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Amazon Kindle Fire first impressions: Solid but limited

Melissa J. Perenson | Sept. 29, 2011
My gut reaction to what I saw today: This is not the Amazon tablet we've all been looking for.

The wraps are finally off Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet. Its splashy entry into the tablet firestorm was hard to miss--Amazon made quite a statement with its $199 price--and yet I'm underwhelmed. Although reporters were not allowed to touch the Kindle Fire during the demonstrations following Amazon's New York launch event, I spent considerable time observing the tablet in action, and grilling Amazon executives about different features. My gut reaction to what I saw today: This is not the Amazon tablet we've all been looking for.

The rumor mill had been rife with talk of an Amazon Android tablet for months. And no wonder: Amazon is the only company whose shopping services could create an integrated tablet experience that gives Apple a run for its money. What Amazon announced today with the Fire is less of a ready-to-use tablet and more of a targeted companion for Amazon's content and cloud services.

Where Amazon Stumbles

The Kindle Fire is limited in several meaningful ways. For starters, it ships with just 8GB of memory. That isn't a lot of space for the kind of content I can easily envision consumers clamoring to use with the tablet. Surprisingly I got multiple different answers from Amazon execs when I asked them how much space a typical 2-hour movie takes up: The most intelligible of the answers suggested that up to 20 movies could reside on the device at once, but the reply clearly means that, as you amass your digital media collection, you'll need to make hard decisions about what you want to have on your Kindle Fire and when you should have it--not unlike the quandary over what should stay on your DVR. Forget taking the whole five seasons of Babylon 5 with you wherever you go, let alone carrying lots of video if your device is also packed with music. Yes, device media management has the potential to become quite tiresome over time--though just how tiresome is impossible to say until we have working devices in our hands.

You can sideload content of your own, but you'll also have to shop for your own apps to play that content. The video player is solely for Amazon purchased or streamed content, and the device has no image gallery for showcasing your favorite snaps.

Another limitation may be apps. The Kindle Fire uses a variation of Android 2.3, with its own mostly unique interface; I say "mostly" because every so often, in the Web browser or in messages that popped up, I saw hints of the Kindle Fire's Android roots. Apps for the device will come from the Amazon Appstore, but Amazon stocks a fraction of the total number of Android apps available now--just 10,000 of the 200,000 in the Android Market.

 

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