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.
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