I’ve had my hands on a Kindle Fire for a bit now and I figured that it was time to share impressions. Overall, definitely a nice device for the price. That’s worth saying up front. It does everything that I expected it to be able to pull off and a fair amount that never even occurred to me. Probably best to break it down a little more specifically, though.
The Kindle Fire was always expected to be a video viewing device and it pulls that off quite well. Integration with the Amazon Instant Video library is seamless and you can browse through the Prime membership freebies without any trouble or intrusive sales pitches. Playback is perfect and I haven’t had so much as a stutter or buffering delay in the time I’ve been using the service. Downloading rental movies goes quickly and it’s obvious how to choose between streaming video and what you have on your device locally.
The inclusion of Netflix and Hulu Plus at launch was a nice addition that effectively shut down the Nook Tablet’s main point of potential superiority. While I don’t maintain a Hulu Plus account, Netflix runs almost as well as Amazon’s Instant Video. Jumping into the middle of a half-watched movie resulted in about 2 seconds of stuttering followed by normal playback. Basically the same experience I have come to expect from the box hooked up to my television.
I would love to be able to side-load more content that I already own onto the device. At present the supported formats are rather limited. The majority of my library is incompatible. Probably, as with the fight over EPUBs with the Kindle eReader line, a way for Amazon to “subtly” encourage adoption of their house preference. Conversion is much more of a pain for video than it is for eBooks, though, which might make this a major inconvenience for people looking to play things they already have around.
Possibly the biggest drawback to using the Kindle Fire to watch movies is the limited audio capability. While yes, it is indeed perfectly possible to listen to music or movies through the built in speakers, the quality is quite lacking. With a decent pair of headphones, however, it works as well as any audio device I’ve ever owned. There isn’t much more to say other than that the streaming here seems to work perfectly well for me, even when reading or using other apps. So long as there isn’t a conflict over who gets control of the speakers, you’re good.
One of the biggest perks of the Kindle Fire was meant to be the new Amazon Silk web browser. Since most of the work is done off of the device by outsourcing to Amazon’s cloud servers, there’s a lot of potential. Unfortunately there are some problems. Most noticeably, there seems to be a slight jump in input lag while using the browser.
I’m told this has something to do with a known problem that Android 2.3 has in trying to decide whether the OS or the browser gets to handle input, but I’m not intimately aware of the particularities of Android so this may be inaccurate. If it is true, however, then to some degree it is likely a problem that won’t be going away in the near future.
Other than that, things work great. You do get some small speed increase over normal browsing, which if I properly understand how Silk is supposed to work will only get better in time. It scores pretty well on HTML5 tests, though not perfectly, and should run most HTML5 apps. Not much more you can ask for in a browser besides being able to open pages quickly, I suppose?
This is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the tablet experience for many people, but it is also somehow the one that Amazon has decided to put the least emphasis on. Yes there are loads of apps to choose from, but not all of the ones in Amazon’s Android Appstore will work on the Kindle Fire. That makes sense, given the wide variety of Android devices out there, but Amazon is able to put a little check mark for device compatibility next to the purchasing button on their site so I would love it if I could just get a “Kindle Fire compatible only” button. I’m sure it will happen in time, though.
As for functionality, I haven’t noticed any problems with the apps. Their icons look a little out of place on the carousel next to the eBooks you’ve been reading recently, but no more so than many movie or TV show icons do. I’ve also had no issues so far with performance. The apps specifically for the Kindle Fire work slightly better than their more general counterparts, but even those have little trouble and the screen isn’t huge enough to cause much distortion when interfaces get stretched more than developers intended.
There doesn’t even seem to be any major area overlooked by those developers so far, either. Everything I’ve wanted out of it has been available for a dollar or two. The fact that Amazon has a daily free Android App is also a nice plus. This isn’t necessarily Kindle Fire specific, but I’ve seen everything from games to office suites up there. It opened up some options that might have otherwise been overlooked as too expensive to be worth a potentially wasted purchase.
Overall this is a great device. It is not a PC replacement, or even a netbook replacement, but for what it was meant to do it works well. You can purchase and use any content you want from Amazon and it seems to run smoothly. Picking up media in unfamiliar formats might cause some complications, but even then there are usually conversion programs available should it be particularly important. While I do see clearly how Amazon is trying to push people into using their services by offering minimal support for anything else, it isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as many claimed it would be. I feel like they are genuinely trying to convince their customers that Amazon services are superior rather than just saying that you shouldn’t have other options.
At $199, the Kindle Fire is more than worth the investment.