Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire has been my primary tablet for the last two weeks, and while I still find its user experience to be inferior to that of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, I’ve grown comfortable with the custom Android slate.
Make no mistake, the problems I had upon firing up the device with a 7-inch display persist. I’ve learned to work around them. I’ve grown comfortable with the device and use it primarily for what it is–an on-ramp to help me access free content, and shop, from Amazon.com.
First, let’s rehash the problems I had with the WiFi-only Fire, which costs $199. I found most of the Fire’s navigation tabs and buttons to be downright unresponsive, and had to tap or swipe more than once to get most places. Maybe I was given a faulty review unit? Nay, according to anecdotal evidence.
Instapaper CEO March Arment’s chronicled the navigation issues two weeks ago. He noted: “Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky and unresponsive. Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It’s often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag. The on-screen Back button often doesn’t respond, which is particularly frustrating since it’s essential to so much navigation.”
Arment is a developer with excellent chops and a keen mind for what people expect from a mobile device. The biggest problem I personally had with my Fire unit is from Arment’s comment above, which I bolded.
Unlike the Tab 7.0 Plus, whose back buttons and application tray are omnipresent, it can indeed be a chore to move around the Fire. That is, until you get used to pressing and holding until you access the back button. I did this often when I was reading a book title and wanted to check something on Wikipedia or some other Web source I needed to access via the Silk browser.
I originally didn’t care for Silk but grew to appreciate its “learning” nature of remembering where I browsed and what I’d done in previous Web surfing jaunts. The cloud-complemented pre-fetching definitely works well on the Fire and I look forward to Amazon boosting Silk’s accuracy, relevance and capabilities in future tablet iterations, of which you can be assured there will be.
The Amazon-tailored navigation via the top shelf is simple and fun. Newsstand offers magazine or newspaper titles, which can be accessed from a user’s existing collection on Amazon or purchased from the store. You can read titles in grid or list views, whichever you are more comfortable with.
The Videos drawer whisks you to your Amazon Instant Video content, including more than 13,000 free movies and TV shows from the Amazon Prime service, which is free for the first 30 days for Fire owners and then costs $79 a year for free, two-day shipping and the video content.
Amazon Kindle Fire: Is It Good Enough for You?
Video content from Instant Video loads up a lot faster on the Fire than it did on my WiFi-connected Google TV Amazon Instant Video app, and looked a lot better than the content rendered via the Netflix app, which I downloaded free from Amazon’s Android Appstore.
Users can also easily access their music via Amazon Cloud Drive and Cloud Player, or purchase new tunes from Amazon’s MP3 Store. Buying goods is easy as you’d imagine, considering the device is built to enable easy shopping on Amazon. It was quite liberating to fire off one-click purchases from this device, than switch gears to getting back to Instant Video to check out “The Wonder Years,” a hit from my childhood.
Ultimately, it’s a gross mistake to compare the Fire to the $499 iPad, or even the $399 Tab 7.0 Plus, which both provide superior Web surfing and app access, have more storage and other perks some consumers will deem necessary.
Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps told The New York Times the Kindle Fire is a decent consumer media device for a very good price and compared it to Research In Motion’s Blackberry PlayBook, which is fair considering both devices are made by Quanta.
“You turn the BlackBerry PlayBook on, and it doesn’t work because there is nothing to do with it,” Epps told The Times. “The Kindle isn’t perfect, but it’s a simple out-of-box experience, and most importantly its content is front and center as soon as you start it for the first time.”
The Fire will be a hit among many first-time tablet owners who aren’t familiar with the navigational joys of the iPad or Tab lines. But for more discerning folks like Arment, for whom speed and fluid access are paramount, it won’t wash.
What you must decide is whether you or the person for whom you are mulling buying the Fire is the average Joe or Jane consumer who is happy with a tablet that is good enough, but not excellent, for accessing Web content and shopping.
If not, you need to go more upscale with an iPad, Galaxy Tab, or even the new Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.