February 17, 2012

My Kindle Fire: A Big Blaze or a Small Spark?

The iPad is the 500 pound gorilla when it comes to the explosion of tablet use. Others tried and failed to dent the force of the $500 wonder (more than $800 with extra storage). Last fall, Amazon launched its own tablet: the Fire, while dropping the price of its line of e-readers by more than half. Since Apple rarely engages in price cuts, the tech world waited to see what the impact would be on the Steve Jobs-less company.

Figures from late 2011 don't paint a clear picture. Some sources show a drop of several million units sold below Apple's expectations, while other surveys show no impact by the Kindle Fire, other than a massive increase in the number of users of tablets on a daily basis.

There are plenty of web sites that detail the pros and cons of the Fire, as well as provide a head-to-head comparison with the iPad. Now comes word that Amazon is looking to introduce a Kindle Fire with a substantially bigger screen (9" instead of 7") sometime in the next few months. At the same time rumors continue to swirl that there will be a smaller, cheaper iPad available this year.

I bought a Fire in mid January. I have had it long enough to form some opinions about its usefulness to me. I don't own an iPad so I can't provide you with an unbiased comparison. But, I can share with you how my first 30 days have gone. If you are still debating the wisdom of spending $199 on the Fire, maybe my thoughts will help.

Pros of The Kindle Fire

For the price, I find the Fire to be an excellent buy. With a starting price of $500, or with increased storage options that would inflate the price to over $800, I just couldn't see  using an iPad enough to justify that cost. But at $200 the Fire is worth it to me.

While I still prefer physical books, I am finding that I like reading a book or looking at a magazine on the tablet. The weight is just over 14 ounces so it isn't tiring to hold for longer periods. It also rests comfortably on my lap. The screen is back lit so reading in a dim or dark room is not a problem. If I am sitting outside, however,  I have to be positioned to the sun correctly, or the screen is unreadable. I like the ability to adjust the font size, place a bookmark where I stop reading, even get a word definition or add a personal note as I am reading.

There are thousands of free books and tens of thousands for less than $1, available for download. With WiFi included, it takes about 5 seconds to download a typical full length book. If you don't have WiFi, you would have to download a book to your computer first and then sync it to the Fire. But, again that is quick and easy.

The quality of the free books ranges from horrible to first rate. Because they are free, if you download a stinker all you have wasted is a little time. Delete it and move on. My public library system allows for downloads to the Fire so I don't see myself buying many books. There are lots of free newspapers from all around the world that make fascinating reading, too.


My understanding is the number of applications available for the Fire is substantially less than for the iPad. But, for my purposes there are more than I would ever need. At the moment I have Pandora, Flixster (for movie info & trailers), a chess game, Adobe reader. several magazines the Bible, Huffington Post, Netflix, Wall Street Journal, Mapquest, and a note taking app. 


I haven't used this capability yet, but there is a way to send documents from PDF or Word to the Kindle Fire. I do have all my e-mail appear on the Fire, though I usually use the smart phone to handle incoming and outgoing mail. That may change since the tablet's keyboard is much easier to use than the miniature one on the phone.


Cons of the Kindle Fire


As I have mentioned, the screen is difficult, if not impossible, to read in the sun. While not a major problem for me, if you do want to use the Fire while at the beach or someplace very sunny, this may be an issue.

The device only has 8GB of internal memory. If I wanted to store lots of music and movies that would be unacceptable. The iPad does have versions with up to 32GB. 

The browser used on the web is Amazon's Silk. I haven't found a problem though it doesn't seem to be as fast as Google's Chrome. It has locked up on me a few times.

There are complaints about the temperamental nature of the WiFi connection. I have read of some issues with time-outs and difficulty in establishing a link. To be honest I have yet to try any web connection outside of my house so I have no first hand knowledge of this issue.

I am not a big fan of the Carousel..a display of all the recent apps, books, documents, and e-mails that have been accessed. It gets crowded very quickly and needs to be cleaned up every day or so. I usually just click the section I want rather than scroll through everything.

The sound quality is marginal, though considering the size of the speakers it is about what one would expect. I don't download music to the device so I am not bothered, but listening for awhile would be tiring.


Bottom line: I am pleased with my Fire. I don't regret its purchase or not getting an iPad instead. The Fire does what I want it to well and intuitively. Frankly, after 30 days I still have a lot to learn about what it can and can't do. But, I know that on my next vacation the paperbacks will stay home and the Kindle will be packed. 


What Others Are Saying:

30 comments:

  1. Bob, Thanks for the review. If I had to spend my money for it, I'd do the same as you. Right now I am very fortunate with technology as my job requires, and therefore provides me with an iPad 2, Dell laptop, and a MacBook Pro. When I do get to retirement, I'm sure going to miss that benefit!

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    1. When you are on one of your marathon walking tours you can easily pack a Kindle Fire!

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    2. Ha! That's not a bad idea - it can get really boring out there. Hmmmm...

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    3. I bet even marathon walkers take occasional breaks!

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  2. Hi Bob, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I have had an iPad2 for about 4 months now but have only read reviews for Kindle Fire. But I have both the original Kindle, and Kindle Touch. I am a techie at heart so when I see all the other tablets make the claim that they are "almost as good as an iPad" I decided to go the Apple route. The larger display is easier on these old senior eyes. One of the things that you do not mention is GPS mapping. My iPad has 3G capability so I use it frequently on almost all our vacations. It gives me a real-time map of where we are at any moment; where the nearest hotels are, where to eat, and many other like things. And of course it will also direct us turn-by-turn to any of the locations we choose with a very readable large screen. Yeah, my cell phone can also do all of this, just in a much smaller format. I would assume with only wi-fi that is not possible with Fire?

    But having said all that I'm sure Kindle Fire is "almost as good" (ha).

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    1. You are correct, RJ. The Fire does not have 3 or 4G capability. There is a work-around for me: I can make my cell phone operate as a WiFi hot spot and then connect the Fire if I am away from another WiFi connection. But, yes, the inability to easily connect to the Internet with the Fire is one of its disadvantages, and probably one of the reasons it is so much less expensive.

      I do use my phone as my GPS but, yes, it is small.

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  3. Glad to hear of your experiences, Bob. I bought a regular Kindle about 18 months ago and love it so probably would get an ipad next, when I can afford one.

    I have used the feature to email pdf files to myself and it's wonderful. Only costs usually a dollar or two and you can send ebooks or reports that you might otherwise have to sit at the computer to read, which I really don't like to do.

    I also belong to a website which offers publisher's galley's to writers and they give advance copies of books for review. They are hooked up to kindle to you can send it there or you can download to the computer via Adobe Digital Additions. I've read many great books through the reviewers website for just the cost of sending them to my kindle.

    I do prefer hard copies of books sometimes and have actually purchased some hardcopies of book's I've reviewed. To me, it's hard to find references or certain pages you've already read, even if you take notes. I usually have to scan through all my notes to find the one I wanted. If it's a book I'm going to be using frequently, I like the hard copy.

    Still, the Kindle is a great invention! I read that they are selling the Fire for only about $10 over the cost to make it and they are banking on fact that you'll purchase media with it.

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    1. I read that Amazon loses up to $50 on every Fire but hopes you will buy lots of books, movies, and music. Just like razor companies almost give away the handle but charge an arm and a leg for the blades, or printers and the ink. The money isn't in the hardware.

      What is the book review web site you mentioned? I get contacted quite often to review hard copy books but only accept a few. Who has that much time!! I'd rather do the e-book route if possible.

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    2. Bob, the website is www.netgalley.com. You sign up and create a profile which include a link to your blog. You can look through literally hundreds of books about to be published and if you see one you want to review, you send a request to the publisher and they ok it or not.

      One you request and view it, you are under no obligation to actually write the review. Some publishers are liberal in their choices of letting you review the book (whether or not it fits in with the topic of your blog) but some allow you to stretch it. I reviewed that Gardens of Williamsburg book and I have another book on Container Gardening in the line-up. I review lots of books published by Hay House, which are self-help style.

      You also post the review in your file online so publishers can see it.

      I too have been asked to review books for different people but accept only a few of those now.

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    3. Excellent, Joan. I will check it out. Thanks for the follow up.

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  4. I am an IPad addict.My kids got it for me. My husband is interested in the Fire. Thanks for the review. Btw- Staples is offering a $20 gift card with a purchase of the Fire on Sunday!

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    1. 30 days too late for me on the Staples gift card, but good info for others. Thanks, Janette.

      If hubby gets a Fire you can do a Head-to-head comparison. I'd be interested. Obviously, the iPad has a bigger screen and 3G capabilities. But what else makes it worth more than twice as much? You could be our "test kitchen."

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  5. My wife wanted a K Fire so got one for Christmas; she loves it but has had a bit of a challenge getting used to it. We've both been skeptical of giving up the feel of a paper book, I haven't gone that way...yet.

    If I do, I'd probably go the iPad route. I'll admit I'm a Apple fanboy, but I just can't handle the aggravation of dealing with PC's, virus's, and lack of an IT support dude here in the house. I'll also be the first to admit that it's a legitimate debate as to whether Apple is worth the premium, but if you can stomach the extra cost, they're great machines. I'm still working, but take my Mac to the office and use it on the wifi rather than use the big (yes, super powerful) PC laptop they provide. I'll probably get an iPad for my birthday coming up, but I've been resisting it as I can do about everything between my mac laptop and phone that it can, just not as elegantly. If all I wanted was a reader, I'd likely do the Fire, but once I'm paying for ONE MORE piece of technogadget, I'm inclined to scratch as much itch as I can in one purchase. I'm convinced that in the Fire/Nook/iPad debate there's no correct answer for all; it just depends.

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    1. You've raised a good point, Allan. My youngest daughter is thinking of an iPad to replace her laptop for business travel. Rather than add another "thing" she is looking to make part of her life easier (and lighter!) and the iPad is a better choice for that.

      I am the ultimate physical book guy. After all, I have had 3 librarians in my family. I never thought I could read on an e-reader, but now my wife and I battle over who gets the Fire at lunch time!

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  6. I've never had an Ipad, although I do have a Kindle (and not a fire). Ill be blogging about my technology issues vs frugality soon. I no longer have a kindle the new puppy at it (literally, no ones fault but my own. My immediate reaction is that its not a tragedy. I do however have a very good smart phone with 4g technology and as such am not sur eone needs both a pad and a phone. Like you I prefer real books and the kindle was used for travel or downloading heavy textbooks for class.

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    1. Technology and frugality is a good topic for you to explore. Where does one draw the line? I'll be interested to read your thoughts.

      I can certainly see myself using the Fire on vacations for reading. But, movie watching on a 7" screen...not very likely. The smartphone keeps me connected to the Internet in places without WiFi, though it is hard to find a hotel or public gathering place without it anymore.

      I did purchase and download a book I need for a men's Bible study class. It was $4 cheaper than the physical book and much easier to transport since the Bible is also on the Fire.

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  7. I'm contemplating getting a Kindle Fire or an IPad sometime in the distant future. But first there is another option. That option is to go to your local Library providing this service and get an e-Reader on loan. At the same time you can 'kick the tires' for Free where you can download library e-Books or outside Free downloads except for Amazon.com. And if you feel Rich you can always purchase an e-Book download from time to time. In Canada, March/2012 is the inaugural e-Book Reading Month.

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    1. You are absolutely right, Joe. E-readers are available on load from the Phoenix public library system. There is a high demand, but it is certainly a way to "try before you buy."

      Our system also provides software that allows you to download books, magazines, music, and videos to your home computer. Plus, you can download something to your computer and then send it to a Kindle.

      Interesting note about Canada making a major push for e-book reading. I wonder how traditional publishers feel about that!

      Thanks for your input.

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  8. Bob... I didn't realize that the Kindle Fire is so very versatile. As I reported in two of my recent posts, I've opted for the far less versatile Kindle Touch. One feature of the Kindle Touch which I'm especially pleased with is the "ink like" screen. As it enables me to read in bright sunlight as well as normal room light, it "does the trick" for me. No matter which reading device, they all present the benefit of housing a bookshelf worth of reading material in a super-small package. When we lived in the Peruvian Andes a few years ago, Wendy was especially hungry for English language books. Any one of the e-reading devices would have fit the bill nicely. Bill

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    1. Hey, Bill. I read your post about the "ink like" screen and would have chosen that if it were part of a Kindle. I quickly learned sunshine & the Fire don't agree with each other.

      But, I am pleased with the ability to surf the web, read and respond to e-mails, read book and newspapers, and look at movie trailers. I also downloaded a chess program and am re-teaching myself to play well enough to stay ahead of my 5 year old grandson.

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  9. Once I found out I could download the Kindle reader app for free on my MacBook, I put off spending any money on either a Kindle or an iPad. Also, Apple just announced that all the iPad and iPhone apps will now become available for the Mac laptops, so there really is no need for me to buy anything else now or in the future. I can download all the free books from my library without ever leaving my recliner. I can also read any newspaper or magazine my library gives out for free. Right now I am reading, on my laptop, using the free Kindle app, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'.

    The apps are cheap enough. I just downloaded FaceTime for only ninety nine cents, which is a free app on the new G4 iPhones. I can now video chat with my daughters (or anyone else for that matter who has the app) whenever I want. I always have my Apple laptop with me (it's very light). The wi fi works great. And if I can hold onto my laptop longer and still not spend any money, I'm all for it.

    Eventually, I'll probably buy an iPad. I'm looking forward to the new smaller model. Hubby can probably use it more on the job.

    PS: I never read books on the beach. People pay thousands of dollars to listen to the surf. That's what I do when I'm on a beach: listen to the surf and watch the waves.

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    1. Until the Fire, I had the Kindle app on my laptop and PC and used it quite a bit. But, I am finding the portability of the Fire means I can read in different locations. Of course, the laptop is good because the screen is bigger.

      I almost felt compelled to buy either a Fire or an iPad. As a blogger who has to stay aware of what readers own or are thinking of buying I wanted to be able to talk about the device from a personal standpoint. So far, I feel the money was well spent.

      I like your point about the beach: I like to sit and completely empty my mind and just experience the surf and sounds and sights. Reading is for other times and places.

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  10. You can also check out digital library books easily to the kindle.

    greater phoenix digital library is a great resource for free loans.

    My daughter (10) has loved the kindle fire for library books, netflix and games. Just be careful to password protect wifi as my daughter can and has purchased games with no idea of impact.

    Thanks.

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    1. I downloaded a book last night from the library to my Fire. It took a few minutes to set up the account and awhile to find a book I wanted, but the actual download to the Kindle took about 3 seconds.

      Good point about not only password protection, but know what books are being downloaded. I was quite surprised to find hundreds of adult books (under the category "erotic" ) for download with no age verification.

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  11. My husband gave me an iPad for my birthday which was great until I wanted to use it...then I had to wrangle it away from him! No kidding!! So I bought him one for Christmas and retrieved my own. I absolutely love it. I like being able to change the print size. It is so easy to look up things on Wikipedia using the iPad. The downside is that the One-Click on Amazon is altogether too easy and can bust the budget quickly!!

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    1. I can relate, Florence. My wife seems to grab the Kindle before I can so she can read her book. I make do with a magazine until she's ready to move onto something else. A second Kindle may be in our future, but probably one of the less expensive readers.

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  12. A quick nod to Apple here: The Genius Bar. Our local Apple store has one. The geniuses there support Apple hardware and explain the use of a lot of software (in reserved 15 minute intervals). Very useful when "just a quick question ..." comes up.

    We recently were at the iPad or laptop fork-in-the-road. We chose the Apple 11" MacBook Air. Haven't looked back with a regret yet

    !!

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    1. I gather Apple does a tremendous job of support. Our friends just bought iPhones and attended free classes to help them get the most from the devices. Apple users are a loyal bunch of folks, for a good reason: customer service.

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  13. My wife and I own a netbook and I was issued an iPad a few months ago by the employer I've been doing some project work for. The iPad is fantastic and I will definitely buy one of my own. BUT, I do have a couple of reflections. First, I hate typing on the iPad. I feel that I have been reduced to the hunt and peck motions when I took the time many years ago to actually learn to type well the correct way. Second, I have not read a book electronically yet. I probably will but I like "real" books. As a retiree who is already struggling with the decrease in social interaction after leaving the office, I can see that online shopping and now online reading are both further building walls of human separation. No more opportunity to experience being with people in the marketplace and now less and less visits to the physical library to see others reading and to talk with a librarian. I think that we NEED these interactive opportunities. And, no, emailing and online dialog are not the same. This is one reason why we are all liking Downton Abbey so much. The people actually talk to each other in slow, meaningful conversations. People are not off in their own corners looking at glowing screens.

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    1. My daughter just started raving about that show last night. I'll have to join the legion of fans of Downton Abbey.

      Your point about interaction is important. We get into trouble if the electronic devices in our lives replace actual interaction, instead of just being a supplement. Leaving work does immediately reduce opportunities for being with others. It is much too easy to simply cocoon ourselves away.

      I never thought I'd find reading an e-book acceptable, but I have. It doesn't replace physical books, but again, is a nice addition to how I can consume information and entertainment.

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