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Amazon Kindle fire misfires

Melissa J. Perenson | Nov. 16, 2011
All eyes are on Amazon's Kindle Fire to provide fresh competition for Apple's iPad 2, today's dominant tablet.

Overall, the Fire has a curious design. It has an asymmetrical black bezel surrounding the 7-inch display (it's thicker along the bottom, when held in portrait mode). The tablet takes simplicity to the extreme. It has just one button, a sleep/wake/power button placed along the bottom edge. I liked that the button was easy to press, and that it glows red when charging, but it was also too easy to accidentally invoke. Next to the power button are the micro-USB port for charging and transferring data, and a headphone jack.

Both of the Fire's speakers are located along the same edge (the top, if held in portrait mode, the left edge in landscape). That means you'll lose the stereo effect no matter how you hold the Fire, and likely end up covering one of the speakers with your hand when holding it in landscape.

The only cabling included is a wall charger; you'll need your own USB cable (if you want to transfer data between your PC and Fire) and headphones. Volume control is handled entirely via software, and this proved problematic time and again, especially when in apps (more on this later).

When you first start-up the tablet, the Fire walks you through a few simple setup points, and then deposits you into your home screen--the same screen you land in when you swipe to the left to unlock the device.

The home screen has a search bar at top, with tabs for Newsstand (where you access various periodicals), Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web beneath. At the center of the home screen is a central carousel that shows your most recent acquisitions or most recently accessed content of any sort--books, periodicals, music, videos, web sites, apps--in reverse order, with the latest on top. You can flip through these, and they go by surprisingly quickly, but I found it bothersome to find age-old books I'd bought showing up in this carousel, even if I hadn't downloaded the books from my cloud archive to the device (at least the same didn't happen with my sizable Amazon music collection).

At the bottom of the home screen is a Favorites shelf. Kindle Fire comes with Amazon's Appstore app, the Pulse reader app, the IMDB app, and the Facebook app icons pinned there already. Temper your enthusiasm, though--the Facebook "app" merely leads you off to the mobile version of the Facebook site.

The top of the home screen shows the name of your device, the time, battery status, and Wi-Fi status, and it also features a "gears" button that calls up a popover. for quick access to various settings like the rotation lock, the volume slider--your only volume control for the tablet--brightness, Wi-Fi, and sync (for use with Amazon's Whispernet synchronization between Kindle devices). And it serves as a the jumping point for the main settings menu.


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