Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Kindle Fire lacked a built-in e-mail application. This version has been corrected.
Vijay Ravindran is senior vice president and chief digital officer for The Washington Post Company. Before joining The Post, he was chief technology officer for the start-up political technology firm Catalist and technology director for Amazon.com.
I own and use a lot of tablets. Our home includes an iPad, Android Honeycomb tablet, an original 7-inch Android Samsung Galaxy Tab, and an e-ink Kindle. So, it was no surprise when I, like many others, submitted my pre-order for the Kindle Fire, which arrived at my front doorstep on release day.
The Kindle Fire costs $199 – an unprecedentedly low price for such a popular gadget, and likely a huge draw for strapped-for-cash shoppers. At 7 inches, the device fits in one hand. It also gets the same perks as a regular Kindle: It’s registered to its buyer ahead of delivery, and comes with minimal documentation in the box. You turn it on; it knows who you are, and starts updating itself.
The process worked flawlessly.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former Amazon employee, and I use nearly every service Amazon has ever offered. This makes me unlike the average buyer, but also Kindle Fire’s target customer. So far, I am not disappointed.
Some people may buy the Fire thinking it’s like other Android tablets but at a lower price point. Be forewarned: This is Amazon’s tablet and not Google’s. There are many Android features, and the tablet will feel natural, but it’s not a 100-percent Android facsimile. One of Android’s cornerstone features is widgets. There are no widgets on the Kindle Fire. Another integral part of the Android experience is being able to immediately access the entire Google product suite. You can’t do that on the Fire.
All of that is replaced, however, by your Amazon life. If you check the box on any of the below, the Kindle Fire is worth checking out:
1) Are you an Amazon Prime customer? If so, you get an easily-accessible library of free TV shows and movies.
2) Have you bought movies or TV shows on Amazon? If so, you can do so on the Fire as well.
3) Did you install the Amazon Android store and purchase a lot of paid apps given away for free? Those can all be downloaded here.
4) Are you a Kindle user? All of your books and subscriptions are accessible here.
5) Are you an Amazon music store or cloud player user? Both features are available for the Fire and ready to download to the device for offline usage.
Beyond accessing the Amazon product suite, the Kindle Fire has a few more things going for it. First, the Web browsing is fast. Web sites like WashingtonPost.com feel noticeably faster when loading. I did a quick side by side comparison between the Asus Transformer and the Kindle Fire loading the Post home page and several articles. The Kindle Fire easily loads these pages faster. Caching on the Silk browser seems to be as-advertised. But the browser crashed several times, so there are some bugs that still need to be worked out.
The Amazon Android app store has most high profile apps, such as Netflix, Pandora, and Facebook, as well as games, including Angry Birds, and my most recent personal favorite, Airport Mania 2. All in all, I am pinching myself that this thing is $199. (Full disclosure: Washington Post Co. Chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)
Two problems caught my attention quickly, however. The touch-screen sensing was not precise. In general, Android tablets don’t feel as smooth and accurate as iPads when it comes to touch, but the Kindle Fire felt even worse. I found myself tapping two, three or even four times to get an action to register. I am hoping a system update addresses this, because it is the only thing that indicated the tablet was “cheap.”
Be prepared, given the price-point, to see the Kindle Fire used widely in minivans, replacing childrens’ DVD players. Download a few cartoons, and you’re ready to go and, if you are able and willing to buy more than one, you can cater to multiple children individually. I am sure other usages will pop up now that the cost has been brought down.
The Kindle Fire’s combination of Amazon integration and pricetag is clearly a game-changer. Now, I need to go start designing some straps to mount the Fire in my minivan for that Thanksgiving drive with the 2-year old.