A first hand account of the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

Sep 29, 2011

Chat with the Post's Hayley Tsukayama, who got the chance to handle the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet yesterday after Amazon's press conference in New York. Ask her about the tablet's features, positive and negative points, how it compares to the iPad and more.

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Good morning all -- lots of questions so let's get straight down to business.

For those of you joining this chat today, don't forget to take the poll: Will you buy the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet?

If you look at the specs, the Fire isn't a competitor to the iPad, it differs in screen size, functionality, and other features like cameras, GPS, etc., not to mention price. No, in fact, the Kindle Fire is a competitor to the Nook Color, which is nearly identical in screen size, processing power, and features and has a similar retail price. In addition, there are other 7" tablets available in this price segment that would be competitors of the Fire, but the iPad is not among them. The only thing that the iPad and the Fire have in common is that they are both tablets. Why must everyone insist on comparing everything to Apple's products? The Fire is an entry-level tablet, no more, no less. Stop trying to make it out to be something it isn't.

I hear you, but the truth is that when people think "tablet" it's hard not to think of the iPad. Apple has so thoroughly taken hold of the market. That said, I agree that the Kindle Fire isn't on the same level as the iPad and that it's unlikely they'll be competing for the same customers. The Nook Color is a great device, but Amazon has the same sort of content library that Apple does. That, I think, is really what the comparison should be. Not Fire v. iPad, but Amazon v. Apple.

I just pre-ordered the Kindle Fire. Will it work with the Verizon MIFI I have - the one I use when I travel across country by Amtrak?

Having filed much of the Fire coverage from a similar hotspot while on Amtrak, I feel your pain. Shouldn't be a problem.

How well does Kindle Fire handle basic stuff like web browsing and email?

The basics are solid. Amazon Silk makes things very fast for Web browsing. As for e-mail, I only got to see how the tablet handles Gmail, but the layout looked familiar and easy to use. Didn't see an e-mail client, though, and didn't hear any thing about one. May have to stick with webmail on this one.

If someone just wants a tablet (for the size) for email and light surfing, would this be a good choice? Might also do some reading but that's debatable.

Well, the Fire's real strength is in its access to content, so if you're not planning on reading much, then you'll be paying for something that you don't really want to use to its full potential. But it will certainly be up to the task of light surfing and e-mail.

On the other hand, for people who mainly want to read, I'd suggest sticking with the e-ink display. The Fire's screen wasn't bad about glare but it was no e-ink.

I don't yet own an ipad. Which ones goes on my Christmas list? Kindle fire or ipad?

That depends entirely on what you want from your device! If you're a reader and Web surfer first, then grab the Fire. But if you want to take pictures/videos or type a lot, then stick with a more functional tablet such as the iPad.

I've balked at getting a IPad since I can't quite justify the cost, but the lack of a non-WiFi connection and small storage capacity seems limiting to me. I'm wondering how useful Fire will be in places I don't have a great WiFi connection or no connection at all (subways, planes, the general public). Is this really a tablet I could use on any everyday, everyplace basis, or should I wait for either the IPad price to come down or a couple of generations of Fires to develop?

It's true: without WiFi access, the Fire loses a lot. The lack of 3G connectivity is a big point against the Fire (though it would have brought up the price), which I why I stress that it's still really aimed at readers. You could load up the Fire with books/videos for those in-between times very easily, though.  If you can bear to wait, analysts do think that the Fire will only get better, though I had no idea on when/if it would get 3G.

If you don't want to purchase all of your content from Amazon, will the 8Gb of memory be enough? It sounds like you won't be able to store non- Amazon content in the cloud.

Very true. 8GB would definitely not be enough for most people's songs, etc., if you're not planning to use Amazon content.

Will the Fire have an apps store?

The Fire will work with Amazon's curated version of the Android Market.

It's my understanding that Silk will try to predict your browsing habits based on what others do. This prediction practice will try and guess what pages you are going to visit next, and will then pre-load them in advance. Call me paranoid, but this smells like data mining to me. Any thoughts?

Amazon Silk's director Jon Jenkins talked about this at the demo tables. He said that Amazon bases those predictions on aggregate data, much in the same way they do their product recommendations (people who viewed x also viewed y) So, for what it's worth, they say they aren't collecting personally indentifiable information, altering the Web re: ad partners or basically doing anything shady. I'm trying to look into it a little more, though, because I agree that the potential for data mining there is huge.

well, what do you think?

Always going for the big questions! Well, I like it as a souped-up reader and I can't argue with the price. The tablet itself was light (we weren't supposed to touch them, but I couldn't resist) and will be great for commuters or travelers with access to WiFi.  So initially I think it's a good product at a great price, but I'd like to reserve the right to change my mind until I spend some quality time with a review product.

So, does it have cameras? Can it run meeting? How much memory? Will it run Apple and Windows apps?

No, No, 8GB, No. It's definitely not a must-have for business people, especially with a total lack of video/video chat capabilities. Not having that SD slot doesn't help it either, since it keeps people at 8GB unless they're using Amazon content on the Amazon cloud. It will be tied to Amazon's Android App Store.

So last week I ordered a Kindle 3G/WIFI model - $139 ... now I see there is a new version w/o the keypad ... sort of bitter but oh well. I may pickup the Fire at a later point.

Sorry to hear that; I hate it when that happens.

How is the kindle fire for reading, is the display easy to read like the original or is it like the iPad which is not easy on the eyes?

If you're mainly a reader, I'd say to stick with the e-readers and not the Fire. The Fire's like other tablets when it comes to display. It's not horrible under bright lights (I didn't get to take it outside, sadly) but it's no e-ink.

Have heard that adjusting the volume/muting it are a convoluted process as there are now external contol buttons. What is the volume adjustment process on the Fire. Same question but as to brightness adjustments on the screen

Volume and brightness are controlled through the menu bar, which I agree is fairly annoying. (Especially volume.) That said, you can also control the music player from other applications, which is a nice touch.

How does the tablet handle multiple Apps/webpages at the same time?

I didn't get the chance to try the multitasking, but it has tabbed browsing.

Is an Ipad the better choice?

That's debatable. Certainly the 7-inch screen makes it harder to watch videos and TV together, but Amazon has a slightly bigger catalog of content to choose from. Then, of course, there's the fact that the Fire runs Flash.

So, is it a 7 inch phone, or iPod?

Well, I wouldn't compare it to the iPhone since it doesn't have calling capabilties. I suppose you could call it a 7-inch iPod in terms of capabilities, but the easy access to Amazon service is really what makes the device interesting.

I've been considering doing some harm to my credit card by surprising him with an iPad for Christmas. I read the comparison of the Kindle Fire and iPad in the Post this morning, and based on that I'd still rather have an iPad. But since I'll need to buy two (can't NOT have one myself, now can I?) should I wait to see if Amazon's release causes a drop in iPad prices?

Ooh, that's a tough question. I'm guessing that the Fire won't have any effect on the iPad's price, though. You could mix and match, I suppose. Again, it depends on what you want from it -- if you'll mainly be reading and watching then the Fire's a great value. If you want more, then that, though you may have to take the hit in the wallet.

Is it possible to underline and highlight what you are reading with the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet?

I'm not sure, actually. I will make a note to check on that. Sorry!

An online review of the Kindle Fire stated that it was not to be compared to an Apple iPad because the Fire was unable to "create content" like an iPad can--meaning that a user cannot create documents, spreadsheet, audio/video content, etc using the device, but can only "consume content"--i.e. playback mp3 files, look at webbooks, pdfs, etc. Is this true? If the Fire is built on an Android platform, shouldn't it be able to run all the same apps as an Android, and thus be able to "create content?"

Well, right now you'll only have access to the apps Android has on its App Store which -- I think -- is lacking in great productivity apps. If you rooted the Fire to run other apps, you'd probably hit that 8GB wall pretty quickly, too. I'd agree the Fire is definitely more about consumption than creation.

Is the Kindle Fire operational in the Asia/Pacific regions, specifically tin the Philippines?

Amazon reps said yesterday that they didn't have plans for launches outside the U.S.

Hi! I'm not a techie but I'm trying to get with the program. I recently replaced my dying HP desktop with an IMac. And I have I tunes. Does that mean I will always be in the ipod/ipad universe from now on? Would my apple files and my itunes play on a kindle type device? Or a droid? Does kindle belong in my world?

Kudos to you! Well, you're not stuck in the Appleverse forever, but it will take some time to move all that media across platforms. You could put your iTunes music into the Amazon Cloud Drive, which would then work with a Kindle. 

I stand corrected on e-mail, by the way, all. Sorry about that. The Fire does have a built-in e-mail app that will put many addresses in one inbox.

You don't have to buy all your content from Amazon to use their services; you can store pretty much anything in their cloud storage. I've got about 120gb of music stored in their system, only a small subset bought from Amazon's mp3 store.

Yes. Sorry if I wasn't clear: the free, unlimited cloud storage only applies to Amazon content.

As an iPad owner, I don't think the iPad is a realistic choice for creating content, either. I still write papers and edit pictures on my computer, though they're nice to view on my iPad occasionally. I wouldn't chalk content creation up as a huge advantage that the iPad has over the Fire.

For documents, probably not, though I do think it's generally easier to type on a ten-inch tablet than on a 7-inch tablet. Not having cameras, though, is a problem for content creators.

I'm sorry all, I have to dash, but please send me questions via e-mail tsukayamah@washpost.com and we'll try and compile a Q&A from that. And I'll definitely keep your thoughts in mind when I write a review.

In This Chat
Hayley Tsukayama
Hayley Tsukayama writes for The Washington Post's "Faster Forward" and "Post Tech" blogs, covering consumer technology and technology policy. A Minnesota native, she joined the Post in 2010 after completing her master's degree in journalism. She lives in Washington D.C. where she sings alto with a local choir and plays video games in her copious free time.
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