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Amazon’s New Kindle Fire Tablet: the How-To Geek Review

<- Previous Page: Hardware and Specs

Starting It Up

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The Fire is packaged simply, with nothing more than a power cord and the device. There’s no user manual to read, and you don’t have to plug it into your computer. All you really need to do is turn the thing on, and that’s where you’ll find a very pleasant startup experience. If you bought your Kindle Fire through your Amazon account (as opposed to a gift from somebody else), the setup experience is nearly instant—just connect to your Wi-Fi network, and you’re done. If your tablet was a gift, you’ll have to login instead, but that’s literally all there is to it.

The welcome screens walk you through the user interface and explain how to use the different basic features to get yourself started. It’s not that the interface is terribly confusing—but it’s definitely a nice touch and lends to the overall experience. We handed the device to a non-geek iPad user without showing them the welcome screens, and there was a minute or two of confusion while trying to understand how it all works, so these screens are a nice touch.

The top navigation bar allows you to access all of your Amazon cloud content very quickly—or access the Amazon store to purchase more content. Whether you head into Books, Music, Video, Newsstand, or Apps, the content is initially stored in your Amazon account, and can be either streamed or downloaded to the device. The Fire is, after all, a portal into Amazon’s content network.

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The Carousel holds all your recent content, which is a little odd in some ways. You’ll see all the books you’ve purchased, even if they aren’t downloaded to the device. You won’t see all your music here, just the recent music that you’ve played, apps you’ve used, and it’ll show the last web site that you visited. You can pin any of these to the favorites bar at the bottom, which is pretty much how you’re going to access your frequently used icons—using the carousel is more of a novelty than anything else, and as you use the device more you’ll end up not even bothering with it most of the time.

Rather than a hardware button, the Fire gives you a software Home button that’s usually on the screen, but more often than not, it’s hidden behind a tap on the screen. This is one of those minor things that very quickly becomes irritating, especially when you get trapped behind a game or app that doesn’t present the home button to you. There’s a reason that button-hating Apple devices still have a home button—you need a way to get back to the start screen with a single press. It’s a huge oversight by Amazon, and hopefully their next tablet includes a button.

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The settings can be accessed by pressing the top right-hand corner of the screen, where you can enable/disable Wi-Fi, adjust the brightness, or manage the volume, since there’s no hardware volume buttons. For the most part, this works out well, but if you’re using a game you’ll end up having to find the volume controls somewhere else. Like many of our gripes with the tablet, it’s a minor problem, but still, these little inconsistencies take away from the overall experience.

You can also use the settings menu to force the device to sync or lock the screen orientation. If you’ve got music playing, you’ll see the currently playing song as well as music controls, which is fairly convenient—assuming you’re using one of the standard Kindle apps that allow you to quickly get to the settings.

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Once you’re past the welcome screens you’ll be immediately able to start using the device. The search box allows you to search through all of your library content—that means any books, music, or anything stored on the device, or even the content stored in the Amazon cloud. You’ll find yourself using this mostly to find music, since browsing through your book collection makes more sense by simply clicking Books at the top—that screen is organized by recent books, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll just pin your favorite books to the favorites bar.

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The touch navigation on the device is decent, and often just fine, but sometimes we’ve found it irritating. The most annoying thing on the entire device is actually the carousel on the home screen, which is tuned wrong somehow—you flick it slightly, and it just keeps scrolling. Try and stop on a particular item, and you’ll find yourself on the next item almost every time.

The keyboard feels just slightly too slow, and while it’s decent in portrait mode (on the left), in landscape mode has a spacebar that’s offset even further to the left, so we found ourselves hitting the period key instead of the space key. It’s not unusable, it will just take some getting used to. You’ll also find that on certain screens, notably the search screen, it’s a little slow because of the page refreshing.

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Unlike most Android devices, you don’t swipe down to get to the Notifications pane—instead, you’ll see a count in the upper left with the number of notifications you currently have, and you have to tap to bring down the pane. This works alright most of the time, though definitely makes it a bit less user-friendly. If you have a number of applications open and music playing, the count will include both ongoing tasks as well as notifications, making it confusing to understand whether that count means you have a new notification or not. Most Android devices get around this confusion by placing icons in the upper left, but you won’t see that here. And yes, just like any Kindle device, you can transfer files to the device by simply plugging it into a computer, where it’s mounted as a drive.

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Kindle 3 owners will be thrilled to see that the lock screensavers are pleasant—there’s no more scary pictures of Emily Dickinson to be forced to look at. There’s one oddity: it doesn’t matter what orientation you’re holding the device, the lock screen will always be the same. So even if you’re using the Fire in landscape mode, you’ll have to unlock via portrait. It’s not really a problem, just interesting, since the device allows you to rotate it completely upside down, and it’ll flip the screen for you.

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Next Page: Actually Using the Kindle (Reading, Video, Music, Browsing, Email)

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/17/11

Comments (52)

  1. Usman

    Great review! Please get the nook tablet as well :)

  2. The Geek

    Yes, I plan to get my hands on the Nook Tablet and see how that compares.

  3. Paul

    Sigh. I’m going to get blasted for this, but here goes.

    I’d actually compare it more to the iPod Touch than the iPad 2. It puts it in the same price category. Yes, the Fire is then twice the size of the Touch, but the Touch has, I think, most of the features described above. So, if the largest available screen for the lowest price is your goal, I think the Fire is the easy winner. However, if we’re after the best portable device for the lowest price, I’m not so sure.

    And just so any bias is clear, yes, I have an iPhone. Yes, I love it. No, I do not have an iPad, but, yes, I would love to have one. For that matter, I’d like to have a Kindle Fire. It looks cool, I’m just not sure comparing it to the iPad is the right Apple product to use for comparison.

  4. jczesq

    Nice review. My wife wants one, but I think I’ll pass. I received a Vizio Tablet (V.I.A) for my B-day a few weeks ago! My daughter paid $189 for it at B.J.s, and based on your review of the Kindle Fire, I think the VIA is better. I haven’t used my laptop much at all since I got it.

  5. SkiddMarxx

    I too would like to see a Nook review – I’m torn whether to go with the superior Amazon media ecosystem or the Nook superior hardware specs (including the micro SD slot).

    Maybe waiting for the second version of the Kindle Fire is the answer.

  6. Cheri

    I found a down side….. On my kindle Gen 3, I have lots of active content… games to be exact. I cannot use them on my Fire :( at all…

    You hinted at installing apps . I haven’t figured that part out… please help.

  7. echofoxtrot

    From what I’ve heard, this first-generation Kindle Fire was rushed into production so it would be on the shelves in time for Christmas. However, the second-generation model is currently in production, and scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2012, possibly even in January.

    Will the capabilities of the 2-Gen model be enhanced? Will it have free 3G internet, like the current-model Kindle has? I’m waiting to see that model reviewed.

    Thanks for the good work….and the good comments here.

  8. kevalin

    I have to admit, my interest in the Fire took a fatal hit when I heard that the Nook tablet will have twice the power (or more), twice the internal storage and substantially more external storage capacity for only $50 more. I look forward to reading that review to find out if it’s battery life will be worth a damn, then I’ll decide if buying a 7″ tablet is worth it.

    By the by, I probably wouldn’t use it as a reader at all. I already have a Nook Simple Touch and MUCH prefer e-ink to lcd reading. It’s much easier on these old eyes.

  9. Lee Williams

    One thing I noticed is that it ‘stalls’ at the bottom of a scroll screen sometimes, not allowing you to go back to the previous screen until you scroll up again. Also not a deal-breaker, but slightly annoying.

    I would add that I REALLY like reading comic books on it! They are beautiful and the navigation is nicely done.

  10. The Geek

    There’s definitely way too much stalling and weirdness with the touch experience. I’m hoping that an update will fix the bugs and make it work better.

  11. mharrsch

    I guess I’m puzzled as to why the Kindle Fire was compared to an IPad 2 and not the Nook Color. It was released as a competitor to the Nook Color more than an alternative to an IPad. From what I can tell by reading the above review, the Kindle Fire is glaringly lacking in storage capacity, lacks Bluetooth and is much less powerful than a Nook Color. I have also rooted my Nook Color so I have full access to the Android Market (although you must avoid apps that require a camera) and the Amazon App Market. The Amazon Cloud application works wonderfully well and the sound is reasonably good without earphones. The games I have downloaded seem to work smoothly. I’ve also watched Netflix without a hitch and I haven’t even downloaded the newly updated Netflix app for Android tablets yet.

    I couldn’t tell from the specs of the Kindle Fire if it has an accelerometer like a Nook Color does. This is important for games that utilize an accelerometer for navigation.

  12. Audrey Aabey

    Hi,
    My Fire should be here any time now.
    I was hoping that you would mention the gallery and if one could use Picasa for showing off pictures when I’m out and about.

  13. T. Dyer

    Your comment about no Google Mail is wrong. I had gmail up and running on my Fire ten minutes after receiving it. I do agree with the button position. It just doesn’t feel right at first. Like anything else, once you get used to it, its’ no big deal.

  14. tommy2rs

    Meh, no SD card reader no sale. Looks like it’ll be a Nook for me.

  15. Ross

    I was wondering if you have figured out a way to clear or reset the items in the carosel. It is kind of annoying to have it just grow and grow with every piece of content I open, ready, listen to, etc.

    Better yet, is there a way to turn it off completely?

  16. The Geek

    There is no Gmail app. Sure, you can use Gmail via the mail app, but it’s not the same as the Gmail app.

  17. Tom in PHX

    I got mine today. Kinda nice but some downsides: (1) the carousel is a mess, can’t alter it, can’t delete it, can’t rearrange the items (2) can’t get rid of the apps like FB and Pulse from the homepage – installed by Amazon for Amazon, not the owner of the unit (3) really miss a button for the Homepage (4) You cannot transfer your non-Amazon books to the Books folder. They will only go to the Documents folder, no matter what! This even includes your mobi files. (5) missing an SD card slot. Other than above, a cool unit!

  18. The Geek

    FYI – I have a Nook Tablet in my hands, and I’m going to be doing a review of that device and a comparison against the Fire.

    Also note that the Nook Tablet is the new version from Barnes and Noble – the Nook Color is their older, slower tablet. The Color could be rooted and hacked, but from what I understand so far, the Nook Tablet has a locked bootloader that’s going to be difficult to crack.

  19. mickey walker

    I just got my Fire yesterday and really like it. However, my biggest disappointment so far is that my daily subscription to the Wall St Journal, which I received on my older Kindle is not available on the Fire.

  20. esam

    nice review ,thank you very much

  21. ouman

    Pardon the pun – but isn’t that review rather like “comparing Apple’s to bananas”?
    Kindle is primarily for reading books, i-Pad is a multifunction “toy”.

  22. Alex

    I would like know if there is any good firewall software that work on Kindle fire so i can block allow apps to connect on a need basis.It would be great for privacy as well.Do we need an Antivirus for kindle fire?

  23. airrescueff

    In a nutshell this is basically intended as a media consumption device. As such, a lot of that happens in landscape mode- especially media with sound. That being said, why in the hell would they place the speakers at the top, shortside of the device? Have no idea what they were thinking. Watching video or playing games and having the sound come out from one side is irritating to me. Holding the device while doing so will most often cover one of the speakers as well. Back in the box and returning.

    Yes, I know. Caveat emptor and all. However, I didn’t think of “Make sure that the speakers are on the long side” to be put on my checklist when pre-ordering. I figure something like stereo speakers would be oriented where media would most be used. Wish the speakers were placed in a similar area as the tablet that the Fire is allegedly modeled after, the Blackberry Playbook.

    Maybe the rumored 2nd generation Fire will address this, among other things.

  24. Chris

    Any idea when the Kindle Fire will be available in the UK? I have asked Amazon several times but they will not answer the question. They just point me to other Kindles on Amazon.co.uk and say the Fire has not been announced. Disappointing!

  25. Chris

    By the way. When you review the Nook Tablet, can you please ask the same question? Will it be available and work in Europe?

  26. Magpdx

    I received my kindle fire and returned it the next day. I hated the fact that there were pre-installed apps that could not be removed. I also found it clunky to read my ny times when I had no wifi access (riding the bus)-even though I downloaded the paper to the device, there were links to the web-based version of the times that I could not access. Annoying!

    I loved my kindle one and my kindle 2. I will either invest in the Touch or wait for next fire release

  27. Beverly Kurtin

    Oh for goodness’s sake. While it is true that there no Google apps, all you have to do is to go to the Web and bring up Google and away you go. Otherwise known as BFD.

    I got the first one out the door from the store at which I purchased it and about the only thing that made me grind my teeth was the lack of a cable that could allow me to transfer files from my PC to the Fire; that should have been included. I also own a Color Nook (I couldn’t decide on which one to get so I bought both). It has a cable that fits into a changer and then can be used to transfer files.

    Which one do I prefer? Yes. I love both. Of course, I could have bought an IPad with the money I paid for both, but the Ipad is too big for my purposes. Having a good laptop gives me the flexibility I want. I have a CLEAR personal hotspot, which fits nicely into the case that I carry the Fire and the Nook in. I also have the $189.95 Kindle that I’m going to gift to my doctor’s medical assistant. She can’t afford a reader but really wants one. I could Ebay it, but I’d feel better gifting it to someone who loves to read as much as I do.

    One of the big (but not all that important) is that the Fire seems to resist getting thumb or finger prints all over the screen; the Nook? Quite a mess all the time, but a quick wipe or two and the prints disappear. Again, it’s a small difference, but nice.

    Speed is about the same although the Silk browser seems to be a tad faster than the Nook’s browser, but heck, having something small enough to fit into your hand and being able to REALLY get on the ‘Net is amazing to this gal who started using computers back in the days when floppies were REALLY floppy with the 8-1/2″ floppies that CP/M used.

    The only other disappointment with the Fire is the lack of the ability to expand the memory. Nook has a slot that takes a mini flash device.

    The visibility seems to be slightly better with the Fire, but it’s insignificant unless you’re using them side-by-side.

    Bottom line: Both are needed especially if you find an ebook that is available in a format that your system will not use. One book, for example, is available on Amazon but not at B&N and vice-versa. They’re both good for what they are and what they do; I bought both.

  28. kevalin

    Well, freak!

    Nook is locking the boot loader? Well, if that’s so, that will certainly make me think twice about buying it, until and unless someone finds a way around it.

    Call me fickle, but when I pay my money for something–as opposed to receiving it as a gift, which Barnes and Noble sure isn’t arranging–then I should be able adjust it as I will. It’s not, after all, as if I’m trying to mess with someone else’s

  29. ThunderByrd

    I searched your site, and can find *no* mention of the Kobo Vox; a device that has better hardware options than the Kindle Fire.

    Ironically, your Google ad on your home page is for the Kobo Vox. Go figure eh?

  30. Nigel

    Why are we consumed with comparing every new device with the iPad? It beats the hell out of me.
    Great review but don’t compare please, it show lack of understanding.
    Do you think Amazon were thinking about the iPad when they put this together? You bet they were, but not for performance and looks. No, to cash in on iTunes. Build a device that can only stream content from your web service. Brilliant. For content alone amazon beats iTunes hands down plus most of it is not locked down to play on that device only.
    So, as I write this on my iPad, because I can’t be bothered to get off the sofa and wait for xp to load, I might just consider one of these fire thingies because I really do hate iTunes with an avengence.

  31. HeatfanJohn

    How do you justify saying that the Kindle Fire is slower than the iPad 2? My personal experience is that the device is extremely fast and in fact I find the Silk Browser to be much faster than the browser on my iPad 2. I suspect that is due to how the Kindle Fire leverages using the Amazon cloud to accelerate browsing.

    According to the specs that I have read on Wikipedia, the Kindle Fire has a 1 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core processor which is the same generation ARM chip as the Apple A5 in the iPad 2.

  32. StevenTorrey

    My daughter has one of those readers–I think Barns & Noble. On a whim, we downloaded a free book on Hebrew Grammar. The reader was not able to read the Hebrew characters, just a bunch of gobbly gook. I really wouldn’t consider using such a thing; too much in love with the real book. Even though I have about 10 ebooks on my computer–out of print Hebrew or Greek texts–reading from a computer screen is not the same as reading from a book; it seems more of a strain on the eyes. In short, its a gewgah I don’t really need. More limitations than plus.

  33. Walusa

    Received Fire and played with it for a couple of days. It is very heavy at 14.5 oz compared to the Kindle Wi Fi or Keyboard. I can see myself getting muscle cramps holding it for a couple of hours to read a book. It is also very slippery so you must hang on to it; otherwise, if it drops to a hard floor the display glass can break, so says the Fire warning. It is also very touch-sensitive. If you hover over the screen with a hangnail when moving your hand past the surface, the screen changes. The keyboard is also so small that it is likely that you will be spending too much time and becoming frustrated correcting typos, especially if you are typing mixed letters and numbers as required for many passwords. For any male with large hands, or any Senior Citizen, male or female, you will be better off doing keyboard entries on your computer to find books or search the Internet.

    Needless to say, it has already been returned to Amazon. I will stick with my Kindle Keyboard which has been the ideal tool to use for an eReader. It has served me well for several months.

    For any potential user who is ‘on in years’, my advice it to get a Kindle Wi Fi or Kindle Keyboard and leave the Fire to those with younger, smaller, steadier hands…. and sharper vision.

  34. Ann1e

    I have had the Kindle Fire for about a week now. I found the sound to be too soft for movies even at the highest level. But it is loud enough for the games and has to be turned down. I decided to try sending a photo to the Kindle via email. The photo ended up in the documents file and I wanted it to be in the gallery file. I have been unable to move it into the gallery file. I would like to see if there is a way to move it or to send photos directly into the gallery file from an email. In general I really like the Kindle Fire and its sleek appearance compared to the Nook. My choice between the Fire and the Nook came because Amazon has better access to books etc. and Amazon is a very good company to deal with. We don’t have many Barnes and Noble book stores around here. I was given a stylus for use on the keyboard and it works great! I have small hands but did have a problem typing on the Kindle. For the price, I think the Kindle Fire is a nice tablet and I think it will get better and better as things are upgraded.

  35. ThunderByrd

    Why does no one ever mention the Kobo Vox. It’s better than the Nook or the Fire!

  36. Conner

    does the Kindle fire have any Accelorometer , as I believe this would be a good feature

  37. Clark

    Appreciate all the constructive comments…but I’m seeing tech questions and not many replies. We users who don’t qualify as geeks need help!!

    For instance, I can receive email on my Fire but I can’t send. I’ve followed all the set up directions for connecting to my Comcast email account but they must be incorrect. Setting outgoing port to 465 doesn’t work. When I set that port to 587 (the same setting that works in all my other devices going through the same wireless router) i get a message that “unable to verify the provider’s certificate.”

    Amazon support was no help. I was connected to a non tech rep whose diction I could not comprehend…and who simply went over the setup directions I was already familiar with.

    There is something I’m missing, if anyone has figured this out…please reply

  38. thoracias

    So far I am loving my kindle fire. One question though…do you need an antivirus for the fire? I would think so with the constant web browsing and app downloaded but I cant find any info.

  39. Asta

    Got my kindle fire for my birthday from my hubby… i thought i’d like it but for reading i prefer my old kindle and i really don’t need the Ipad features with internet and all so i want to resell it.
    how to i get my stuff off of it before i sell it and get it back to original state? do i have to unregister it?

  40. Caymangolfer

    As I am in the process of buying my wife a ‘new tablet’. I say ‘new tablet’ as we have had tablets in my house for a decade or so, however I am intrigued on what Android can bring to the table and looking at the Fire or Nook Tablet as she does not need huge amount of ‘stuff’ other than web, e-mail and reading. Would love to see how your review on the Nook Tablet is coming along as it has been 10 days since you received it ;). Did you root the tablet, I saw on XDA Developers that there is a root for it now, which rocks as you can get SU permissions which I think should allow you to open up the 1GB limit for non BN content on the integrated 16GB storage.

  41. Greg

    I now have now have my original Kindle, a DX, and Ipad (w/ the kindle app) & the Fire. each one has its place. I use them All no one device covers all the bases IMHO

  42. Bill

    Using the usb port can i download jpeg files to my Kindle Fire? Is the a photo viewer app available?

  43. allen

    Can I purchase antivirus software for my kindle fire? Thank you.

  44. Tina Glenn

    I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire and received it the day after release. I have literally carried it with me every day since that date. I purchased a Folio Cover, which helps the Fire to feel like a book in my hand. It fits perfectly into my purse. I did quite a bit of research before deciding on a Kindle Fire and I am so glad that I chose the Fire over an IPad. The IPad is just too big and bulky and looks too much like a netbook for my taste (I have an IPhone so no bias here, just observation). I have not even begun to fill up the storage space on the Fire. Constantly finding new games, books, magazines, apps, to keep me entertained. For the price, I think the Kindle Fire is the best tablet on the market right now. I feel that Amazon will be tweaking and updating some of the little things that people consider “cons” very soon. Checked out the Nook Color, IPad, and the Vizio tablet prior to making my decision. Love it and consider it to be the best electronic purchase that I have made in several years.

  45. Tina Glenn

    Bill, I transferred my photos, music, and videos onto the Kindle Fire via the usb and view them with the pre-loaded Viewer.

  46. Hilda

    I have been looking for your nook tablet review, have you already posted it? when will we be able to find it?

  47. BryanKc

    Yep, another AppleBoyFan article! My KFire is anything but slow. Why do I care if it has a camera? I have three digital cameras all better that that junky camera in the I-overpriced-Pad. Here is a home button on the screen i the lower left hand corner. Funny, I read on it outside.

    I’m sooo tired of the “It doesn’t have a camera!” comments. So What!

  48. meg

    just got my k-fire 4 Xmas & was wondering if anyone could tell me how to move content to the right location? for example I downloaded a book & a magazine via a program on my Cpu (my bf is a HUGE computer nut & can find anything I want 2 download) but all the files/content goes straight to the DOCS location, HOW DO I GET IT TO GO TO THE RITE PLACE?! this is extremely annoying & was hoping someone had figured it out?! HELLLP!!! (please)

  49. Chuck G

    I am generationally out of date , but can get around on my lap top. The new fire, an exmas gift, is not at all intuitive. How do you oper/make available the keypad?
    Thanks

  50. Wallace

    How can I cionnect my kindke fore to my 15yr old high end stereo to listen to music through it .. like Internet radio?

  51. Layinka

    Thanks for the in-depth review.
    I’d like to know why you are comparing a Tablet (I-Pad) to an e-reader with extra options.
    I bought my e-reader for reading purposes it just so happens now that the new Kindle offers extras.
    If I want a second computer that is really really small and light then I’d buy a tablet, also explains the great difference in price.

    Well thank you though :D

    diylanguage.wordpress.com

  52. debisonherway

    I got my Fire for Christmas, and I absolutely love it! It’s not all that heavy, if its going to cause you muscle cramps or weigh you down, I suggest a stress ball or gym membership, you obviously need to build up your strength. As far as no gmail app, who cares, I also had my gmail account up and running in a couple of minutes. I agree with others, why even begin to compare the Fire with the Ipad, makes no sense. My Fire isn’t slow at all, I have books, games, email, etc loaded on mine and have not had the first freeze. No camera? Don’t need one on here. Don’t take the word of the reviewer, try it for yourself!

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