When planning my review of the Kindle Fire, I knew I’d need two things: time, and a big list of music, movies, and books I wanted to dive into. I say that because I assumed going into the review that the Fire wasn’t about to take the place of my laptop. The Android-powered, 7-inch device didn’t exactly strike me as a productivity machine (at least when you look at the specs), and knowing the selection of apps and services I would have access to, I planned on doing some serious consumption of content.
Make no mistake about it — the Fire is a proper tablet, with many (though not all) of the capabilities of something like an iPad. But the focus on this product is most certainly on lean-back experiences, and that’s reflected in the price, too. But can a $200 mini-tablet take on Apple’s behemoth? Will the Fire derail the plans of other Android tablet-makers? And does the release of this product fundamentally change Amazon’s position in the market? I’ll attempt to answers those questions — and more — in my review below, so read on!
The design is just so incredibly unoriginal
The design of the Kindle Fire is anything but inspired. It would be one thing if the device were simply a black rectangle with a high gloss screen (spoiler alert: it is). But what’s more striking about the device is just how identical it looks in comparison to a product we’ve seen before. Namely, the BlackBerry PlayBook. I can’t overstate how similar these two products seem. They are a similar size (their dimensions closely match), both feature a 1024 x 600, 7-inch display on the front and have a plastic, soft-touch casing on the sides and back, and both weigh 0.9 pounds.
It’s been speculated on (and more recently stated as fact by Barnes & Noble) that Amazon used the PlayBook reference design as the basis for the design of the Fire, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the design is necessarily bad — it’s just that it’s incredibly unoriginal.
Still, the device feels solid and well made in your hands. It’s got enough heft that it feels substantial, but it’s not so heavy that you feel strain when holding it for extended periods. Unlike the 1.3 pound iPad 2, I never felt fatigue after reading a book or magazine on the Fire.
The size and shape might very well be the sweet spot for many users
I am confused about a number of decisions here, however. Unlike the PlayBook, iPad, or pretty much any other tablet on the market, the Fire has no hardware volume controls, meaning that you have to go through a series of taps (especially if the device is sleeping) to just change the volume. The Fire also has no “home” button — simply a small, hard-to-find nub along the bottom used for sleeping and waking the device, and powering up and down. That means that Amazon had to create software navigation for getting around the tablet, which would be fine... if the home button wasn’t always disappearing into a hidden menu. Also, I found myself accidentally pressing the power button when I was typing or holding the tablet in certain positions, causing the Fire to think I wanted to shut it down. I’m not sure why it’s located where it’s located, but it seems like a poor choice to me.