In just under four years,
Amazon has progressed from its initial clumsy monochrome Kindle
that essentially could display basic books and not much else,
and first sold for $399; to a lovely color screened tablet
device with broader computing capabilities, priced at half the
original Kindle (ie $199).
Indeed, regular monochrome
Kindles similar to the original Kindle are now available for as
little as $79. Progress can sometimes be a wonderful
Please see also our earlier
three part series
introducing the Kindle Fire and Amazon's other new Kindle
The Amazon Kindle
Fire - What You Get
Amazon's new Kindle Fire
eBook reader/tablet comes packed in a combination shipping
box/product box, making for an efficient packing/shipping
process on Amazon's part and a minimum of waste in packaging
One simply pulls a zip
tab, then opens up the box, to reveal the Fire inside, wrapped
in a clear mylar type bag.
Also inside the box is a
mains charger. This is an internationally compatible
multi-voltage charger and claims to deliver 1.8A of charging
current at 5V. Enough to charge the Fire, but not quite
enough to charge an iPad, and in any event, the charger
unfortunately has a hard wired cable between the wall 'brick'
charger and the micro-USB connector which limits its use only to
devices that accept a micro-USB charging cable.
At least Apple
provides a standalone brick charger with a regular USB connector
so you can connect any sort of USB power driven charging cable
Doubtless Amazon saved a
dollar by choosing the cheapest most generic type of wall
charger it could, but it loses out on overall panache by
presenting such an ugly and basic charger with the Fire.
This approach is doubly
disappointing because Amazon do not provide a USB connecting
cable to enable the Fire to be connected to a computer.
This is necessary if you wished to transfer content directly
from the computer to the Fire, or to charge the Fire from a
computer or any other type of USB power outlet.
The only other thing inside
the box is a tiny card (3.2" x 5.5") that on one side has 75
words about 'getting to know your Kindle' and on the other side,
many more words in the finer print of legalese.
A more detailed Users Guide
is preloaded onto the Fire. However, although it is more
detailed, it is still far from complete in terms of the
information it provides, and the options it explains.
One is left wishing for a
third fully comprehensive manual, but none currently exists.
Hopefully some enterprising person will quickly write one and
start selling it - as a Kindle eBook, of course.
The unit was reasonably well
charged straight out of the box.
The Fire comes with a one
year warranty. You can also buy a two year 'warranty and
accident protection' policy for an extra $45 which gives you a
second year of regular warranty cover and two years of
accidental damage insurance (you are allowed a maximum of three
claims during this time).
Alternatively, you could
also protect your new Fire with a similarly priced $45 leather cover
Although the price of
Amazon's Kindles has plunged over the years, the price of Kindle
covers has risen. The original Kindle came with a cover
included, whereas now we are told that a cover is optional and has a $50 cost - a
quarter the cost of the unit itself - something that seems a ridiculously
There are already after market covers
appearing at better but still high prices.
The Amazon Kindle Fire -
The Fire is a featureless
black slab with a single button at the bottom for on/off.
The front side is covered in a special hardened glass (probably
Corning's Gorilla glass, but surprisingly most equipment
manufacturers prefer not to admit to using this wonderful
product, preferring instead the mystique and vagueness of simply
claiming to use special hardened glass). The glass quickly
acquires finger prints and smears
The back side is covered in
a hard semi-nonslip rubber material, and unlike iPads and
various other devices, it has a flat back and straight slab
sides. It is more like an oversized iPhone 4/4S than like an
The Fire is surprisingly dense to pick up - although it is about one
third lighter than an iPad, at first it feels the same due to
its unexpected density. The iPad is more than twice the
size of the Fire, but only half as much heavier.
The Fire truly is lacking in
any/all external controls - it doesn't even have a volume
control. Yes, you might understandably wonder what a
volume control would do on an eBook reader; but earlier Kindles
had them, and with the Fire's broader role as a multi-media
player, a volume control is definitely a necessary feature.
Instead, one has to go through various software menus to find
the volume control (it is in a different place in different
For some reason, I keep
expecting the power button to be on the top of the unit rather
than on the bottom. All the phones I've owned over the
last many years, and my iPads, and my earlier Kindles too, have
had the power button on the top of the unit, and so it is a
strange and unintuitive choice for Amazon to now locate the
power button on the bottom rather than the top of the Fire.
Other Kindles have a 6"
diagonal screen which measures approx 3.55" wide and 4.8" high (ie
a classic 4:3 aspect ratio). The Fire's 7" diagonal screen
is actually very little wider, but much taller. It
measures 3.6" wide by 6.1" tall - a classic widescreen 16:9
An iPad measures 5.9" x 7.8"
- the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the earlier Kindles. As
such, there are twice as many square inches of screen space on
an iPad as on a Fire (and 2.7 times as much as on a regular
The widescreen format of the
Fire is well suited for watching movies, but if you're going to
watch a movie, you probably will want to plug a set of
headphones into the headphone socket on the Fire. It has a
couple of miniature speakers on the opposite short side (to the
short side with the power switch, USB port and headphone socket)
but they are woefully inadequate in all but the quietest of
Although well suited for
watching a movie (when held horizontally) it felt a bit strange
reading a book with a long and narrow screen, even though
most paperback books have a similar type of aspect ratio.
This is doubtless something one will quickly get used to.
Using the Fire
When I first turned it on
and connected to my Wi-Fi, the screen then prompted me to enter
my Amazon account details, then paused for a second and greyed
out before I could put anything in. It then said
'successfully registered to David Rowell' - I guess Amazon had
pre-registered it in advance.
That was a nice touch and
saved me trying to work out what my password is!
It next progressed to
automatically downloading a firmware update. A brand new
Fire, only on sale for a day, and already there is a firmware
update! I guess one can see that glass as half full rather
than half empty - good for Amazon to keep on top of the latest
tweaks to its operating system and interface.
This update proceeded easily and
required no further intervention on my part, and at its
conclusion I was then taken to a series of 'first
time user' pages telling me a little bit about the Fire's capabilities.
And then, all of a sudden, I
was on its home page.
The Fire will automatically
turn itself off if not used for a while and turns back
on again instantly when you push the power button. The timeout defaults to a
value, and I decided I'd prefer to shorten it down to perhaps
minutes, but the only shorter value is a quick one minute.
So you have a choice between perhaps too short and perhaps too
The text on the screen is
clear and easy to read, and in bright sunlight one could turn
the brightness up further. Colors are bright and vibrant.
But when watching movies, a
lot of detail disappeared in the darker shades in most lighting
conditions, and got swallowed
up in an impenetrable black. Furthermore, the screen is
very reflective, so if one does not have the best viewing angle,
one will end up getting the sun or area lights or something
reflected in one's face, obscuring the image that one would
otherwise hope to see.
These issues are similarly
present on an iPad screen too, and the reflectivity is an issue
on the e-Ink screen of earlier model Kindles too, so this is
not offered as a criticism unique to the Fire, merely an
observation that one needs to have a lighting controlled
environment on which to watch movies on pretty much any sort of
Like an iPad or iPhone, if
one rotates the Fire 90 degrees, the information on the screen
usually rotates too, switching from landscape to portrait
orientation (or vice versa).
An Astonishing Fire Limitation
I went to view one of the
new state of the art 'multi-media' books that are being
released. These include video clips as well as regular
text and pictures, and can't be displayed on regular Kindles.
The only such book example I
have is George W Bush' autobiography. The video clips play
perfectly if I view it on a PC or iPad using the Kindle software
on these devices.
But - get this.
Amazon's own state of the art Fire tablet won't play the video.
It works fine on the competing Apple iPad, but not on Amazon's
own Kindle Fire.
That is, to put it politely,
very surprising. If you want the best Kindle eBook reading
experience, you should go out and buy an Apple iPad!
The Underlying Android
Operating System and Available Apps
The Kindle Fire uses a
customized version of the public domain Android operating
system. While the 'under the hood' details are doubtless
much the same as other versions of Android (thought to be
version 2.3, which is far from the latest/greatest version 4.0
recently released) the interface that we see as users is very
A different interface
doubtless helps Amazon create its own unique look and feel, and
to channel Fire users into the prime purposes of the device (ie
buying and displaying digital content from Amazon), but it means that
unlike the relatively seamless interface commonality between eg
an iPhone and an iPad, there is no similar common ground between
an Android phone and the Android powered Fire tablet.
The Fire does not have some
capabilities that many apps might expect to find - it doesn't
have many of the sensors or GPS receivers or cameras or
microphone that most mid-level and above Android phones have.
This means that, right from
the get-go, many regular Android applications that require such
enhancements will not work.
Furthermore, Amazon has chosen to restrict access only to Android apps that are sold through its own Amazon branded app
store, rather than ones available through the more generic
It has been suggested that
Amazon might be making an upfront small loss on each Fire it
sells. This is acceptable if the 'razor/razor blade'
principle works - ie, more or less giving away the razor (Fire)
so as to sell the razor blades (ie apps, books, videos and
For that reason it is
understandable that Amazon seeks to funnel all future purchases
through its own storefront, but it is regrettable that the only
way it can do this is by limiting the broader capabilities of
Android devices that the Fire could otherwise offer.
At present it seems that
slightly more than 10,000 apps might be available in the Amazon
app store, compared to more than ten times as many in the
regular Android marketplace.
But, of course, few of us
need either 10,000 or 100,000 apps. We just need a few
dozen of the more useful (and/or more fun) apps, and there are
certainly plenty of those to go around.
Within hours of the Fire
being released, a hacker came up with a workaround to enable the
Fire to access the general Android marketplace, potentially
opening it up to many more devices. But for most of us,
who are buying the Fire primarily as a convenient portable
device to read books, watch video, and perhaps surf the internet
and check email, the current constraints on what apps can run on
the Fire are very minimal.
Some Open Architecture Too
Interestingly, Amazon is not
restricting its Fire to only play video downloaded from Amazon's
own storefront. It also allows Netflix and Hulu streaming
too, albeit not in quite as integrated a manner as its own video
This would seem to give both
Amazon and the people who purchase a Fire the best of both
worlds, and shows the delicate balancing act Amazon must do
between keeping the Fire as it surely would prefer - a
completely closed system, and allowing it to become completely
open at the other extreme, something that Amazon of course would
If you start storing any
personal data, you would be well advised to set a password to
protect your data from unauthorized access. Unlike regular
Android based devices which allow for a clumsy motion sequence
to act as a password, the Fire simply requests a four or more
character password without the need for gestures.
It is unclear what happens
if a person tries unsuccessfully to unlock a password protected
device, and Amazon's rather undetailed manual fails to explain
this either. I experiment and it seems that if you can't
remember your password (or if you stole the Fire from someone
else) you can simply reset the unit back to factory defaults.
So the password protects
your data, but doesn't prevent someone from stealing and taking
over the unit, making it there own. There is no mention of
any remote disabling capabilities such as Apple is bringing out
for its iOS devices.
This apathetic lack of
interest on the part of Amazon (and other companies) in terms of
refusing to create anti-theft controls is reprehensible and
inexcusable in terms of today's technologies. Here is a
device that has a unique electronic serial number that is
constantly 'talking' to Amazon's servers; it would be the
easiest thing in the world for Amazon to remotely disable a
device reported as stolen by its currently registered owner.
Why don't they have this
There is also a puzzling
option for 'credentials storage' in the security section of the
phone. I've no idea what that is, and their manual is also
Come on, Amazon. We're
not mind readers. The whole idea of a manual is to explain
things to the users of the device.
Continued in Part 2
This is the first part of a
two part review of the new Amazon Kindle Fire. Please
click on to read the second part and
final conclusions and
recommendations as to if you should buy a Kindle Fire or not.
Please also see our earlier
three part series introducing the
new Kindle Fire and other Amazon Kindle devices.
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18 Nov 2011, last update
18 Nov 2011
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.