|Amazon Kindle Fire|
The build quality of the Kindle Fire feels very solid, and the device has nice clean lines. There's only one button and one input - a USB input used for charging and computer interface. The fire is just a tad thicker and a tad heavier than I expected. The screen is bright and looks awesome. The speakers are just barely loud enough, and are on top of the Fire, which means they are on one side or the other when you watch a movie in landscape orientation.
I'll start with a few things the Kindle Fire does very well. There are basically three things I plan on using my Kindle Fire for - Netflix, Kindle books, and YouTube. Netflix works very well on the Fire. The video playback is clear with no sign of choppiness. The Kindle app works as expected, and I like the way the books are arranged on the virtual bookshelf. Page turns are smooth, and the text looks very nice. Unlike the app on my phone, I can choose which font I want to use. I set the Kindle Fire up to use the beige background, second to smallest font, default vertical spacing, and Trebuchet typeface.
I've seen a few of the standard Kindles, and I can definitely see the advantage to the passive e-ink display as far as eyestrain goes. With the above settings, I find eyestrain to be not bad at all. The supercontrasty black text on pure white background is too much, so I can why that would bother some people. I'll report back in a week or so in my full review, but for now I think the Kindle Fire will make a fine reader with proper settings.
I didn't see a YouTube app in the Amazon Market unfortunately. The YouTube website works fine in the browser, however, and the video playback is good. There is also not a Facebook app - you just use Facebook in the browser also.
My daughter fired up a few games - Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, and those played very well. I haven't seen any performance issues whatsoever with any of these apps. I even played back a video at CNN's site - a flash video that played within the webpage that wasn't optimized for mobile. The video played perfectly. This is the type of video that a cellphone browser would choke on, so I was glad to see the Fire crunched through it with no problems. I found the Fire to be responsive and powerful enough in all situation. No problems with sluggishness as I have read in other reviews.
The first problem I did encounter with the Fire involved my kids' Fires. We found out that in order for them to install even free apps, they had to have a credit card on file. I tried altering one digit of the credit card number, thinking it wouldn't catch it until a charge was made, but Amazon verifies the number is valid right away. I also tried putting the card on file, download a free app, then taking the card off the account. The next time I tried to download a free app, it was nagging for the card again. We were planning on just giving our kids Amazon gift cards to use on Amazon, but the credit card requirement for free apps throws a wrench in the works. I think we may end up using a pre-paid VISA for those two accounts, but it will be a pain in the ass. I wonder how many parents were fighting the credit card on file issue for their kids' Kindle Fires today? This is not a kid-friendly requirement and I hope Amazon re-thinks the policy on this one. I don't want my kids having access to my credit card, as responsible as I think they are.
EDIT: We found a workaround for the issue where the kid's had to have a credit card on file to download free apps on the Kindle Fire. Stopped by Walgreens this morning and bought a $25 Vanilla Visa gift card. Put the Vanilla Visa card on each kid's Amazon account and it took it fine. We even put the kid's names as the credit card name, even though the gift cards don't have names on them. The gift card was about $29 for a $25 card, and it doesn't expire til 2020, and there are no more fees to pay either. Amazon needs to fix this - kids having to have a credit card on file, even if they have a gift, to download free apps to their Kindle Fire is ridiculous.
The second problem I encountered - I am unable to scroll on my Blogger dashboard. The web page will not move, either on the new interface or the old one. I am able to click on the links that are on the screen, but I cannot move the screen at all. This problem persisted after a reboot. I have also encountered this problem on Dolphin browser on my Android phone, so I think it's possible there is a problem with the code on the Blogger website. This is something I will keep a close eye on and hope to find an answer to. I wish I could just put Google Chrome browser on this thing. Edit - I was also unable to scroll in the Google Music page, and there is currently no Google Music app in the Amazon market. :(
That brings up my biggest gripe with the Kindle Fire. I want the Google experience on this tablet. I want the full Android market, as good as the Amazon market is. The Android YouTube is actually pretty good now, in my opinion, and I don't have access to it. I would also like to install the Dolphin browser, and that's not in the Amazon market either. Most importantly, I don't have a Google Gmail app! I want Gmail and a notification bar! I may end up having to root this thing if these apps don't show up soon.
The last major gripe I have is probably the biggest. There is no hardware volume button. To control the volume, you have to hit the setting button, then use the software slider. This is the one gripe I have that can't possibly be fixed with a software patch later. Even the Apple iPhone has a friggin' hardware volume control on the side. I can appreciate design simplicity, but this was a really bad idea. Many times when you want to lower the volume, you want to do it NOW, and not have to hunt around for software sliders to do it.
Overall, I really like Kindle Fire. I was expecting a sluggish experience based on reviews I have read - they were all a load of bullshit. I can't compare the Fire to the iPad because I've never used one. My experience is limited to smartphones and my wife's Asus Transformer eeePad. The Kindle Fire is a fantastic 7" tablet for $200. Almost all of the deficiencies can be fixed with updates or hack-arounds.
I'll be back next week for a full review. Merry Christmas!