Friday, November 18, 2011

New Kindle is good but not quite on Fire

First off, in answer to the most obvious question...No, I really don't need yet another device to supplement my Macbook Pro, iPad and Nexus S smartphone.  But for $200 I really couldn't resist - compare that price to the price of the original Kindle.   Plus, as an Amazon Prime subscriber I felt if I got the Fire I would be more inclined to use the free services available to Prime subscribers, most notably the movies and TV shows that are available for free as part of my subscription.

My Kindle Fire arrived a day earlier than expected, which was a nice surprise.  Setup was a total breeze - When I turned the device on I went through a short setup process and was up and running in less than 5 minutes.  In fact, I didn't even have to enter my Amazon credentials since it assumed I was purchasing the device for myself and preauthorized my device...hmm, I wonder if that would be a problem if I were to buy one as a gift for somebody.  Anyway, once the setup was completed it instantly made available all of my digital Amazon content - books, videos, music, etc.  And it also made available all of the Amazon Appstore apps that I had previously purchased/installed on my Nexus S.  So far so good.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the form factor of the device itself, as most of the reviews I had read had bashed it.  At this point it's too early to say if a 7-inch screen is preferable to the 10 inches provided by the iPad and other devices, but it does make the device nearly pocketable and also more conducive to one-handed operations.  I also appreciate the rubberized backing and sides of the device, is it makes the device easy to hold for long periods of time.  This is something I don't like at all about the iPad 2, as its tapered edges make it very uncomfortable to hold for extended periods.

In terms of functionality, most of the built-in functions seem to work pretty well.  As others have pointed out, even though the Fire is Android-based you would hardly know that Android is being run under the covers due to the heavy customization made by the Amazon developers.  Video streaming, e-books, and music all worked without a hitch...nice job Amazon.  Some of the apps, however, were less than stellar.  The built-in mail app is really basic, and though it automatically configured my Gmail account it wouldn't detect my work email as also being Google-based and forced me to manually configure the IMAP settings...PITA.  And it seems like the vast majority of 3rd-party apps are still not optimized for tablet devices, so all you get is a bigger version of the phone app.  There are a few notable exceptions, however, like Evernote...those guys can do nothing wrong in my opinion!

By far the biggest disappointment is the performance of the much ballyhooed Silk browser.  In theory Silk was supposed to render pages more quickly than any mobile browser due to the fact that Amazon was using its own EC2 to serve and/or pre-cache a lot of your web content...resulting in fewer HTTP connections and speedier rendering.  But in reality the Silk browser is probably the slowest mobile browser I've used.  Perhaps Amazon hasn't enabled all of its fancy algorithms yet to optimize the Silk browsing experience, or maybe it needs to "learn" my browsing habits first.  I sure hope they address this, as Silk was one of the biggest reasons for my getting the device in the first place.

Am I going to keep the Fire?  Hard to say right now.  On the one hand it's a great content consumption device, particularly for Prime subscribers.  And for $200 you're getting great value for the dollar.  But it certainly won't replace my iPad, and apart from the integration with Amazon's own services it doesn't do anything that the iPad doesn't already do...and in most cases doesn't do them nearly as well.
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