Initial Impressions: Kindle Fire versus iPad 2

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Computer and Mobile Technology, Experiences
Tags: , , , , , ,

We are now a bi-technological household. Patt has an iPad 2 and I just got my Kindle Fire. I think I’m going to like the Kindle and that it will work just fine for me. BUT, if you are thinking of buying one you need to be really clear that it is NOT an iPad replacement.

I’ve played with Patt’s iPad and the Fire has far fewer apps, a smaller display, less memory, a less cool UI, and most importantly, it’s nowhere near as responsive as an iPad. I wanted an inexpensive tablet and I think it’s very cool. But, I’ll still be using my old eInk Sony Reader to read outside (because it’s a far better display than either the iPad or the Fire when it comes to reading text in bright light) and I’m glad that I did not succeed in talking Patt into forgoing the iPad because she needs more than the Fire can deliver.

The Kindle is based on Android 2.3 that has been reskinned and modified. That’s why it only runs SOME Android apps. Also, instead of a traditional browser like Chrome, or IE, or Opera, or Netscape, the fire provides a browser called Amazon Silk. This browser uses the conceptually very cool idea of only running the UI on the device and actually running the computationally intensive stuff on Amazon’s server farm. I admit that it sounds cool. BUT, for this reason, Amazon can restrict what you can do. Relinquishing control definitely has a downside and I urge you to read on to see some examples. Before I complain, I need to say that, for me, the Kindle Fire is great little tablet! But if you are considering buying one instead of an iPad then you REALLY need to know that it’s not really a replacement. Then again – Patt’s iPad cost $650 and my Fire cost $199; so, for the money, The Kindle Fire is very cool.

Here are a few first observations I have made as a new owner of both the Kindle Fire and iPad 2:

Amazon wants to sell you stuff. Apps, books, videos, whatever. That is no surprise. You don’t lose money selling a product unless your business model supports an ancillary revenue plan. BUT to help them do that, there are some odd and unexpected things you should know.

(1) Amazon wants to sell magazines. I assume that is why Zinio Reader is not available. Much more bothersome is that the New York Times App that runs fine on the iPad and my Android phone (access to which I get “free” with my NY Times print subscription) is also not available. No matter how many hundreds of dollars you pay to the Times for your print subscription, you still ALSO have to pay $19.99 a month for a Kindle subscription.

(2) Amazon’s “Silk” browser is backended on their server farm. The premise is that it’s higher performance because the heavy lifting is done off of the tablet. Personally I don’t think it’s very fast at all. It’s okay, but not as they describe it. What they don’t tell you is that by controlling the meat of the browser, they can control lots of things that you can’t change. Notably, the Fire BLOCKS logins to Google Apps. I had to buy a $5.99 calendar app to sync with my Google Calendar because I can’t log into Google. I can deal with that BUT I CAN’T LOG INTO YouTube or G+ either because Google owns them! Now THAT is bullshit.

(3) Not surprisingly I can’t watch my iTunes videos because they have DRM and (a) there is no free DRM removal software and (b) that’s really not legal anyway.

Again, to be clear, I love the Fire despite the limitations. For me, it’s a great little tablet to do email, watch movies, listen to music, take notes with Evernote, access (most of) the Internet, and read books. AND THANK GOD that Angry Birds runs just fine too 🙂  But, I can’t emphasize enough that the Fire is definitely not for everyone. If you need the responsiveness, screen size, flexibility, and app count of an iPad: Buy an iPad! I’m really glad I got the iPad for Patt. She runs around with clients and the iPad is better suited to her (besides she says I can “borrow it anytime”).

There is one more soapbox that I want to stand on for a moment. I still think that ereaders best serve us in the form of dedicated devices with eInk displays. As a guy who uses my Sony Reader every single day, I still don’t think you can beat eInk for reading books. Besides, other than eInk based devices, what computer can you take on a month-long vacation without a power adapter! The Kindle Fire obviously does not use eInk and so it is not the best of all possible eReaders. Just keep that in mind.

One last editorial comment: I contend that you can’t beat Apple’s quality, style, and ergonomic design and you can’t beat eInk for reading text. So, personally, I do not think it’s a good thing to try and make a device that is everything to everyone. For me, in general, the jury is still out on tablets.

Now, all of that said, I really like my Fire and I’m glad I purchased it. The limitations are, however, definitely becoming more interesting and more prominent as I use it. At $200, I’d still buy it, even knowing the limitations.

By the way, I find it quite funny that Patt feels guilty because she has the $649 iPad and I only have the $199 Kindle. Usually she is the owner of all my hand-me-downs like the old iPod, the second old iPod, etc.  SO… if you run into her with her iPad, let her know that it’s okay that she has a cooler device than I. That doesn’t bother me at all. She deserves it. It’s her being a cooler person than I that pisses me off 🙂

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