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

By Lowell Heddings on November 17th, 2011

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We got our Kindle Fire a few days ago, and since then we’ve been poking, prodding, and generally trying to figure out how to break it. Before you go out and buy your own, check out our in-depth review.

Note: This review is extremely long, so we’ve split it up between multiple pages. You can use the navigation links or buttons at the bottom to flip between pages.

The Hardware

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Once you pick up the tablet, you’ll find that it’s a little heavier than you’d think for the size, though by no means too heavy. The back feels grippy, like it’s rubbery or something, and it overall has a good feel in your hand. The screen has a 1024×600 resolution at 169 pixels per inch, which means text on the screen is very crisp and easy to read, even when it’s very small. The IPS (in-plane switching) tech for the display works well, and you can generally see the screen clearly from an angle.

In comparison to the iPad, the Kindle Fire is a little thicker on the edges, though because of the dimensions you can fit the device in a decent-sized coat pocket, or even the back pocket of my Gap jeans… though I felt ridiculous walking around with the tablet sticking out of my pants like that. Being able to put the tablet in my coat pocket definitely makes it more likely that I’d carry it outside the house with me—there’s something annoying about having to walk into a coffee shop with the iPad in hand.

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Left to right: iPad, Kindle Fire, Kindle (3) Keyboard, Kindle Touch

There’s only a single button, oddly placed at the bottom… even though all the other Kindle devices have their power button at the bottom, it just feels wrong for a power button on a tablet to be placed there instead of on the upper right like almost every other device out there. The other problem with the button in that position is that you can’t lean the tablet standing up without the case, you have to flip it upside down. It’s a (very) minor problem that is likely remedied by putting the Kindle in the leather case, but we didn’t have one while testing.

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The speakers are at the top of the device, and they are pathetic. Even at maximum you can’t hear them very well—this device was clearly designed to be used with earphones. There’s no hardware volume controls, which sometimes feels wrong, but since you won’t be getting unexpected (loud) phone calls on the Fire, it’s probably not a big deal. The volume controls are only a tap away most of the time, hidden behind the settings.

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The touch technology is where the device breaks down a bit—as you’re going through the menus, it feels very slightly off somehow, like it hasn’t been calibrated properly. It’s not a problem everywhere, but the carousel navigation that looks so pretty is where you’ll notice it right away: it never seems to stop where you want it to. We’re hoping that Amazon can fix this in a future update, but even if not, it’s not a deal-breaker, just an annoyance.

Perhaps the most important factor when considering a tablet is battery life, and the Fire isn’t terrible, but you’ll definitely notice that you’re not getting the iPad’s solid 10 hours either. It’s rated at 8 hours of reading or 7.5 hours of video playback with wireless off. The problem with keeping wireless off, of course, is that the device is designed to stream video and other content rather than play it locally, given the fairly small internal 8 GB of memory (6 GB usable) and lack of expansion slots. In our testing, after 4 hours of streaming movies off the free Prime section, the battery life was at 38%. With the Wi-Fi off the battery life is a little better, and you might get a little over 7 hours. In realistic use, you’ll probably be able to use it normally (on/off) throughout the day without a problem.

A few other notes: There’s no hardware home button. You can mount the Kindle Fire as a drive, and copy any files you want to it easily. It’s also already been rooted.

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Specifications

Since all geeks love specs, here’s the Kindle Fire specs, directly from Amazon:

  • Display: 7″ multi-touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology and anti-reflective treatment, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169 ppi, 16 million colors.
  • Size: 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45″ (190 mm x 120 mm x 11.4 mm).
  • Weight: 14.6 ounces (413 grams).
  • Storage: 8GB internal (approximately 6GB available for user content). That’s enough for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books.
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback, with wireless off.
  • Charge Time: Fully charges in approximately 4 hours.
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, WEP, WPA, WPA2. Does not support ad-hoc networks.
  • USB: USB 2.0 (micro-B connector)
  • Audio: 3.5 mm stereo audio jack, top-mounted stereo speakers.
  • Content Formats Supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-DRM AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, VP8.

Notes: Compared to the iPad, which has a 1024×768 resolution screen, there’s a lot more pixels per inch. There’s no microphone, camera, bluetooth, or GPS, and no option for 3G. The storage seems really small, but when you consider that the device is meant primarily for streaming content, it isn’t that big of a deal.

The Good, the Bad, and the Whatever

We’ve written up a very full-featured review of just about every feature, so you should keep reading the next few pages. If you don’t want to do that, here’s our overall summary for you:

Good

  • Price: It’s only $199, less than half of the cheapest iPad.
  • It’s completely integrated with Amazon’s content: music, videos, etc.
  • Book reading is great indoors.
  • The form factor is really nice, it fits in a coat pocket.
  • Does have lots of apps and games.
  • It’s already been rooted, and you can install unsanctioned apps manually without rooting.

Bad

  • It’s slower, smaller, and the battery life does not equal the iPad.
  • There’s no Google Maps, Gmail, Google Voice, or any Google apps.
  • It’s US only at the moment.
  • There’s no camera, no home button, very small internal storage.
  • Way less apps than the iPad.
  • If you like reading outside, it won’t be fun.

Should You Buy It?

It depends. If the form factor is not important to you, you don’t hate Apple, and you have plenty of money, the iPad 2 is a better choice. If you want to read anywhere, including sunlight, you should get yourself the e-ink Kindle Touch.

Otherwise, the Kindle Fire is a very nice, capable tablet that can do most everything you’d want.

Note: we just got our hands on the Nook Tablet, and we’re going to be posting our thoughts on that in the coming days.

Starting It Up

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Next page: Starting it up and First Impressions

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
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