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Amazon Kindle Fire Review: Can $200 Buy a Great Tablet?

Author: Matt Smith
Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Amazon

Amazon Silk Browser, Performance and Battery Life

Amazon’s Silk Browser

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

November 25, 2011 | 10:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Strange review.

The Kindle plays Android games just fine, allows free internet access to all kinds of non-Amazon content, and the aps also do the same. Sounds like a review from a reviewer who read a bunch of reviews but did not do one on his/her own.

November 25, 2011 | 10:52 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I think the main drawback point is that, unless you expect a user to hack and root their device, they don't get access to the Google Marketplace.

November 25, 2011 | 12:02 PM - Posted by Sizeth (not verified)

I had my first opportunity to go hands on with the Kindle Fire a few days ago, and had very low expectations due to the number of underwhelming reviews there were floating around the internet at the time.

There are other, cheaper Android tablets out there such as the Velocity Micro Cruz, etc. The Kindle Fire, in my opinion, is far from an entry level tablet as it has a fantastic display, a real marketplace to access, it is fast, and has a capacitive touch screen. That right there sets it apart from the $100-$200 "budget" Android tablets that have no marketplace access.

The fact that Amazon loses about $5 on each fire it sells, is proof to me that at this point in time, the Fire is the best tablet out there at this price point. I think what will make the fire a winner will be a large adoption rate, which I think they have the price point to achieve. If there are lots of Kindle Fire users out there, developers will be anxious to port their apps in the Amazon App store for them.

November 25, 2011 | 02:46 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

As mentioned, I think a user's perspective on this device will vary drastically based on where you're coming from.

The Fire has received a lot of so-so reviews because it is so restricted and because it breaks no new hardware ground. I generally agree with that view. Okay, so a Eee Pad Transformer is twice as much. But is it more than twice as good? Frankly, I think so.

But with that said, the Fire might become very popular with consumers. It does offer a lot of content at a low price and consumers will probably put up with the interface quibbles, and they certainly won't care about the hardware.

Still, PC Perspective has an enthusiast audience, so I feel it appropriate to approach it from that view. And I think if you're a geek who is familiar with the hardware and the software available in other tablets, you will be disappointed by some of the Fire's shortcomings.

November 25, 2011 | 12:16 PM - Posted by gigi (not verified)

Good tablet!excellent price! I love it!

November 25, 2011 | 12:26 PM - Posted by Ken F. (not verified)

I have a 12 year old that loves to read. We were thinking about getting him the regular Kindle, but we are also looking at the Fire. So he can play games and stream movies. The regular Kindle uses an e-ink screen? I guess that's what they call it. Could he use this to read books? Or is the screen not good for that?

November 25, 2011 | 02:15 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

In my personal opinion (I have a Kindle Fire and previous Kindles as well), I still think the eInk is better for long term reading, but so far, after a handful of 30-45 minute reading sessions on the Fire, I haven't had any complaints.

November 29, 2011 | 01:15 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If you have both the Kindle Fire & the original Kindle can you share books previously purchased between both devices?

December 5, 2011 | 04:37 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

In general, yes you can. The exception to this is that some publishers restrict how many copies you can have authorized at a time.

November 25, 2011 | 02:47 PM - Posted by Kenley Wellman (not verified)

i think the kindel looks so cool and if i get it 4 christmas i will coment a whole lot more!!!

November 25, 2011 | 02:48 PM - Posted by Kenley Wellman (not verified)

hopefully u can do the same things on it like an ipad but more fun stuff!!!

November 25, 2011 | 03:01 PM - Posted by nancy (not verified)

If they added a webcam, it would blow IPAD out of the water!

November 26, 2011 | 02:46 AM - Posted by Jason (not verified)

You mention that price can't explain everything away then you go to mention competitors that in some cases cost 65% more. Even the next cheapest option is still 25% more than the Fire, and it was priced mainly in response to Amazon. Something that costs 25% more is not in the same class.

November 26, 2011 | 07:54 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

A 25% price difference is nothing to laugh at, but when we're talking about devices between $200 and $600 dollars, its also not budget-breaking. This is not a car or a house - even doubling the price results in a mere $200 increase.

November 26, 2011 | 09:14 AM - Posted by PaulDriver

The Blackberry Playbook at $200 Kicks Kindle Fire's butt.

The Playbook's price will probably go back to $300/$350 after the holidays, and even at that price point it's a better tool.

Dual Cameras, Microphone, and HDMI are a start.

Buying into a walled garden, anyone's, is ultimately a failure. Playbook may not be as wide open as GNU/Linux/Android but it is based on QNX ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QNX ), and is the foundation for the next gen Blackberry Phones. So even though they're having a Playbook fire sale, I don't think it's going to completely vanish in less then two years.

Heck, Compared to the development history of Android, I think RIM has done a stunning job with the Playbook, it is the only FIPS 140-2 certified tablet, a security requirement necessary for use by U.S. federal government agencies, and historically, RIM has a better track record of OS updates for it's older devices then any manufacturer of "Android" devices.

Have a security flaw on your android device? Buy a new one with a newer OS, the one you bought isn't likely to be updated.

In my experience, Blackberry has always rolled security updates and sometimes even functional updates back into it's older devices (with-in reason)

I've used Windows Phone(Win CE/Mobile/whatevera), IOS and Android devices, and I keep returning to Blackberry phones because they work as a phone first, and are hard for me to crash, I've not managed to crash my Playbook either.

Yes, RIM is in trouble, mostly though, it's just PR. They are engineers right down to their DNA, and have never been able to market their tech well. RIM has pretty solid engineering, but it's not flashy, no manic Svengali's with reality distortion fields whipping that masses (sadly) at RIM, just stodgy old engineers hacking away at problems.

In FY 2010-2011 RIM recorded a revenue of $19.9 billion and net income of $3.4 billion (EPS = $6.34). Currently RIM has a market cap of about $9.6 billion, trades at 3.4x trailing earnings, and is priced below its book value of $18.92 per share.

In FY 2011-2012 the first half revenue and net income for the company is $9.1 billion and $1.02 billion respectively. Even with the current run rate the company should achieve a net income of at least $ 2 billion in the current fiscal. At $18.92 the stock price is discounting fiscal 2012 EPS by better then 6.25 times.

Ugggh, what I was trying to say, the Playbook is still a competitive device, that is, in reality, from conception to now, what 2 years old? That's a stunning achievement, by a solid, reliable and tested vendor.

November 26, 2011 | 07:57 PM - Posted by Matt Smith

The PlayBook is not a better buy for most consumers. It has a substantially worse display and a much slimmer catalog of apps. Those two factors alone disqualify it from competition even when the PlayBook is priced at the same, and they're much more relevant than the inclusion of cameras, microphones, or even HDMI.

November 26, 2011 | 06:19 PM - Posted by Laura Rosas (not verified)

I LOVE this device - it has exceeded all my expectations and I can clearly see where Amazon will take the next generation of Fires - larger and with 3G and still likely less than the IPad

November 27, 2011 | 03:46 PM - Posted by LiVECrys

The Fire looks to be perfect for our family. I want a tablet for the couch and on the road, this is perfect for what I need, especially at the price.

My wife is a fb nut, loves being able to watch tv and browse fb. Meets that need.

And our second one is for our daughter to play games, watch the movies we buy on amazon and take in the car on trips.

The only question I have is do I need 2 or 3? lol

I can buy 2.5 of these for the cost of an iPad. Couple it with my or my wifes iphone hotspot and its exactly what we need. And this review makes me want to pick it up more.

November 28, 2011 | 12:19 AM - Posted by Eric (not verified)

I think the best reviews should come from the owners of the fire. I have an iPhone 4s, and love to surf the web and use apps on it, but I hate how small it is. My friend has an iPad 2, and it is awesome, but I just can't justify spending $600. I purchased the fire yesterday and love it. I have no need for a camera or microphone, my phone goes with me everywhere and does that job nicely. The fire is fast, surfs the Internet just fine, plays movies and games with no problem. Plus it actually plays flash, which as an apple user is very nice and refreshing. Interface isn't as easy as apple, but it's still smooth and manageable. For the price it was a great buy, and I have no complaints.

November 28, 2011 | 05:55 PM - Posted by perfectshot (not verified)

Ordered two units when they were announced. I thought one would be a great present but now I'm already considering of returning both units. The battery life is poor and I don't want to buy electronic version of books that cost more than discounted or used paperbacks.

It's a really nice looking device though. Just wish they actually carried magazines I read and wouldn't charge so much for books.

I also can't believe that the charging cable can't be used on a PC. It's a single fixed unit. This device would have been great for a 24 hour flight...

For now my old iPad will do. Can't say no to gifted tablets!

November 28, 2011 | 07:57 PM - Posted by TeslaMan (not verified)

I have had the Kindle Fire from day one and I have not regretted my purchase one bit!
I did a good deal of research before I made the choice to get the Kindle Fire, saw the positive and negatives of the hardware, interface, style and price point.
When you look at all the 10" tablets, the size was not what I was looking for, too much bulk for me. I did not need or want cameras, I have the cameras I want on my Motorola DX2 in a smaller, easier to handle package.
Comparing to the other 7" tablets, and my voracity for reading and viewing movies from netflix, the Kindle Fire won all around.

I held off buying until I saw for sure it would have NetFlix, and Hulu Plus. Now if they can just port Vudu to it as well...

Oh.. and the $200 price point was a big deciding factor as well.

So , go ahead, compare for yourself, then choose!

July 6, 2012 | 03:45 AM - Posted by Reginald (not verified)

Why pay $200 for a Kindle? You can get a certified Amazon Kindle that is refurbished for $20-$60 cheaper.
http://www.squidoo.com/refurbished-amazon-kindle

October 13, 2012 | 06:10 PM - Posted by missed (not verified)

"Weighing in at 14.6 ounces, the Fire is one of the lighter tablets on the market today, thanks no doubt to its 7” size"
It is really very easy to handle and deal with, you may like to take a look over some of technologies used in it
kindle fire 2012

November 15, 2012 | 03:23 PM - Posted by omar (not verified)

The kindle has withstood all the criticism it got since the first kindle and has proven to be a great tablet. Good for you. http://www.gadgetstron.com/kindle-fire-hd-8-9/

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