GCN LAB REVIEWS
Kindle Fire: A great 2nd tablet, with good features for the job
- By Carlos A. Soto
- Dec 09, 2011
Since the iPad was first released in 2010, it seems like every tech reporter in the known world has been hunting for the “iPad Killer.” It felt like article after article kept prophesying the coming of a tablet so user-friendly, elegant, and affordable that it was destined to usurp the iPad and become the most popular tablet on Earth.
When Amazon announced that it was releasing the Kindle Fire, the “iPad killer” articles intensified. It felt like many tech writers believed the Fire was the tablet discussed in some mystical techie folklore about the coming of a mysterious and handsome Tablet, created by Steve Job’s long-lost twin brother, that will never crash, has a 1,000-hour battery-life, and can change shape to fit the user’s needs ... oh and can read Flash. Humbug!
It wasn’t until I started living with the new Amazon Kindle Fire that I finally realized what few critics got. The tablet market can and will most likely be about a lot more than just one type of tablet. Both at home and at work there is a time and a place for the iPad or Xoom, as there is a time and place for the Droid or iPhone, and now, as I have recently discovered, there is a time and place for the Fire.
Ease of Use: A
Pros: Small form-factor, easy to use, Flash-friendly
Cons: No external volume buttons, No auto-discovery
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In the latest version of the Kindle, Amazon added brains to the line of literary Strawmen to produce a solid, although imperfect, portable computer. With a sleek form factor of only 4.7 by 7.5 by 0.45 inches, the Fire fits in most Christmas stockings. Perfectly priced at $199, it packs a punch with its beautiful 7-inch screen.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the negatives. It doesn’t bother me that the Fire doesn’t come with 3G. I’ve tried to watch several movies on my iPhone and I hate the sluggish speed of 3G with regards to video playback. For true streaming, you need 4G. Period. So there is no need to try to cobble 3G into a device just for the sake of having it. What does bother me, however, is that the embedded WiFi features on the Fire don’t include an auto-detect application. The lack of this capability adds a couple of extra steps, as you go into settings and search for hotspots, which could have been easily avoided with a simple software wizard like every other device on planet Earth.
Although I’m a big fan of the clean form factor, shape and size of the Fire, at 14.6 ounces it feels a tad heavy for the small shape. I also really dislike the lack of external volume controls. I know Amazon wanted to keep the Fire as clean as possible, but providing only a USB port and Power button was a mistake on a device that now offers the best text-to-audio-playback functionality, apps like Pandora and the ability to watch movies.
I also would like the Fire more if it had some sort of double-tap feature, like the iPad and iPhone, that lets you quickly scroll over your recently used applications in a ribbon-format. This capability would add a dimension of depth to the Fire consistent with a traditional tablet, and this feature would further facilitate multi-tasking.
One page from the Apple playbook that Amazon used well with the Fire is the lack of clutter, paperwork and confusion during the install and setup of the device. When you open the packaging for the first time, there’s nothing but the device, a USB charger and note card instructing you to charge the device to begin the setup process.
Setup is quick with a good Internet connection. It took only minutes and I was able to log into my Amazon account and start taking advantage of all the apps. The 1 GHz Texas Instruments Cortex A9 OMAP4 processor is OK, but I would hope for a less sluggish experience in future versions of the Fire. And the Google Android 2.3 operating system is easy to learn and use. What’s great about the Kindle Fire, however, is its native 1024 x 600 pixels screen and fiv- hour battery life.
Many complain about the small 8G storage capacity, but with free and, more important, easy-to-access cloud capabilities, this becomes a mute point. You can put all your books in the cloud and read them any time you want. Also, sticking to Apple’s philosophy, Amazon App development is a simple process. Simply create a developer account, submit an application for review once you’re app is built, and then you can sell your app on the Amazon App store. This has resulted in a fairly diverse set of programs available already, and that will only grow.
Speaking of the cloud, something I liked that government workers will love is the lack of a camera (one last security feature to disable) and the built-in memory that can’t be removed. Also, you could disable the 8G of storage and set up a contact with Amazon to control access to a federal portion of the cloud, which would be another way to maintain tight security and data integrity compliance. I know several private entities that securely use the Amazon Cloud. There’s no reason this capability couldn’t be extended to local, state or federal groups.
Another benefit for using tablets such as the Fire in government can be the minimized collateral costs. If a unit gets lost, it can be remotely locked down, and it’s cheaper to replace than a $500 notebook or tablet. So there is less of a risk in terms of data and money.
It’s evident that this type of tiny, inexpensive tablet can find work in the federal government. For example, the mobility and form factor of the Fire would be perfect for reading and sharing medical papers or non-classified documents from the National Institutes of Health, or the National Archives.
Federal agencies can also take advantage of the built-in ability for libraries to rent electronic books to Kindle users. This capability could help institutions like the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian grant access to a large community in a safer and more affordable manner.
In many ways, owning tablets these days can be like owning cars. Most families in the U.S. have two cars, but I doubt that most own two versions of the exact same car. Sometimes you may want to take out a smaller car for an errand, and sometimes that second car is for fun, or driving the team to soccer practice.
Mobile devices present a similar dynamic. With the Fire, I tend to use it more as my primary Internet research tool for work, and I also use it more for travel purposes than my iPad2, especially since it comes with QuickOffice, which lets me read Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents. I’ve also found that, for longer work trips, the Fire compliments my bulky notebook better. The iPad and my Notebook often proved too much to carry and thus were too much hassle at the Airport. But the Fire is small enough to fit in my jeans pocket.
The Kindle Fire isn’t an iPad killer, but it can complement that tablet and many others. So let’s call it a perfect second tablet no matter what your primary one happens to be. What it does, it does well, and the security and value make it an ideal tool for busy feds, assuming they need the features it offers.
Amazon Inc., www.amazon.com