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A human review of the Kindle Fire

I expected the Kindle Fire to be good for books, great for magazines and newspapers, great for video, and good for apps and games.

In practice, it’s none of these. Granted, I’ve only spent two days with it, so I can’t share any long-term impressions. But I’m honestly unlikely to have any, because this isn’t a device that makes me want to use it more. And that’s fatal.

A tablet is a tough sell. It’s too big for your pocket, so you won’t always have it available like a phone. It’s too small to have rich and precise input methods like keyboards and mice, and its power and size constraints prevent it from using advanced PC-class hardware, so it’s probably not going to replace your laptop. It’s just one more gadget to charge, encase, carry (sometimes), care for, and update. And it’s one more expenditure that can easily be cut and done without, especially in an economic depression.

“Tablets” weren’t a category that anyone needed to give a damn about until the iPad. It was a massive hit not because it managed to remove any of the problems inherent to tablets, but because it was so delightful, fun, and pleasant to use that anyone who tried their friend’s iPad for a few minutes needed to have one of their own.

I expected the Kindle Fire to be a compelling iPad alternative, but I can’t call it delightful, fun, or pleasant to use. Quite the opposite, actually: using the Fire is frustrating and unpleasant, and it feels like work.

For most people, every other computer in their life feels like work, and they don’t need another one.

It’s not an iPad competitor or alternative. It’s not the same kind of device at all. And, whatever it is, it’s a bad version of it.

That’s probably all you need to know about the Kindle Fire. Below is a detailed account of the issues I ran into, but I won’t take offense if you’re burnt out on long Kindle Fire reviews and stop here.


The big, boring part

This is about my experience using the Kindle Fire. And I’m going to try my best to make this about the Fire on its own merits, not about how it compares to the iPad, for the most part.

I’ve read part of a book, three magazines, and a newspaper. I’ve played two games and watched four TV shows from two sources. I’ve also taken far too long to set up my email, failed to find a good RSS reader, turned a lot of pages accidentally, repeated taps that did nothing the first time, and crashed a few apps and the Fire itself.

I’ve run into a lot of problems, actually:

Interface

Hardware

Reading

Watching

Listening

Playing

App…ing

And finally, I don’t like the “carousel” flip-card-style home screen interface. Like the Xbox 360 interface makeover from a couple of years ago, it makes browsing through more than a few items difficult and slow because you can’t really see the items if you skim through quickly. It’s a poor, unusable interface metaphor that our industry should retire.

The Fire is an Android version, sort of, of the iPod Touch. It’s the first device available that’s inexpensive and offers Android in a somewhat reasonable package without a cellular contract.

But that’s just about all I can say for it. It’s a bad game player, a bad app platform, a bad web browser, a bad video player, and, most disappointingly, a bad Kindle.

If I didn’t need the Fire for Instapaper testing, I’d return it.

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