not been able to get Flash, I cannot benchmark the wireless (TWCable and Speedtest.net use Flash). Huh, now I know what it's like to use an Apple product. :) However, all file transfers happen as fast as most other wireless hardware I have around the house, and video streaming of HD looks crisp and clear. Video playback looks clean and the controls are easy to use.
Buttons/Interface: I don't like where they placed the camera on the device. I personally think it should be on the other side, so that the camera is "up" when put in a case that allows for stand-up (though, this might be my case - but I don't see how they could have easily engineered around it). The camera provides a good, clear picture for video conferencing after a brief Skype test, and appeared to operate fairly well in low light, which is encouraging for me, since many areas in my house aren't adequately lit (hence my additional order for a Kindle PaperWhite :)). The interfaces on the unit are the speakers (which are decent, but don't expect huge bass or amazing sound from tiny speakers), USB and HDMI out (THANK YOU AMAZON! The HDMI interface, ALONE, should sway folks to this platform over other tablets!), the headphone jack (which is well-placed, not too near a corner and not recessed as early iPhones were), and the power and volume rocker buttons.
Quite honestly, the only poor thing about the device is the power and volume rocker buttons. They are flush with the chassis, have little gap between them and the chassis, and are the same color as the chassis (black). This means that, every time I sleep the unit or adjust volume, I'm squinting at the top of the Fire to figure out where the heck the buttons are. While it is, technically, possible to "feel" your way to the buttons, it's impractical - since the volume rocker buttons have a tiny raised edge which "announces" their presence, but they are not differently-sized (smaller nubbin for "lower volume", larger nubbin for "increase volume"). I think that, in time, the power button will be easier to find, since it's smack-dab-in-the-middle of the top, but for now, it's kind of a hunt, especially with a case on. I would have preferred a raised button. But believe me, this is a very minor complaint on an otherwise excellent interface implementation.
Here's where the "religious war" starts. First off, I refuse to compare tablets purely on a hardware basis as, inherently, a contest of "this one is best." That's a technological no-win situation. Also, I firmly believe that, as a technology, tablets (of all kinds, not just the FireHD), since their inception, have been a solution looking for a problem. They are jack-of-all-trades, master of none. They are neat gadgets, but in and of themselves, they cannot do a tenth of what an average Netbook or laptop computer is capable of, and with current price points for decent laptops in the $400-500 range, it's hard to justify a tablet based on hardware alone. And I'm glad that Bezos and others at Amazon "get" this - I can't tell you how many friends and family members I know that own tablets, and never use them - because they want a keyboard and mouse.
Here's where the FireHD shines. I think that the perfect niche for a tablet, where it can have a chance to be a "master" as opposed to a "master of none" - is in the singular application of being a multimedia consumption device. When a user wants to read a book, listen to music, watch a movie - they want a simple, point-and-shoot interface. And a tablet provides not only the interface, but the mobility.
I feel that the FireHD is really what tablet users should be looking for. We should be looking at a device that provides easy, mobile access to an ecosystem of rich media, with features and accessibility that make it easy to use and enjoy. The Amazon ecosystem is amazing - having been a Kindle e-reader user for years, and now a Prime member with all the media perks that entails, I love how the media I purchase is available anywhere, on any platform. I think this device is a perfect complement to that experience; especially with the HDMI-out and Bluetooth capabilities, which allow this device to be a multimedia powerhouse at home or on the road.
The only "downsides" I see in this device are the slightly-difficult-to-address buttons, the lack of an option to remove/disable the carousel, a Collections for Books feature (after 100 books, it's tough sometimes to organize things and find what you want to read), and the ability to set a custom screen background while on sleep. Since three of these four are software-based, I'm hoping they can be addressed in future software. In the meantime, these do not significantly impact my enjoyment of my device.
Anyone seriously considering a tablet, especially one that takes full advantage of the Amazon ecosystem, should be considering this device. It is solid, performs well, and has a rich set of features that a $199 price tag makes all the more amazing. I think that, for $200, you would be hard-pressed to find a better way of enjoying Amazon's content offerings.
(By the way, after finishing the typing of this review, the device is at 92%, which is awesome charging speed. It's great, again, that Amazon doesn't force you to use their chargers, unlike SOME OTHER manufacturers. :))