This new $199 device is called the Kindle Fire, and after testing it for a week, I think it’s a good—though not a great—product and a very good value. It doesn’t just add color to the Kindle, it adds a robust ability to store and stream music, TV shows and movies—and a weaker ability to store and display color photos. And it offers about 8,500 apps at launch, including Netflix, Angry Birds and QuickOffice.
To be clear, the Kindle Fire is much less capable and versatile than the entry-level $499 iPad 2. It has a fraction of the apps, a smaller screen, much weaker battery life, a slower Web browser, half the internal storage and no cameras or microphone. It also has a rigid and somewhat frustrating user interface far less fluid than Apple’s.
But the Fire has some big things going for it. First, the $199 price, though the Fire’s seven-inch screen is less than half the surface area of the iPad’s display. Second, the Amazon and Kindle brands, already known and loved for e-readers and more. Third, Amazon is the only major tablet maker other than Apple with a large, famous, easy-to-use content ecosystem that sells music, video, books and periodicals. The Fire can be thought of as a hardware front end to all that cloud content.
Finally, while the Fire, like many other tablets, is based on Google’s Android operating system, Amazon has taken the bold step of hiding Android. It shuns its user interface and nearly all of Google’s apps and services, including Google’s app store. The Fire’s software is all about the content and apps Amazon has sold you and the easy purchase of more.