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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.

Want to go back to where you were previously? Tap on the sole, clearly delineated back arrow at the bottom of the screen. Or tap the home button, also clearly delineated, when it appears at the lower left. When in apps, you can navigate by tapping on the up arrow at the bottom of the screen, which in turn reveals the home, back, and menu buttons. But if you're viewing video in Amazon's video player, you'll need to swipe up from the bottom, since the player takes up the whole screen.

Overall, on the surface Amazon's grey-and-orange themed interface is an improvement over standard Android 2.3, with clearer labels and cleaner design on the whole.

As noted already, Amazon did a good job at integrating its stores into the Fire's individual content sections. Visually, the book-shelf metaphor of your content libraries works well, even if that presentation lacks the personalization many crave. Moving between content in Amazon's cloud locker and stuff stored on the device is as simple as choosing cloud or device; the two are clearly delineated by a consistent visual element throughout all of the libraries. Find something you love, or want to remove? Just tap on the cover and hold down--and pick between adding to the favorites bar on the home screen, and removing from the tablet entirely.

I liked how the Amazon video player functions. Even if you're watching a video streamed on- demand from the Amazon cloud, you can still easily skip ahead a bit. And if you miss a few moments, no problem: Tap on the 10 second rewind for a quick fix.

The built-in email app will get the job done for the basics, but its layout is not especially optimized for landscape, for example, as you'll find with an Android 3.x Honeycomb tablet. And if you back out of the email app to do something else, it returns you to the top of your email list, not to the last message your were viewing.

Forget about multitasking as a whole. Kindle Fire lacks shortcuts to make it easier to get between content, as you'll find in standard Android 2.3 or in the tablet-optimized Android 3.x.

Amazon's contacts app is uninspiring; and surprisingly, the Kindle doesn't come with a basic calendar or clock app, two standard inclusions in Honeycomb tablets.

For all the fuss made about Amazon's Silk Web browser, which uses a proxy server to cache frequently accessed sites and purportedly speed surfing speeds, I can't say I noticed much of a difference in my Web surfing. Maybe I didn't hit the popular sites, or maybe the difference is that minimal that it won't be obvious in casual use. The browser supports tabs, at least, which is an improvement over the standard Android 2.3 browser, but I'm still a bit leery of how Amazon manages the whole caching process. And I'm so far not convinced of the process' efficiency.


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