Amazon Kindle Fire Review: Can $200 Buy a Great Tablet?
Amazon Silk Browser, Performance and Battery Life
Amazon’s Silk Browser
Now we come to the biggest interface question of all - Amazon’s Silk browser. Going with a custom browser was certainly a big decision for the company, but it claimed to have good reason, stating that the Silk browser uses Amazon’s substantial computing power (the operate a cloud compute service, remember?) to speed up browsing.
We’ll leave the speed to the performance section just below. For now, let’s focus on the interface.
At first glance, it’s basic. That’s not a bad thing given the small screen size of this tablet. Tabs appear at the top of the browser window and do not disappear, making it easy to switch between them. Simultaneously browsing with three or four different tabs is not a chore on this tablet.
Bookmarks are accessible via an interface button kept in a tray at the bottom of the interface, and can be displayed in either thumbnail or list view. Thumbnail view seems to work best, since it can actually display just as much content. However, while bookmarks are easy to navigate, you probably won’t want too many. There’s no management options to speak of, and while a search icon does appear in the bookmarks view, it has nothing to do with the bookmarks themselves. Instead, it just takes you to web search.
Besides bookmarks, the only major browser interface elements are the options, history and downloads menus. Here, there seems to be little customization going on, as the interface is similar to what is found on my Android 2.3 smartphone. You’ll find nothing new with the virtual keyboard, either. It’s typical Android fair, although given a bit of Kindle Fire paint.
There’s not much to dislike about the interface of the Silk browser, but that’s largely because there’s just not much there. It browses, as you’d expect, but has no unique interface features to speak of. Apparently, Amazon spent too much energy trying to decide what should and should not require a long-tap to open.
Performance and Battery Life
Since we were just talking about Amazon Silk, let’s jump right into it for our performance testing.
Subjectively, Silk is not a fast browser. Whatever Amazon is supposed to be doing with remote web rendering does not appear to be working. At times, the browser seems to go momentarily unresponsive, refusing to accept several taps until one magically works. At other times, page loading inexplicably hangs for an extended a period of time, only to suddenly resume twenty seconds later. Neither of these occurrences were incredibly common, but they were common enough to be encountered at least once every time I used the tablet for more than a few minutes.
I decided to turn off the accelerated pageloading feature in the options to see if this made the web experience better. Pages did load more quickly, and I no longer encountered random hangs. However, the browser still seemed of average speed at best. To see how it stands up against my HTC Thunderbolt, I simultaneously loaded pages on both devices (with both connected to WiFi). The Kindle Fire usually won with accelerated pageloading off, but with that feature on, the Fire usually lost. Clearly, Kindle’s cloud rendering needs some more work.
Impressions can be tainted, however, and mostly tell us only about how a device reacts to user input. Let’s see what the benchmarks tell us about this tablet’s speed, starting with the browser benchmarks, BrowserMark and SunSpider.
As you can see, the Fire’s performance is average. It bests the PlayBook in BrowserMark, but loses slightly to the PlayBook in SunSpider. However, it loses substantially to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. Clearly, this Tegra 2 powered options have a performance edge over the OMAP4 SoC found in the Fire and PlayBook.
Now let’s head over to the synthetic app benchmarks, Quadrant and NenaMark1.
Here, we do not have the PlayBook for comparison because it could not run these apps. Instead, we most satisfy ourselves with the Tegra 2 tablets, against which we find the Fire doesn’t do well in Quadrant with a score of just 1476. The NenaMark1 score of 39.4 frames per second doesn't look great, either, but remember - this is a higher resolution display, and the benchmark doesn’t compensate for that. As a result, the Fire’s performance is respectable, if a little lower than the Eee Pad Transformer.
From these performance results, its easy to conclude that the Fire is a device of slightly below-average capability compared to current dual-core tablets. With quad-core ARM designs now just around the corner, the Fire’s performance is quickly going to fall victim to the tablet market’s speedy march of progress.
Perhaps it will save battery life, however. To find out, I decided to test Amazon’s claims of life while streaming video. I turned the screen to 80% brightness, a comfortable indoor setting, and streamed YouTube videos full-screen until the battery died.
Amazon claims seven and a half hours of video playback, but in our testing, we managed just five and a half. Of course, 80% brightness is relatively high, and this was YouTube playback, so WiFi use was a factor. If you were to watch a video file at a lower brightness setting, you’d probably make the official estimate, but I think our scenario is more realistic.
While the Fire manages to keep up with its hardware cousin, the PlayBook, it is absolutely creamed by the Eee Pad Transformer, and also comes in behind the Samsung Droid Charge smartphone. The Fire’s battery life result is disappointing, as it both comes in behind competitors and also fails to come close to the manufacturer claims.