The iPad Comparison

I'll be honest here (I always am?): I don't understand the iPad comparison. The Kindle Fire and iPad 2 couldn't be more different. They are vastly different sizes, shapes and prices. They even serve slightly different functions. The search for an iPad killer reminds me of the search for a Voodoo killer back during the heyday of 3dfx in the late 1990s.

The Kindle Fire serves entirely different purposes than to take marketshare away from Apple.

Why would Amazon enter the IPS LCD equipped multitouch tablet business to begin with? For users who are content reading ebooks on an e-ink screen, the vanilla Kindles are as good as they get. The problem is for users looking to consolidate devices, they may find themselves carrying a Kindle and a tablet of some sort (likely an iPad) and will ultimately ditch the Kindle in favor of the iPad. Should these users replace their Kindles with iPads, there's the argument that Apple could tempt them away from Amazon's Kindle store altogether. If they want a more affordable tablet however they are likely going to be forced into a solution that's probably not very good. Neither possibility is something Amazon likes, so the obvious answer is to offer a Kindle that delivers enough of the tablet experience that will satisfy those users looking for more than an e-ink Kindle could provide.

The Fire is that Kindle.

No Tradeoffs: Compute & Display

When faced with the task of bringing a not-sucky $200 tablet to market, Amazon refused to skimp in two areas: compute and the display. It reaffirms something that we've known for quite a while: to deliver the best user experience you still need fast silicon and a great display. The third thing you need is efficient software, which is something Amazon attempted to deliver by customizing Android, but I'll get to that later.

The SoC doesn't sound fast anymore, not with Tegra 3 and Krait waiting around the corner, but the OMAP 4430 is still one of the fastest things you can buy today. It features two fully equipped Cortex A9 cores (complete with MPE), a 1MB shared L2 cache, two 32-bit LPDDR2 memory channels and a PowerVR SGX 540. CPU clocks aren't as high as they could be at 1GHz, but if Amazon does its job well enough on the software side they should be sufficient. To put things into perspective, this is more general purpose compute than the original iPad and something competitive with the iPad 2. It only falls short of the iPad 2 in the GPU department, but seeing as the Kindle Fire isn't designed to be a big gaming platform the loss isn't significant.

Tablet Specification Comparison
  Amazon Kindle Fire Apple iPad 2 BlackBerry PlayBook Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Dimensions 190 x 120 x 11.4mm 241.2 x 185.7 x 8.8mm 194 x 130 x 10mm 230.9 x 157.8 x 8.6mm
Display 7-inch 1024 x 600 IPS 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 IPS 7-inch 1024 x 600 8.9-inch 1280 x 800 PLS
Weight 413g 601g 425g 447g
Processor 1GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz Apple A5 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz TI OMAP 4430 (2 x Cortex A9) 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 (2 x Cortex A9)
Memory 512MB 512MB 1GB 1GB
Storage 8GB 16GB 16GB 16GB
Pricing $199 $499 $199 $469

The Fire is equipped with only 512MB of RAM but, once again, if Amazon does its job on the software side this should be sufficient. Moving to 1GB would allow you to keep more applications active at once and pave the way for more textures in games, but as I just mentioned, the Fire isn't much of a gaming platform to begin with.

The display is small by iPad standards, but as I mentioned in our PlayBook review, it does make the device far more likely to be by your side wherever you may go. The iPad and other 10-inch tablets make for a far better web browsing experience, but they are too big to just carry around with you like you would a wallet or smartphone. The Kindle Fire is bigger than anything that should occupy space in your wallet, but it's small enough that you might actually take it wherever you go.

Display Brightness

Display Brightness

Display quality is pretty good. The 7-inch 1024 x 600 screen hits 400 nits at its brightest setting, and its black levels are reasonable at 0.45 nits. The resulting contrast ratio is good as well.

Display Contrast

The white point is an almost Samsung-like 7200K across all brightness settings. Interestingly enough there's no difference in brightness once you get below 25% on the slider control.

The Form Factor

The first Kindle I ever bought was the second generation model. Upon receiving it I felt that it was the perfect handheld tablet form factor. The 2nd generation Kindle was both thin and light enough that it could truly be a book replacement. I'd carry it everywhere and it wasn't a burden to hold and read for hours.

The Kindle Fire strikes me with no similar feelings about its form factor. It's portable, more so than the iPad and it's reminds me of my old Kindle in surface area but that's it. The Fire is light enough to be held in one hand but when reading for extended periods of time I still find myself having to support the device with my chest if I'm lying on my back. There's simply no innovation in the form factor. While my old Kindle was the perfect form factor, the Fire is just acceptable.

This isn't all Amazon's fault however. The hardware in a plain old Kindle allows Amazon to build something ultra thin and ultra light. Moore's Law has yet to give us something that can perform as well as the Fire while operating within the confines (battery included) of a regular Kindle. I suspect that we'll eventually get to that point, however it may take a good three years for that to happen.

The standard Kindle's e-ink display is beautiful to read pages of books on, but it is hardly desirable for images or web content. The Kindle Fire is a bit better, but still not perfect in this regard. In text mode reading magazines or books is as pleasant as can be given that you're staring at an LED backlit LCD. If you're just going to be reading books, the experience on a vanilla Kindle is better. The advantage to the Fire of course is that you can do more than just read pages of text - it's good for magazines and web pages as well.

Unfortunately here the 7-inch 1024 x 600 display is limiting. It's virtually impossible to read a magazine (in magazine view) fully zoomed out like you would a book. I found myself preferring the text view of magazines I tried subscribing to on the Kindle Fire. Web browsing is more of a mixed bag. You get a really great browsing experience compared to a smartphone, or a really cramped browsing experience compared to an iPad. This is the same problem I pointed out in our PlayBook review:

Even when I'm not out and about, the PlayBook is quite usable as a content consumption device. In portrait mode fonts are a bit too small for me to read comfortably on the couch but in landscape it works well as a reddit browsing machine.
 
It's in the couch-lounging usage model that the PlayBook does fall short of the iPad or Xoom. But in terms of portability the PlayBook is clearly a much better balance of functionality and mobility. If you read between the lines you'll come to the same conclusion I have: neither the PlayBook nor the iPad is the perfect form factor for a tablet. Further more, I'm not sure there is a single perfect tablet form factor.
Simplicity in Hardware
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  • doobydoo - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Who buys both an iPad AND an Android tablet, particularly given your irrational dislike for tablets?

    Very ignorant comments you make.

    Kindle Fire IS trying to accomplish some of the same tasks that the iPad does. Eg web browsing - the key part of functionality in the iPad.

    The probem is, it does it worse, because it is too small.

    iPad and droid tablets are not trying to accomplish what 'laptops do well', at all. They are alternative, lightweight and more simple alternatives when it comes to accessing the web and apps, predominantly. And they do that exceptionally well. There are millions of people who bought them with realistic expectations and therefore kept them, only people with illogical hopes such as the tablet being a work-computer replacement would come away disappointed, and I would be curious which part they didn't realise would happen before they bought?

    If anything is a 'tweener' - it's this Kindle Fire. It does the web / app thing - badly. It does the book thing - badly. It's an attempt to combine the best of both worlds, jack of all trades, master of none kind of story.

    Which explains why it's cheap.

    As for knocking Apple for bringing out devices in 6-12 months (when they have an annual so clearly not a 6 month life-cycle) - how ironic? Lets look at the Kindle release path:

    Kindle 2 - Feb 10th, 2009
    Kindle DX - July 1st, 2010
    Kindle 3rd Gen - July 28th, 2010
    Kindle 4th Gen - Sep 28th, 2011

    Just over 2 years, 4 products. Ironic much?

    It isn't just Apple fanboys who appreciate the use of tablets - it's just people who aren't so ridiculously stupid that they expect a tablet to be a PC. They know what it is, realise its place, and benefit from it enormously.
    Reply
  • haukionkannel - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    Well, I am more of e-ink friend because I wan to read books form my tablet. But the option to read allso net pages would be nice, so I am really much vaiting for coulour e-inks displays!
    They are stin under development, but offer superior display quality over LCD dispays. The problem is speed, so no fast games to colour e-ink, but the consume very little power and offer cood readability to the text!
    Reply
  • RandomUsername3245 - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    About 12 months ago I held a prototype color eInk touchscreen display after a talk by an eInk Corporation employee. It was quite impressive, but the color isn't quite up to glossy magazine / photograph quality, and, like you said, it ran at about 12 frames per second.

    e-Ink consumes power only when switching pages, so when it starts to run at higher frame rates it becomes much less efficient. e-Ink is great when you switch pages every few seconds when reading a page of text, but if you were asking it to play 10 fps animation or support quick-refresh page scrolling, I don't think it would offer much benefit over LCD.
    Reply
  • NorthstarNerd - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    I own both an iPad 1 and a Kindle Fire. Both are good products, but different. I'm amazed how much my Fire can do at $300 less than an iPad. Having said that I HATE the Amazon Carousel, and quickly learned how to get rid of it w/o rooting the device!

    http://www.northstarnerd.org/econtent/2011/11/pers...
    Reply
  • genomecop - Thursday, December 01, 2011 - link

    No problem on the install, but Kindle Books wont launch from Go Launcher. Reply
  • PeteH - Thursday, December 08, 2011 - link

    Keep in mind the iPad is a previous generation of hardware, and I think it's a little misleading to compare the price points and capabilities of products from different generations. Newer generations of technology always do more for less money. Reply
  • adamantinepiggy - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    Hand the Fire to anyone who has never played with one. First thing they invariably do is bump the power button with their hand. Rest the device against your chest (like when you are reading lying down), 1st thing that happens is power button gets bumped. Look at it wrong and I swear the power button gets bumped by ocular telekinesis magic. Yes you could flip the thing upside down, but having to perform tablet acrobatic to compensate for a crappy layout is stupid.

    It seems not one single person bothered to QA the button design when all that was needed was to move it, or cheaper still, make it recessed or much stiffer.
    Reply
  • Stuffster - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    This review has almost everything I could ask for. But it's missing one of the most important questions I have: what about privacy?

    How effectively can I use the Fire as an e-reader without providing any personal information - for example, can I just provide a username, password, and something like a one-time-use credit card?

    Smartphones, tablets, and e-readers aren't exactly friendly in this regard. I'd love for reviews of these devices to include a page dedicated to the matter of privacy.
    Reply
  • cbdoc - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    You can choose to not have your CC/account info saved on the device making one-time purchases possible. Reply
  • Stuffster - Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - link

    That's good, but this is an Android-based device. Is it necessary to have a Google account to use it (which would mean providing your real name and birthdate, if nothing else)? Reply

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