Review: Amazon's Kindle Fire has a lot to offer as a multimedia tablet, but nobody should mistake it for a robust business device.
Amazon's Kindle Fire is the world's smallest vending machine disguised as a tablet.
The 7-inch device is less a tablet in the mode of Apple's
iPad or Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and more a touch-screen portal to Amazon's
online storefront, with its massive collections of streaming video, music and
e-books. It also plays any music uploaded through Amazon's
To be fair, Amazon hasn't positioned the Kindle Fire as
anything more or less. "What we really built is a fully integrated media
service," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told Wired Nov. 13.
"Hardware is a crucial ingredient in the service, but it's only a piece of it."
The Kindle Fire, which retails for $199, began shipping to
customers Nov. 14. The WiFi-only device's tight integration with Amazon's
services doesn't stop at video, music or e-texts; it also connects with
Amazon's branded Appstore for Android, and leverages a purpose-built "Amazon
Silk" browser that utilizes the retailer's cloud architecture to speed Webpage
rendering. The dual-core processor ensures apps run smoothly, and the dual
speakers along the device's lower edge are crisp and clear (and surprisingly
loud, if you set the volume high).
In some ways, that tight integration with the mothership
isn't far different from the experience you'd find with the Apple iPad, which
draws its media from Apple's App Store and iTunes, or the Android tablets that
tightly incorporate Google's services.
That being said, the Kindle Fire takes that integration one
step deeper. In contrast to those other tablets, which offer grid-like screens
of individual apps, the Kindle Fire's start screen features a set of digital
shelves, stocked with apps and your most recently used media; through a bar along the top of the screen, you can
access newsstand, books, music, video, document, apps and the Web. This is not
a device open to customization.
The Kindle Fire also demands a strong WiFi connection. In
weaker hotspots, videos look pixelated and take some time to load; music
likewise needs significant time to buffer. But that's not a complaint
unfamiliar to anyone who's used WiFi to access content on their mobile device.
The Fire includes 6GB of onboard memory, which places
overwhelming emphasis on streaming as the way the users will receive the lion's
share of their content. Most music collections, and certainly all digital video
libraries, could easily overwhelm that relatively small storage capacity-but
considering how much of Amazon's Fire strategy revolves around connecting and
streaming via its storefront, there's a sizable motive behind offering little
the Kindle Fire will offer eight hours of continuous reading and 7.5 hours'
worth of video playback "with wireless off." However, since you need WiFi to
access streaming content, expect the device's battery to last somewhat less. In
testing, a two-hour movie, two hours' e-reading, an hour of Web surfing, and
another hour of "Angry Birds" reduced the battery by roughly 75 percent. The back
of the device becomes warm but not hot after sustained use, meaning you can
hold it or rest it against your legs without the experience becoming
Given the $199 price tag, Amazon will make little (if any)
money off each Kindle Fire sold. But that's not the point: In the spirit of
Gillette, which created a successful business model by marketing ultra-cheap
razors, then making considerable profit from selling the blades, Amazon plans
on making its money through the media that users oh-so-easily download onto
their Fire. And it's absurdly easy to ring up a significant bill: A few e-books
here, a rented movie there, maybe an album or a handful of songs, and the Fire
user's already done their part toward helping Amazon meet its quarterly revenue
While the Kindle Fire seems foreordained to rack up
considerable consumer sales this holiday season, the bigger question is whether
the device has any utility to business users. The Fire can display email and
documents, which could offer significant, but not overwhelming, benefit to road
warriors and employees in transit; users can also download Quickoffice through Amazon's app store, which offers document
viewing and light editing. Presumably, other work-centric apps will find their
way into the retailer's collection.
In other words, the Kindle Fire isn't going to assume a
place in anyone's gizmo collection as their go-to work device. Amazon isn't
selling their new tablet as such. As a dedicated media device, though, the Fire
has significant things to offer users-provided you're willing to play Amazon's
game, and shoulder the costs that come with that.
Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.