Introduction, Design and Ergonomics

The iPad for Everyone?

The tablet market is starting to heat up. After a long period of dominance by the iPad and its long line of Android imitators, we have new competitors looking to spoil the tablet world order. On the high-end we have the incoming volley of buff Tegra 3 based products, and on the low end with have the Kindle Fire, a simple $199 tablet that seems to prefer that its users don’t think for a second about the hardware inside. 

That’s actually a bit odd, because the hardware inside is at least competitive. Though priced $300 less than the cheapest iPad 2, the Fire offers a dual core processor at the same clock speed of 1 GHz. It also provides 512MB of RAM and 8GB of storage, neither of which will blow away competitors, but all of which is competitive. While the 7” size of the Fire means there is simply less tablet to build, it’s impressive that Amazon has managed to cram reasonably impressive hardware into one of the cheapest Android tablets on the market today.

Hardware is only a small part of equation, however. Amazon really intends the Fire to be a portal to its world of services, which includes ebooks, streaming video, apps and much more. This is very much a walled garden, even more so than Apple’s iPad, and for it to work the spoils of the garden need to be damn good. Let’s see if $200 is really a good value given that users must buy into Amazon’s services as well. 

Design and Ergonomics

The Kindle Fire’s exterior couldn’t be simpler. It’s available only in black, and the soft-touch rear panel is broken up only by a small “kindle” label. There’s also only one button on the device, a power/sleep switch, and only two ports – a mini-USB port, and a headphone jack. Yes that’s it. You’ll find no HDMI here. 

Indeed, it’s as if Amazon did nothing but order up about 7 inches of tablet. Even the BlackBerry PlayBook, another 7 inch black-clad tablet we reviewed some time ago, was far more styled than this product. As a result, the Fire looks like what it is – a budget tablet. It’s clear that there wasn’t any money in the device’s budget for touches like aluminum trim or a colored Kindle Fire label along the front bezel.

Weighing in at 14.6 ounces, the Fire is one of the lighter tablets on the market today, thanks no doubt to its 7” size. However, because that weight is packed in to a smaller frame, there’s an impression of excessive heft that is deceiving. It’s only after using the device for several minutes that the light weight becomes both noticeable and a significant boon. A Kindle Fire can be held for long periods of time without becoming a burden, an important trait in a tablet that places a focus on media consumption. This is no e-reader, however; while easy enough to handle, a normal Kindle has about half the heft. 

Being small also means that the Fire is an easy tablet to handle. People with large hands can palm the device, or swing it from portrait to landscape mode with a twirl of the fingers. Reading a magazine or book easily leaves a hand free to sip the morning coffee. Landscape mode use while web-browsing is ergonomically sound, as well, as the keys on the virtual keyboard can be reached by the thumbs of most users.

If there’s any ergonomic issue to comment on, it’s the thickness of the device. At .45 inches, the Fire isn’t the thickest tablet, but it’s far from the thinnest as well. The relatively thick size of the tablet makes handling it more difficult than it could be. Still, in comparison to an average 10” Android tablet, the Fire isn’t hard to manage. 


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