My Kindle Fire Review

When the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet was announced, I was intrigued. A small 7 inch tablet sold by Amazon.com for $199? Was the hardware any good, and is a 7 inch screen sufficient for a tablet? I already have a 10 inch Acer A500 Android tablet (which works great, by the way), so do I really need a 7 inch tablet also? Luckily, my intrigue and an October birthday made it an easy choice to pre-order the Kindle Fire which I received the 2nd week of November.

My big justification for getting a Kindle Fire was to test Android apps which I current develop for the Android smartphones and tablets. However, my plan would be to use the Kindle Fire as a personal tablet, as my larger Acer A500 tablet is a bit too bulky to tote around with me on trips to Starbucks or Panera Bread. So here’s my personal review after owning the Kindle Fire for about three weeks.

First, the Fire is well built and constructed of good components. The unit looks like a generic black-slab tablet with a very nice 1024×600 color screen. The device uses a variation of the Android OS, and runs very smoothly. As an average consumer, you’d never know it was running Android under the hood as Amazon has placed a nice, easy-to-use layer between the user and the OS. It can be limiting for advanced Android users, but works great for the general population to make the Fire much easier to use. As an advanced user, I have no complaints, as you can easily “side load” Android apps on the Fire with very little difficulty (and no need to root it).

If you want to load apps on your Fire, the only official source is the Amazon App Store. You can’t load apps from the Google Android Market, period. The only way is to “side load” them, which means you need to find a backdoor way of loading the apk install file for a desired app. This really isn’t difficult, if you have another Android device that you can backup a loaded app and then copy the generated apk file to your Kindle Fire to install it. If you want to try this, just to a Google search for “kindle fire side load app” for more details.

Of all the Android apps that I’ve loaded, only a few didn’t work on the Kindle Fire. For example, I wasn’t able to install the USA Today app for reading news, which was disappointing (however, I can always view USA Today from their web page directly without an app).

The biggest downfall for the Kindle Fire is the amount of storage space, which is limited to just 5 GB. Obviously, Amazon was trying to keep the price of the Fire low, which explains the small amount of storage. Amazon’s official response is that users can store their data in their Amazon Cloud online system, and access it via an online Internet connection. This is actually partially true. Amazon gives you  5GB of cloud storage for free to store videos, music, pictures, and documents, however you can only use this storage for accessing Amazon purchased items on your Kindle Fire. You can upload music mp4 files and access them on your Kindle Fire, but you can not upload personal videos or movies to the Amazon Cloud storage and expect to stream them to your Fire. Same for documents– they cannot be streamed or accessed on your Kindle Fire from Amazon Cloud storage.

This totally blows Amazon’s reason for limiting the 5GB local storage out of the water. Why can’t you stream your uploaded videos or documents to your Kindle Fire from Amazon Cloud storage? That just doesn’t make sense. So for now you must download your personal videos and documents to local storage on your Kindle Fire (which again you are limited to 5GB of internal storage).

An alternative is to use the Dropbox online storage for storing and accessing files. I’ve used this option on my Nexus S Android smartphone and Acer Android tablet quite effectively, and it also works with the Kindle Fire. All files uploaded to Dropbox can be access on the Kindle Fire using a Dropbox app. So for now, there is a way to overcome the Amazon Cloud deficiency, but hopefully Amazon will correct this issue soon.

Battery life for my Kindle Fire is actually pretty good, especially if you turn down the screen brightness. Yesterday I played several games and streamed videos from Netflix for several hours before exhausting the battery levels. Fortunately, the Fire charges up very, very quickly using the supplied wall charger and I was at nearly 80% charge in under 1 hour.

I was a bit worried that the 7-inch screen size would be too small, but it seems to work just fine for me. Web sites can be viewed quite sufficiently, and Android apps run at full screen with no issues. Games actually look nicer on the 7-inch screen than my 3.5-inch Android smartphone. Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and my Pool Parlor game work great.

Note, that I don’t plan to do any heavy reading on my Kindle Fire, which is ironic since most Kindle users typically use their devices for reading e-books. My plan is to use the Fire as a portable tablet, allowing me to access the Internet for online stored files, travel information, and email. Although the Kindle Fire has WiFi, it doesn’t have cellular radio for an instant Internet connection. So what I do, is use my Nexus S Android Smartphone (on the Sprint network) to act as a “hotspot” which I connect my Kindle Fire to via WiFi. So far, it works great and I have Internet access for my Kindle Fire at any time.

So in all, I’m glad I purchased the Kindle Fire and plan to use it as my daily tablet device. At a price of $199 (which I’ve read Amazon is losing $20 per unit), it’s a great deal.  I’ll be reading news, playing games, and watching videos with it. While on travel, I’ll use it to check the local weather, look for restaurant reviews, and check-in to my air travel flights. It will be a very handy, portable device that I can use for extended Internet access.

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