Sorry in advance if you’re already in love with your Kindle Fire, which began shipping Nov. 14 to those who preordered it, but this has to be written. Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire offers a weaker user experience than Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus tablet, which I reviewed this week.
The Fire is a fine little tablet, weighing 14.6 ounces with a rectangular bearing and black matte finish. It runs custom Android. But after the requisite navigation learning curve, which is mercifully slight, I experienced a slight lag in trying to navigate from application to application or destination to destination by tapping. I had no such issues with the Plus, which weighs only 12.2 ounces and is encased in a metallic-gray plastic finish.
I found most of the Fire’s navigation tabs and buttons to be unresponsive at first, and had to tap or swipe more than once to get most places. And then I discovered how to get around this: To tap effectively on the Fire, I actually tapped and held until an application or window opened up.
Think of it as the press-and-hold gesture on most tablets. But you shouldn’t have to press and hold to move from one application to the next. I’m not the only one with this issue; Instapaper CEO Marco Arment goes into profound detail here from a developer’s perspective. Conversely, I had no such tapping lag on the Plus, which flitted away at a quick tap each time. Amazon’s top navigation menu was pretty fluid.
When applications load on the Fire, they load with the kind of delay I currently still see on my Motorola Droid X smartphone, which has a single-core 1GHz processor compared with the 1GHz dual-core chip on the Fire. Compare that to the Plus, which is based on Google’s Android 3.2 Honeycomb platform and drove applications well with the speedier 1.2GHz chip.
The Plus wins on customization, too. The Plus has five customizable home screens and widgets. The Fire has its own special UI replete with an applications carousel but no customizable widgets. What you access is what you tap. You can create bookmarks and the Silk Web browser is really good at remembering where you’ve been before, a by-product of its syncing with Amazon’s cloud on the back end. Both tablets employ Google search.
The specs tell me the Plus’ screen is a bit superior, with its WSVGA Plane-to-Line Switching (PLS) LCD, compared with the Fire’s In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen and its 7-inch display. I couldn’t discern much of a difference after watching Netflix and other video content side-by-side on both screens.
The Fire has no camera, while the Plus has a 3-megapixel back camera that’s O.K., coupled with a 2MP front camera so you can do video chat. The Fire lacks a microphone; the Plus does not. There are many other differences, including 16GB of internal storage for the Plus, compared with just 8GB for the Fire.
Amazons Fiery Shopping Engine
Amazon doesn’t want you to socialize on the Fire so much as buy stuff. That’s right, the Fire naturally drives its users to Amazon’s books, movies, applications and other things to buy from the content “libraries atop the screen.” These libraries cover Amazon’s books, videos, music, magazine newsstand, applications and documents. The Plus has an abundance of all of these content services; they’re just scattered throughout the tablet UI.
The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg said it best: “It [the Fire] shuns its user interface and nearly all of Google’s applications and services, including Google’s application store. The Fire’s software is all about the content and applications Amazon has sold you and the easy purchase of more.”
Also, the Plus’ battery, which at 4,000mAh is naturally weaker than its bigger brethren, is better than that of the Fire, which promises up to eight hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of video playback. Battery life is a big deal, but let’s face it, we’ll long be lugging our tablet chargers along every day. Tablets are for major multimedia consumption, which requires a lot of juice.
Some caveats are required for your consideration. The WiFi-only Kindle Fire is Amazon’s first shot at the slate market and it costs only $199. The WiFi-only Plus is priced at $399-clearly a premium model. What you need to decide is if you can deal with the holes the Fire has and if they are acceptable at that price point.
If I was in the market for a 7-inch tablet, I could certainly see myself buying a Fire over a Plus at half the cost-but not without some consideration after playing with the Plus.
But I don’t think many people will buy the Plus at the $399 price point. While I’m certain it’s a superior tablet, people will devour the Fire for its $199 price point. It’s genius really. Amazon is selling a decent Android tablet for the same price of a premium Android smartphone, or even a low-end iPhone model.
Amazon will sell millions-possibly even double-digit millions-of Fires over the next six-plus months. As it did with the Kindle e-readers, Amazon will establish brand credibility, further whetting the public’s appetite for the real Kindle tablet iPad rival-the 9.7-inch or 10-inch model allegedly coming in 2012.
That’s when the real Amazon vs. Apple challenge will begin. Of course, by then, we’ll probably see a remarkable iPad 3 so it would behoove Amazon to deliver something special and low-priced-maybe $249 to $299 for a premium tablet.