Beautiful visuals, intuitive interface, perfect size, and burgeoning application bank give the Kindle Fire out of the box usefulness. Easy modifications and size make this a worthy productivity tool.Cons
If you require hyper modification of your devices, you're going to have to work for it and root (read:void the warranty on) your Kindle Fire. E-ink readers are easily superior to the Fire for reading in high light situations, and you'll want to pick up a good dimmer to read in the dark for longer durations.Verdict
The Kindle Fire gives me way more bang than I originally thought I could expect for my buck, and it's pretty too.
You don't have to be a Geek to love Fire
First, and last, you can carry (and read) a lot of books on the Kindle Fire.
Don't forget that Amazon's origin wasn't 'big mall in the sky,' and neither was the Kindle line begun as anything more complicated than a portable paperback library (if a little bit lighter than your paperback library). Amazon sold books, and it sold a lot of them. The Fire holds books-- and it holds a lot of them. If you only wanted to use the Fire as a reader, it could hold more books that you are likely to read in this lifetime (comparison at bottom) on its 8GB of storage, even though a little over 1GB is set aside for apps. The interface is easy to use, and books made for the Fire will re-format to fit the page depending on whether you hold upright or horizontally. The book interface is intuitive: You swipe to turn forward or backward, tap the top corner to set a bookmark, etc... and Amazon's "whisper sync" will tell the cloud where you left off so you can pick up on your desktop computer or another Kindle registered on your account, right where you left off. The back-lit screen is sometimes hard to see in the sun, however, and at night the back light can be a little hard on your eyes. Plus, the native controls don't seem to dim the screen as much as you'd hope. There are applications you can use to dim further at a light cost; otherwise, you might have to learn how to side-load apps in order to pick up a free app that gives you more control. All that may sound off-putting, but this near-geek figured it out and got it rolling in just a few minutes. Keep in mind that this process is easy, but It does require you to either use another Android device or find less reputable sites to get the app files.
The Fire makes a handy tablet.
Side-loading sounds like geek-speak, and it may be, but you don't need even that to get a lot out of the Android-run tablet. The Facebook application really just runs the mobile site through Amazon's Silk browser. I'm not convinced that Silk is as super-fast as Amazon claims, but it works well enough. If you don't love it there are cool alternatives, but you don't need them. Another handy app the Fire comes equipped with is the Pulse reader, self described by Pulse as
"a beautiful mobile application that takes your favorite websites and transforms them into a colorful and interactive mosaic."
The easy to use Pulse interface is downright beautiful on the Fire's screen. You can choose from an enormous and growing list of clients and set up category pages to hold the ones you choose by categories. Pulse gives new enjoyment to the old tradition of reading the news in the morning: Scanning the headlines and pages you read most is as intuitive as the newspaper- but faster. I can see paying half of the Fire's price just for this pairing of software and device.
There's more, of course.
Amazon's move to connect your devices to their cloud is an important one. The Kindle Fire has only 8GB of storage, as I mentioned, and you can put around 80 apps on it at a time, according to Amazon. If you shuffle a lot of apps, you will probably reach your limit, but you can remove apps from the device and keep them in the cloud until you want them again, much like Apple and Palm (HP). You can also keep music and movies you purchase from Amazon in their cloud, which matters since those types of files take up oodles of real estate. This matters because you can't expand the physical memory of the Fire by attaching it to a physical drive of any kind (there are no jacks except the mini USB). You CAN, however, use the Box.net app from Amazon's app store or side load Dropbox without much fuss, consequently giving you access to several GB more space and any personal files that you want to access while you're out and about.
As a media device the Kindle looks good, and with an amazon Prime membership you are able to "borrow" books, movies, and TV shows for the cost of membership, and Amazon is always happy to sell you media as well. The Netflix app is easily more intuitive than, say, the Wii interface, and video looks good on the fire. Since Amazon purchased Audible, you can access your Audible audio book recordings easily. The app and widgets are nice to look at and easy to use, so much so that I spend spring break listening to books while I re-sided a portion of the house with the Fire in my cargo pocket. Games look and play well too, and Amazon offers a free app every day, including some killer ones from time to time. For example, I recently picked up the Audubon North American bird guide, a (formerly) 10$ app, which is crazy pretty and functional. It includes bird song audio recordings, full color photos, and a terrific search tool. I'm no birder, but I love the app, and it does a brilliant job of using the Kindle Fire's different abilities. Amazon is not using its free-app-of-the-day just to peddle garbage.
The native file management on the Fire is useful, though I don't care for the carousel much. It's cool to look at like about everything is on the Fire, but sorting through apps this way is only useful for the first few. There is a "shelf" for favorites, you can search, and you can go through an alphabetical list of apps too, but I much preferred the Go Launcher (you'll have to side-load it) application manager. Though the native app is a nice, central approach to navigating different content, it's a little clunky if you're trying to move quickly through your morning routine.... which brings me to that last point.
The Kindle Fire can handle your productivity routine (better than your phone).
For me at least, there seems to be a pretty direct correlation between my need to be mobile and the size of the devices that accommodate my needs. If I'm in constant motion, the desktop machine probably doesn't match my needs anyway. If I have a lot of sit down work, my phone isn't going to cut it. The midpoint has always been a problem, though. When I'm running errands... moving between meetings, classes, and my desk... the phone makes it hard to really see everything I need to see, and my laptop is too inconvenient to open, boot, shut down/hibernate, rinse, repeat, and it's no fun to carry around anyway.
Years ago, I started buying Palm phones because I was sick of carrying multiple objects that I felt like technology should be able to package together for me. The trouble was that phones have to be able to fit in your pocket, and that isn't always enough screen to make things happen the way you'd hope. I loved my Centro, and then I loved my Pre more, but I started carrying a paper planner because keeping my lists (I'm an aspiring GTDer) together, managing them, and navigating quickly between them and my calendar wasn't smooth or fast enough (though I daresay the Kindle Fire could use a little more of WebOS's interface logic than it already seems to employ).
The (or a) real difficulty was screen space. I am happy to report that using the Fire, between some apps I love and the android's widget function, I can move quickly between my lists, agenda, and calendar, and it's not so huge (iPad, laptop, mainframe...) as to be weird to carry around. In some cases, I even prefer the Fire's functionality and apps to my laptop (the Springpad app in particular). It has become part of my weekly reviews, despite plenty of processing power and pencils in my workstation dad-cave. It just works better for certain needs.
Today's Binaries: Flexibility vs. Power, Simplicity vs. Complexity
What we're talking about here is the search for simplicity in complex lives. Technology can't deliver that, and too often we ask it to. What technology can do and does, though, is serve us in making the complex manageable. The size, navigation, functionality and layout of the Kindle fire mostly make clean sense. If you have time to customize the Fire a little with a little side-loading, so much the better, but more and more apps are available in the Kindle store. There's no reason you can't use the Kindle in most ways you'd want to out of the box. You can go further by rooting your tablet (equivalent to jail breaking an iDevice) and loading ROMs... but this just feels like a lot of work for a non-geek (lesser geek?) like me.
The Kindle fire isn't perfect, but it's not locked down the way an iPod/Phone is, and the ability to turn your productivity apps into page-based widgets (using the Go Launcher app) gives you instant access to items like your calendar, agenda, twitter feed, media player(s), and lists and notes makes it valuable as all get out with no boot time. In some ways this is an argument for any 7-inch Android tablet, but the Fire's connection to your Amazon account is a liberating as it is limiting, giving you access to your music, books, audio books, video and more. It can't be all things to all people, but the Fire is plenty of what I think plenty of people are looking for.
Here's the best place to shop for Kindle Fire
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