Amazon Kindle Fire Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi & Vivek Gowri on November 29, 2011 3:31 AM EST
This being the Kindle Fire, the Kindle experience is the central focus here (other than making boatloads of money for Amazon). Hit the Books library, and you see an option at the top for Cloud and Device. All of your purchased books are located on the cloud, and you can download them to your Kindle Fire's local storage as necessary. The Fire has roughly 5.5GB of free space to use for content, so some content management will be required over time, particularly if you download a lot of videos to local storage. The books you own are displayed in list form, on a dark gray wood background. You can choose how you want your books organized, whether by title, author, or recently viewed.
The reader itself is pretty standard, very clean. You can tap on the left and right of the screen to move back/forward through pages, just like you can on a regular Kindle. As soon as you get into the book, the notification and navigation bars hide themselves, allowing you to view the pages alone with no UI elements to distract from the content. Tap once to bring up the nav bar, and you see five options: the standard home, back, menu and search, this time joined by an "Aa" button to configure font and text display settings. There are three different options for margins and line spacing, eight different text sizes, and a choice of background colour (white, black, and a poor approximation of parchment that comes out about three shades too dark). The default typeface is Georgia, other options include Caecilia, Trebuchet, Verdana, Arial, TNR, Courier, and Lucida. I found the default settings very comfortable for reading, only changing to a black background and white text when reading in the dark but otherwise leaving the options untouched.
Search works well, showing all the instances of the word you searched for with a two-line snippet of text, along with the chapter and location number. Beyond that, you can select text, highlight, and add notes. If a single word is selected, the dictionary definition is provided in the option box. The text selection works exactly as it does in standard Gingerbread, so you can pick out groups of text for highlighting. In addition, you can choose to search the selected text in Google, Wikipedia, or other parts of the book. It's actually pretty fantastic for studying and textbooks.
The lone disappointment here is that the framerate of the page turning animation isn't really where you'd expect it to be given the quality of hardware on board here. It's not exactly choppy, but it's noticeably not as smooth as the experience on an iPad or other Android tablets.
The Newsstand library works similarly to the Books library. You have every magazine issue arranged on a bookshelf similar to the one on the homescreen, again with options to view from the cloud or from local device storage and the choice to organize purchased magazines by title or recent viewing.
Once you pick a magazine, you're treated to a beautiful visual experience, with images rendering pretty crisply on the display. However, with the aspect ratio of magazines being different than the Kindle's screen, you end up with gray bars on the top and bottom. Also, the text tends to be impossibly small in page view. Zooming and panning a pain, and because the page is basically just an image object, the zoomed text isn't as crisp as one would like for comfortable reading.
Thankfully, Amazon has tossed in a "Text View" option that functions similarly to the "Reader" function in the iOS 5 iteration of Safari, basically taking the text from the page and putting it in an environment nearly identical to the eBook reader environment. You can easily move between articles in the magazine with the menu button, so you don't need to leave text view to read the entire magazine. Tablets are supposed to give you the full magazine experience without limits. On the Kindle Fire, I found myself preferring to read magazine content in text view instead.
We see the same mild framerate slowdown from Books in the Text View mode, but it's in the actual magazine page view that you run into major issues (Get it, get it? No one? Sorry, bad joke.) It's way, way choppy - it's not even a lack of smoothness here, it's that page turns happen at something approaching 5 frames per second. Granted, given the image-rich nature of magazines, it makes sense, but that doesn't make it acceptable.