Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kindle Fire review - I sent it back

On the day that Amazon began accepting pre-orders for the Kindle Fire, I placed mine. For several weeks I excitedly awaited its delivery sure that it would fill the gap between my iPhone 4 and my Macbook Air. I couldn't really justify an iPad, but at $199 the Fire as a media server seemed exactly what I needed. (I should also point out that I have a 3rd generation Kindle which I love.)

When it arrived I was initially pleased. Its size was nice - about the same size as my Kindle – and it was very well made feeling very solid in my hand. Firing it up I was offered a Cover Flow-like interface that was preloaded with every Kindle book I had ever purchased. There was a "favorites" shelf below that held four of my favorite apps, books, magazines - whatever. More on that later.

I poked around its features and was initially impressed with the quality of the display, the variety of offerings and its seemingly simple interface. I made a Facebook post exclaiming its merits – going so far as to call it a "keeper". I even ordered a case for it. Then the romance waned.

Over the next weekend I put the Fire through its paces downloading every possible form of media, surfing the web on its "Silk" browser, downloading a few apps – some free and some paid. I set up my email accounts including my Exchange account at my office. The bugs began to crawl out.

On the home screen there is a Cover Flow-like interface for my books and recently used apps and media. I noticed that it was almost impossible to access my desired item among the "covers" on first try. The interface is so sensitive that I repeatedly went past my selection - coming and going - before I could at last get the item to stop where I could "click" on it. Frustrating.

The "favorites" shelf below the scrollables only held four items. It looks as if it should be scrollable to hold more than four, but it was not – you only get four. And, if you send a new favorite to the shelf you bump one already there off the shelf (of course), but I could never figure out how to keep the three I wanted and bump the fourth I wanted to replace. It seemed random and pointless. I also noticed that if you wanted to delete a book, app, magazine - whatever - from the home screen the icon for the item remained displaying a "download now" arrow. I deleted it. Why would I want to reload it now? So I ended up with several "ghost" icons taking up space on my home screen. That is just dumb. Give me an archive (like on my regular Kindle) but get the icons out of my way!

Navigation - I began to notice that many of the virtual buttons, like the back button and home button, would often be unresponsive and would require multiple clicks to work correctly. There was no "throbber" image that would indicate that a function was running so I had no choice but to repeatedly press the button until it cooperated. Also frustrating. Oddly, on some screens the buttons were so super sensitive that just brushing one accidentally would open an unwanted item. Go figure. The keyboard works at least as well as that of an iPhone.

Magazines - I downloaded a magazine - Car and Driver for which I also have a print subscription - to see how it compared to the physical copy. It was exactly like the print magazine page for page only much, much smaller. So small that it was impossible for me to read without enlarging the page to the point that I could only see a small portion of a paragraph and none of the images on the page. There is a "read" mode that is text only, but frankly that defeats half the purpose of a magazine. Enjoying the images along with the copy is what makes the magazine experience so enjoyable. That is almost impossible on the Fire. The table of contents was not "clickable" so I had to manually scroll through 59 pages to get to the first article I wanted to read. Also dumb - it is as if they just scanned the images and put them up (which is probably what they did do). A PDF would have been more useful. At least it has navigation!

Movies - the display is excellent and the quality of the movie image was superb (depending on its original quality I imagine). I loaded Elizabeth from my free Amazon Prime collection and was blown away by the quality of playback. Unfortunately, from the very limited selection of free Amazon Prime movie offerings, I could find nothing else I cared to watch. Most of the free movies are years old and of genres that do not appeal to me - teen comedies for example. Another disappointment. (There is a Netflix app that I did not try as I have no Netflix account - maybe that could fill the gap).

Apps - I will admit that I am an Apple user and the Apple app store is extensive and well managed (meaning you have to get past Apple's sometimes Byzantine approval process before an app is accepted). Most of the apps in the Apple store are uniform, useable and tested. Not so with the Kindle Fire (Android) store. I found many of the apps poorly designed and in some cases downright infantile. Not to say there aren't gems, but I found both the selection and quality lagging. I admit that may be an Apple bias, but I felt it nonetheless.

Books - The Amazon book store can not be beat. Almost everything ever published is at your finger tips. As mentioned, I have a "regular" Kindle which I love. The reading experience on the Fire is identical to that on the iPad and Nook. Meaning it is OK, but no where near the quality of the regular Kindle's ePaper experience. It will get you by in a pinch, but long reading sessions on a back-lit screen (just like your laptop or desktop) are tiring and less than enjoyable. Had I kept the Fire, I would also have kept my Kindle 3.

Browser - It works and works reasonably well. Not as quick as my laptop, but not too bad. Flash does work.

Battery life - OK, I only used it a little less than a week, but in my limited experience there is no way the battery will last the predicted 7 hours under anything other than minimal usage. I did nothing out of the ordinary and found that after a couple of hours the on-board battery life indicator (in the settings module) would indicate a remaining battery strength of only a couple of hours - less than 40 percent. Perhaps it would have lasted longer, but that is what the display indicated, so back to the charger. I charged it three times over the course of the weekend. Under moderate use viewing a few magazines, playing a game or two and maybe a movie I would estimate more like four hours.

Conclusions - The Kindle Fire is very well constructed. It feels solid and substantial in my hand and is the perfect size to hold. Its display rivals the iPad and iPhone in quality - may even be better. At $199 it seems to be a great value for someone looking for a media device. The deal breaker for me was the clunky navigation, the limited movie offerings,the less than ideal magazine experience and the disappointing app store. Your mileage may vary.


debbi said...

Well, this is disappointing. My case has arrived but the Kindle Fire is back-ordered.

Perhaps it will fulfill a not-so-techie's expectations. My primary purpose is books & I had planned on switching some magazines to the device, but you just shot down that idea. Oh well...

CherylH said...

I have had mine for a couple of weeks now; have read 3 books so far & only sent 2 emails..
This is all very new to me ( am not very techie savay)and I purchased it for an e-reader only so I am pleased to date.