Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Kindle Fire

Like many shoppers this holiday season, I succumbed to the trend and bought myself a tablet.  Prior to the purchase - I did a bit of homework and read the 'insider reviews' that talked about the technical specs of the Kindle Fire vs. other tablets.  I also shopped around, looked for deals, etc.  In the end, despite the multiple attempts by family and the media to convince me otherwise, I went ahead and purchased my Kindle Fire about three weeks ago - and honestly, I haven't looked back.

Now before I go off into the usual review format, let me just say that I had limited expectations with my purchase.  I didn't expect top of the line technology, nor did I expect a tablet that could do a whole bunch of meaningless shit I have my PC for.  I wanted a larger, mobile screen to browse the web with.  I also wanted decent battery life, a generally seamless UI, and a well supported platform.  I didn't want top of the line performance or half of a wide screen monitor to lug around with me.

The Good

-The battery life lasts me about eight hours of constant usage.  Ironically, I initially designed the majority of this website on my Kindle Fire in just one session, without recharging it.  Note: I keep the brightness at about 85%.  Automatic brightness adjustment doesn't exactly work for me on any device, since I prefer a consistent light source.  If I go outside, or my light source changes, I adjust the brightness manually.  But that's just a personal preference.

-The UI is easy to use, and if you've had any other Android device, you're familiar with the controls.  The overall layout of the customized version of Android Amazon installed on the Kindle Fire makes sense to me - there isn't anything that seems out of place, and the addition of favorites, commonly used programs and popular websites really makes sense and adds to the interface as sort of a time-saving mechanism.

-The App store works well, and shopping on Amazon has never been easier.  One click purchasing (while dangerous for those lacking self control) has actually made me get away from sitting on my PC to do my holiday shopping.  I bought nearly everything this year on my Fire, and I guarantee you I saved hours doing it that way because not only did I have the one click purchasing and Amazon Prime services at my disposal - but I could take the tablet around with me and multitask.

-With the exception of a few crybaby tablet enthusiasts, the marketplace available via the Fire is more than sufficient in providing you with all the apps, software, e-books, and whatever other downloadables you might desire.  With one notable exception, and with that I take you to...

The Bad

-It's almost as if they went out of their way to make sure anything google related didn't work on the Fire.  Trying to use Google docs via the browser is a nightmare, and while most of Google's other websites work on par with other android devices, I feel like they're all noticeably slower when on my Fire.  There's also a complete absence of Google apps on the market (save imitations or gadgets developed by a third party).

-The built in speakers on the tablet are mediocre at best.  My Droid2 Global is noticeably louder (and still clear).  I tend to blast Pandora and leave my phone on the sink when I shower.  I never had a problem identifying a song until I stopped using my Droid, and started using the Fire instead.  Needless to say, I don't use the Fire anymore for that purpose.  That's kind of sad.

-You can't really customize the UI.  Can't add a background for the unlock screen, can't change the colors of the sliders, of any backdrops, of any part of anything really.  Not sure how Amazon thought they could get away with this.  These are easy features to develop and add in comparison to the big picture of tablet software, adding them can go a long way for a user.

-The touch screen is too sensitive.  I've been using my Fire for ~75 minutes a day for nearly three weeks.  I still skip over program icons, scroll past them, accidentally click the wrong one, etc.  And for some reason, I just can't get it down.  I'm not some schmuck who occasionally delves into technology.  I'm a 100% certified nerd - I grew up and live on my computer and various other gadgets.  It's not me, Kindle Fire, it's you.

-As soon as the screen is off for a few seconds, it kills the Wi-Fi connection.  This is generally fine as it saves battery life, but it takes a good eight to ten seconds to reconnect - so if you've put the tablet down for a second or two and the screen timeout is set low, you'll get frustrated time and time again if you're trying to do something quickly when you pick it back up a second later.  This is really just a minor annoyance - I fixed it by setting my screen timeout to never, and just manually managing the screen via the power button.

The Balanced

-The Price.  I paid the standard $199 for my Kindle Fire, and Best Buy even threw in a $50 gift card.  How nice of them.  I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a major factor in my purchase - sadly it was.  I just didn't see a reason to buy a more expensive tablet for my purposes. Aside from the need-to-be-technologically-elite, I won't be the only one making my tablet purchase decision based heavily on how deep I need to dig into my wallet.

-The size.  Sure, it's only a seven inch screen, but the kindle fire fits comfortably in pockets!  Now, not your jean or khaki pockets, of course - but it'll fit in most jackets, sweat pants, flannel pajama pants, etc.  This is not only convenient, but kind of bad ass - no need to tote around another bag, or huge carrying case, etc.  Just dump it in your pocket and you've got something to entertain you while you're walking the dog in your pjs at four AM.

-In a comparison;  my Droid 2 Global will last about two and a half hours if I non-stop browse, text, and/or listen to Pandora on it while doing so.  It will then charge to full in a little over an hour.  The Kindle Fire will last about eight hours, and take about five to fully charge back up.  That's not terrible, comparatively - but I literally can't remember the last time I had to charge something for five hours.

-Diehard gamers should stay away from tablets, unless they're using them to play while at work, on a road trip, etc.  The games offered are gimmicky at best, and while I haven't played any extensively, the control can take some time to grasp.  Just keep your expectations in line, this is a fairly new medium, and frustration, bugs, and poorly designed software will be abundant for awhile.

-No 3G/4G (4G really doesn't exist anywhere yet, but that's another topic all together).  Two solutions to this, either tether it to your phone, or download programs that don't require internet access and shut off the wireless unless you know there is one you can safely utilize near by.  Nothing you shouldn't readily be aware of when purchasing this tablet, and this is by no means its downfall.  The Wi-Fi capability is more that acceptable and adequate for the price of the Fire.

-Viewing streaming video via anything looks as you'd expect HD video to look at this point in 2011.  No better, no worse.  The speed is, as always, completely reliant on your internet connection. 

All in all I'm happy with my purchase.  I no longer have to sit in this uncomfortable desk chair all day and drone away at the internet.  I can do it from the couch, or while standing in a corner, or while chasing the dog.  Take your pick.

And yes I've contemplated rooting the device but keep asking myself what, if anything, I'd gain by doing that.  I wouldn't be able to do anything I can't already do, and if anything - it could just cause me a very big headache.  And nobody needs another one of those during the holidays.