The first-generation Kindle Fire is a strange combination of both worlds, and while it fails to fully satisfy as either it does promise to leave its mark on our media consumption devices and perhaps even make an appearance in our classrooms or our own toolkits for travel and meetings.
The Kindle Fire has a few immediate selling points. It’s fairly light, and fits in a decent-sized purse or bag without any trouble. It’s the first time I’ve been convinced that there’s hope for this tablet size, perhaps even as a future replacement for smart phone sized devices. At $200, it’s also a better deal than most tablets on the market. The streaming video content and library-like elements of Amazon Prime membership also offer Netflix some competition.
The user experience of the Kindle Fire is less well-realized beyond these first impressions. The Kindle Fire eliminates interface buttons on the front surface entirely and finding the way back to the main screen can be difficult. The interface bar launcher that stays on-screen with many apps is an unattractive waste of a sliver of screen real estate. In my first hours with the device I was annoyed by several responsiveness problems and found typing to be extremely awkward. While some apps have good on-screen keyboards, the default Kindle Fire keyboard is cramped. For serious notetaking during meetings, it may not be your best bet. Kindle Fire’s much-touted web browser, Silk, also seems slow and clunky compared to the iPad or even Android’s standard smartphone browser.
And right now, the apps are still a problem for the Kindle Fire. The app marketplace is still limited, and the number of apps actually optimized for the Kindle Fire is even smaller. I tried a few ProfHacker favorites, such as Evernote, which worked as well as they do on a Android smartphone but not remarkably better. Unlike the difference between apps optimized for the iPad versus the iPhone, which often differ in resolution and interface, there are very few tablet optimized apps for Kindle Fire at this point. I tried a Kindle Fire optimized version of Plants vs. Zombies and happily wasted an hour or two, and the optimized app did look much better than many others. If the Kindle Fire gets enough market share, more apps will likely follow suit.
Ultimately, Amazon seems to be trying to make an Apple device to tame the Android world—complete with the same digital rights management and control concerns as the iPad. If this device is successful, and the future of Android points more towards systems like this one, it’s a bad sign for open platforms.