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Kindle Fire: Three pros, five cons

The good: Form factor and content. The bad: Lock in, auto updates and the Silk browser.

This post originally appeared on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog (“Kindle Fire Lessons Learned“). It’s republished with permission.

I don’t regret spending the $200 I paid Amazon for my Kindle Fire. I tried it out and decided it wasn’t for me, so I gave it to my daughter instead. Even though I no longer use the Fire I wanted to share the things I learned about the device and myself over the past several weeks. Let’s start off with the good side of things.

Kindle Fire pros

Kindle FireForm factor — I prefer the Fire’s size to the iPad’s. It’s nice being able to wrap your hand around the entire device and the lighter weight is a big plus for the Fire. Of course, it’s the same form factor as RIM’s PlayBook, and given how poorly that device has performed it’s clear you need more than just a great form factor.

Meets the needs of typical consumer — The Fire wasn’t for me but my daughter really likes it. That’s why you see so many good and bad reviews of it. Consumers who want a cheap tablet are OK without all the bells and whistles of the iPad, for example. Early adopters, or those who want to push the technology to the limit, are disappointed though. More on the early adopter in a moment …

Connection to Amazon content — There’s no question Amazon is using the razors and blades economic model here and the Fire is clearly the razor they’re willing to sell at little to no profit. Connectivity to Amazon’s ebooks, video and audio content is second to none with the Fire. And tying in the Prime membership program will only lead to more Amazon products being sold.

That’s it as far as pluses go. Now let’s talk about the minuses.

Kindle Fire cons

Connection to Amazon content — As easy as it is for Fire users to access Amazon content it’s just that difficult to access anyone else’s. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Fire it’s that my next tablet will not be locked in to one provider’s content. That probably means I won’t be buying from the typical content providers, of course. I don’t mind paying more for that capability, by the way. So if Samsung comes up with a terrific tablet that meets all my needs, and it’s $100 or so more than the Fire, I’m in.

Awful for the early adopter/tinkerer — As noted above, the Fire is pretty good for the typical consumer. But if you’re buying it to root and open it up you’ll be disappointed. Even if you go through the rooting process you’ll quickly find some of the apps in the Android Market simply won’t run on it (e.g., NHL Gamecenter App, the swipe keyboard, etc.) And if you do root it, watch out for those unsolicited auto-updates.

Auto updates — This one’s ridiculous. How in the world can Amazon think that forcing OS updates on every Fire owner is the right thing to do? Amazon, take a page out of the Apple book and let your customers decide when and if they want the update. I couldn’t help but feel the auto update was intended more to penalize rooters than to fix problems and offer more functionality. It also reminded me of the unfortunate “1984” debacle Amazon brought upon themselves a few years ago. Really stupid.

“Silk” browser — This has to be the biggest embarrassment of all for Amazon. Remember how excited Bezos was when he demo’d the Fire’s lightning-fast browser at the press event last year? It turns out the browser isn’t that fast after all. In fact, in my totally unscientific side-by-side testing, the Fire almost always loaded pages slower than both my iPad and my RIM PlayBook. Even with all these other issues I figured the Fire would offer a browsing experience that’s second to none. The results were considerably weaker than promised. I’m disappointed that Amazon hasn’t come out and admitted their failure here. It’s remarkable that they still prominently feature the Silk browser on the Fire’s product page. They seem to be in denial about it as they haven’t even hinted it will be fixed in a future software update. As much as I criticize Apple, this is something Steve Jobs never would have let happen.

Missing a “killer” app — This is the reason why I had to keep my iPad handy throughout my Fire use and am stuck (for the time being) on iOS. Zite is my go-to app. I use it every single day. It’s outstanding. It’s a free app but I’d gladly pay as much as $10 or $15 for it, especially now that I’m totally addicted to it. There’s no Android version of Zite … yet. I can’t even consider another Android tablet until Zite is available. Flipboard is a close second and it too doesn’t exist in the Android world. Amazon should have invested some money with the developers of apps like Zite and Flipboard to make sure they were available when the Fire launched. Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice if a Fire-specific app or two came out that made the device irresistible? I’d love to be talking about a Fire or Android app that’s unbeatable but not available on iOS. I can’t think of a single one.

I realize I’m a fairly unique user and that plenty of Fire owners are perfectly happy with their purchase. That’s great, but I’d also love to see Amazon step up, act like the market leader they’re trying to be and address these shortcomings.

I’m convinced that my next tablet will be an Android-based one. The only Android tablet I’ll consider though is one that gives me access to all types of content, not just content from the company who sells the hardware. Heck, as closed as they are, even Apple lets you install e-reader apps from Amazon, B&N, etc. One of the reasons they can do that is they’re confident they’ve got a terrific piece of hardware and you’ll want to buy it over the competition. They also charge a premium for it. I’ve learned it’s worth paying a premium, as long as it’s not ridiculously high, for the ability to choose from multiple content providers.

So while my next tablet won’t be the cheapest on the market, I won’t make the same mistake twice and limit myself to one source of content for it.

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  • Gary

    I have a hard time blaming the Fire for there being no ‘killer app’. I agree that there should be a Zite (I share your passion for the app on my iPad), but Amazon’s Fire quantity of devices in consumer hands is very small compared to the whole of the Android hardware market. Why is the lack of an Android Zite or Flipboard a mark against the Fire?
    That said, the Fire only accepts a very small group of the available Android apps. Developers have to make changes to be allowed on the Fire which has meant many solutions that would have made the Fire more of a daily used device is causing it to be a color eBook reader.

  • Andrew Morton

    I’m kind of confused by your assertion that Apple charges a premium for their tablets. Look at every other tablet that launched (and failed) they were all priced above the iPad. Only once they started trying to clear them out did the prices beat Apple. The Fire is the first credible challenger because it’s significantly cheaper.

    Apple being expensive is stale conventional wisdom.

  • mike hill

    This article sucks. Go get a blank Android tablet and develop your own ecosystem. You knew what you were buying, so why complain about it?

    Silk is fine. Again, you’re whining about stuff maybe 2% of users will actually care about.

    Oreilly is losing cred with hack job reviews like this.

  • I tend to disagree with what you are saying, The Fire is in my opinion the second best Kindle after the Kindle Touch 3G. The simple fact is that the main purpose of a Kindle is to read ebooks so any other apps on the Kindle is a bonus, sorry but it still remains my nr 2 Kindle

  • Rosie

    I am disagreeing with why you are saying about the kindle fire. First of all I haven’t had a problem with the Fire at all. It’s just like everything else depending on how long you use it that the battery goes. as for the apps. I am very much enjoying every app I have downloaded from Amazon’s website.

    The connection for Amazon through my Kindle has been Great for that matter. I believe its all on the router you are using and the WiFi you are connecting to.

    As for updates it does it all on its own. I don’t have to worry about any update.

    Oh Yeah! Maybe the manual will help you and how to work the Kindle Fire a lot better.

  • Brandon

    I too disagree, I’m currently using the kindle fire with root access. Having root gives you access to the android market, I can agree there are a few shortfalls on the device but they definitely do not overcome the good ones. And for the solid low price of 199 this is one hell of a tablet… and just the first 😉

    P.s. there’s already been speculation of “Kindle Ice” the successor to the now kindlefire!

  • Brandon, are you OK with having to re-root your Fire every time Amazon pushes out an OS update? I only went through that once before I gave up. Curious to know if you mind that hassle.