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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.

Modest Specs and Performance

Tablets are more about usability than specs. That said, the Kindle Fire's skimpy specs is one of the clear sacrifices Amazon made to achieve its $200 price.

Amazon uses a Texas Instruments OMAP 4 dual-core processor; but in use, the Fire didn't feel like it was a dual-core tablet. It lagged on transitions, even simple ones like turning pages in books or rotating orientation; it produced jerky animations; and video playback was repeatedly pixillated. It's unclear whether all of the blame lies solely with the 512MB of RAM--half what's standard on 7-inch tablets from companies like Acer and Samsung. Software optimization could also be part of the issue here; after all, Amazon's custom build of the Android 2.3 operating system could have some kinks, too. But in use, I became all too familiar with the spinning ball wait indicator as something loaded, and I felt as if I paid with my time what I saved in money on the Fire's modest price. .

Some missing elements weren't felt immediately, though. For example, Kindle Fire has neither a front-facing nor a rear-facing camera, and it lacks GPS. None of these felt like onerous omissions on their own, but they are standard inclusions in the pricier top-tier competitive set, and their omission means you're making a choice not to use your tablet for video chat, scanning an image, or navigating your way around town--all of which are practical uses you may miss having in the long-run. At $200, you're getting what you pay for.

If you plan to pack this tablet with apps, music, books, and movies, you'll be disappointed: The Fire has only 8GB of storage space, and only 6.54GB is user-accessible. In practical use, it took little to blast through a couple of gigabytes of space , and even Amazon admits in its specs that the on-board storage can only hold 10 movies at a time, for example. And unlike Barnes & Noble's $200 Nook Color and $250 Nook Tablet, the Kindle Fire has no microSD card slot, so you can't add more space as needed.

We ran some of the PCWorld Labs' tablet tests on the Fire, and found decidedly mixed results. It was the second slowest tablet of more than two dozen we've tested at transferring files from a PC. On the SunSpider JavaScript test, the Fire was slower than the HTC Flyer (Wi-Fi) and every Honeycomb tablet we've tested, but faster than last year's original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, and a slew of tablets with single-core, sub-1GHz processors and Android 2.2 operating systems.

Amazon bills the battery life as lasting for up to 8 hours of continuous reading, or 7.5 hours of video playback, but those estimates are based on Wi-Fi being turned off. With Wi-Fi on, I found my casual use of the tablet drained the battery surprisingly quickly. In about three hours and 45 minutes, the battery dropped from 56 percent to zilch; brightness was set to the default of three-quarters maximum, and the tablet was used just for some light Web browsing, e-mail, downloading a few apps, and streaming a handful of tunes and a few minutes of video. Stay tuned for our full battery life tests, which remain in progress.


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