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Amazon Kindle Fire Review (2011)

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The much anticipated Amazon Kindle Fire (2011) finally made it into people’s homes this week. After months of anticipation, this super affordable e-reader come tablet has finally landed. But is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Will it turn both the e-reader and tablet market on its head? Read on for our full review.

Under the hood, the specs of the Kindle Fire are relatively modest in comparison to the new tablets coming out, but they are plenty adequate. The device is powered by a 1GHz dual-core process and 512mb of RAM. Having at least 1GB of RAM would have been ideal for peppier performance. So the reality is that in terms of performance, the Kindle Fire is no iPad 2, but in actual every day use we find that the device performs well. That said, the device isn’t as responsive and fluid as the more expensive tablets out there, and it can be slight laggy at times, but performance is pretty good.

The Fire’s 7″ multi-touch display with IPS technology also has an anti-reflective treatment and sports a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution at 169ppi. This display produces sharp visuals with very good colors. Is it the best display on a tablet out there? Hardly. But it’s a very good one and you’ll enjoy watching movies on it as you will reading magazines. That said, there is some bleeding on our unit around the edges of the display.

The design of the Amazon Kindle is somewhat handsome, but very uninspiring. Besides resembling the BlackBerry PlayBook, it kind of reminds us of a cheap Chinese tablet knock-off. That said, the build quality is pretty solid. Measuring 7.5″ x 4.7″ x 0.45, the Kindle is a little bit thicker than we would like it to be, but it’s still acceptable and easy to slip into our bags. However, our biggest problem with the Kindle’s form-factor is its 14.6 ounce weight. That won’t weigh down your bag, but the weight makes it uncomfortable to hold the Kindle for reading for long periods of time. Even after 5 minutes, I find that my hand begins to cramp. The kindle also lacks dedicated volume buttons and an expandable MicroSD card slot.

Amazon has done an incredible job with the Kindle Fire’s interface. It’s slick, refined, and straight forward to use. The interface is broken down into sections like Newstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. It’s difficult to get lost in this U.I., and we love the quick access to settings in the top right corner. Recently used, apps, books, and web sites show up on book shelf of your home screen, this is super convenient. You can easily flip through your apps and docks with the cover-flow inspired interface. As a matter of fact, the whole U.I. is very Apple-like and smooth. Unfortunately, going from landscape to portrait has a slight lag, but perhaps future software  updates can address these minor performance issues.

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Out of the box, the Kindle Fire comes preloaded with a web browser and email client, which really helps transform the Fire into that much more of versatile device. The web browser, which uses Amazon Silk technology, works really well. Web sites loaded up very quickly, and web browsing is a smooth experience with pinch to zoom. The included email client is good, but a bit limited as it has no support for Exchange and push e-mail. Facebook, Quickoffice and Audible, are some of the other apps that come preloaded on the device.

Then there is Amazon’s Appstore which is is quickly becoming filled up with tons of apps! Despite being available for just a few days, there is a large selection of popular apps available already. That includes the likes of Angry Birds, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Adobe Reader, Evernote, eBay and more. Because the device’s software is running over Android, it makes it easy for developers to port their apps to the Appstore. So you can be sure that the catalog of apps will grow quickly.

When it comes to streaming Videos, the Kindle does an excellent job. We especially love how it offers instant access to Amazon Prime Instant Videos. Within a moment we were enjoying our favorite episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and the Tudors. A 30 day trial of Amazon Prime is included with the purchase of the Kindle Fire. Of course you can also rent or buy movies and TV shows, even after the trial is over. We really wish Amazon made Amazon Prime available as an iPad app too, but our guess is that that they want to keep Amazon Prime exclusively to the Kindle Fire.

Lets not forget the massive library of books and magazines that the Kindle Fire offers access to and that magazines look amazing on the device. The device comes with 8GB of onboard storage, along with 6GB of cloud storage which is easily accessible through the device. That means that all of your Amazon purchases are stored in the cloud. This way you don’t have to clutter up your device’s storage with all of them, yet at the same time you can quickly pull them down on to your device when you need them.

To summarize, the Kindle straight out rocks. Is it the perfect tablet? Hardly. But for $200 it’s a great deal, and not just because it’s cheap, but also because it manages to handle so many tasks so well, all at once. We’re talking about access to a massive library of video, books, music, apps, all via an easy-to-use, effortless user interface. That said, even though they are calling it an iPad killer, we consider the Amazon Kindle Fire to be a different beast altogether. Since it’s just not as powerful and not nearly as fluid and responsive as iPad and other faster tablets, but has perfectly acceptable performance, especially at this price. We also wish that the device was significantly lighter, and performed a bit better, and we would love to see a 3G option available. But the reality is, that if the Kindle Fire was a $500 tablet we would rip it apart, but at $199 all of its flaws are totally acceptable. Amazon has really hit a home run with the Kindle Fire.

Thanks to the Amazon Kindle Fire, the $199 Tablet war has begun. You can order one right now from Amazon. There is also a great selection of cases already available for the Kindle Fire from Case-Mate and other vendors, so don’t forget to dress up your new Kindle.

The Good: Easy-to-use and slick user interface; Video streams without a hitch; appstore catalog is growing fast; Amazon Prime access included; massive ebook library; good battery life

 The Bad: No expandable storage; No 3G option. too heavy to be a serious reading device like the other Kindles; no volume controls or MicroSD card slot; no GPS or Bluetooth

Update 12/21//11: Amazon has released a version 6.2.1 software update which brings significant performance improvements to the Kindle Fire.