With its combination of seamless Amazon shopping and recession-friendly pricing, the Kindle Fire is destined to be stuffed into millions of American stockings this Christmas. Yanks have overlooked its lack of GPS, camera and mobile data, focusing on cloud features to rival Apple – and a price-tag less than half that of an iPad.
But is it worth the wait for us Brits? We jetted over the pond to see whether the Fire will still be hot stuff when the cold weather is just a memory.
Amazon Kindle Fire - Build
The Fire has shed the E Ink screens of previous Kindles - and sadly also left behind some of their quirky cool. This solid 7in slab feels as glamorous as a holiday in New Jersey, although the sharp, colourful 1024x600 LCD hints at a saucy weekend in the Florida sun.
Gadget freaks will bemoan the bare bones spec (no Bluetooth, even?) but 1GHz dual-core innards means there’s power where it counts.
Amazon Kindle Fire – Shopping
It’s no surprise that Amazon puts retail front and centre on the Fire, with tabs to buy mags, books, music, videos and apps prominent on the home screen.
A scrolling 3D carousel flips smartly through recent items, and 1-Click shopping throughout makes it scarily easy to rack up purchases.Everything you buy (except that hedge trimmer for dad) is stored in the cloud for free – or you can download it to the slim 6GB of memory on board.
Amazon Kindle Fire – Silk browser
The all-new Silk browser is designed to speed up web surfing by off-loading the hard work to Amazon’s servers in the cloud.
In practice, though, the Fire is noticeably slower to load pages than the latest Honeycomb tablets and much slower than the iPad. At least Flash works fine – and Jeff Bezos promises that Silk will get faster as more people use it.
Amazon Kindle Fire – Prime mover
Amazon’s $79/£49 Prime service is increasingly less about free shipping and more about free media. The Fire comes with 30 days of Prime membership, giving access to over 10,000 films and TV shows to stream over its excellent video player, plus 5000 free Kindle books. By the time the Fire reaches Blighty, Prime might include free music streams, too. Outside of Prime, blockbuster vids come with a generous 24 hour rental window.
Amazon Kindle Fire – Apps
If you’re an ebook fan, stick with a traditional E Ink Kindle. The Kindle app here is embarrassingly basic, and it’s too easy to turn pages by accident. Bizarrely, the Facebook ‘app’ is nothing more than a link to the website.
The email engine is ace, though, and the on screen keyboard is just fine. The Amazon Store has around 10,000 apps – including one paid app free every day.
Amazon Kindle Fire – verdict
As a portable video viewer and portal to Amazon’s online empire, the Kindle Fire can’t be faulted. It makes consuming media as easy – easier even – than Apple, and it generally provides better value. The Fire is a long way from rivalling full-fat tablets though, especially when it comes to communications, creating content and sheer number of apps.
The lack of support outside the US means importing a Fire is a bit of a waste of time, but we should definitely be excited about the unconfirmed-but-almost-certain UK launch next year.