Kindle Fire

Earlier reports of the device now known as the Kindle Fire have varied wildly and with speculation rampant about what Amazon might announce the finished product appears to fall nicely in between the greatest device ever and a serious disappointment. We'll begin with pricing. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, repeated one line more than any other during the event today, "premium products at non-premium prices." By pegging the Fire at $199 he certainly is following through on the latter claim. This undercuts even the Barnes and Noble Nook Color, while providing specifications that match devices more than twice it's price. So, bargain? You bet.

 

And what you get for that $199 is a stylish black device with a 7" IPS 1024 x 600 screen, and a 1 GHz dual-core ARM processor. At 11.4mm the Fire is thicker than other slates, but as we've discussed before, a thicker device can still be pleasant to hold, so long as the form factor works. Reports from gdgt's Ryan Block indicate that Quanta Computers, who designed the BlackBerry PlayBook, were responsible for the design of the Kindle Fire, and by all accounts they seem to have not strayed far from that design. Holding to that design may include using the same TI OMAP 4430 SoC, though we have yet to confirm that. What we can confirm is that at 413 grams, this is one of the lightest weight tablets we've seen. 

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 1GB 1GB
Storage 8GB 16GB 16GB 16GB
Pricing $199 $499 $499 $469

Hardware isn't the whole store with the Fire, though. Amazon is selling a platform from which to experience it's various Amazon services, and it is leaving none of them from this party. Obviously, and this is the last mention of Android you'll find in this piece and their PR. For third party apps there's the Amazon Appstore. This will be the only official means by which buyers will be able to load their apps onto the device, though intrepid hackers will no doubt make quick work of the device. Amazon's MP3 store is on hand as well as Amazon's Kindle app and e-book store. This brings us up to apps, music, magazines and books. The addition of Amazon Prime Instant Videos rounds out the offerings with over 100,000 movies and TV shows from the likes of Fox, CBS and NBCUniversal. Buyers will be treated with an expanded WhisperSync service that now allows users to mark their place in movies and TV shows, as they already do with books and magazines. Amazon is even leveraging EC2, their web services provider to enhance the browsing experience with Amazon Silk.

Amazon Silk Browser

 
The Kindle Fire is the first device to ship with Amazon's Silk browser. According to Amazon, Silk is a split-browser that leverages the company's EC2 cloud. The idea is simple: rather than simply going out and maintaining connections with all of the various servers that supply content for a single web page, Amazon will deliver as much of that as possible via its own cloud. The benefit of delivering content via Amazon's cloud is it minimizes the number of independent DNS lookups and handshakes the browser has to perform to load a single webpage, not to mention that Amazon's cloud should hopefully deliver more consistent performance due to the scale of its deployment.
 
Amazon is also doing some prediction in Silk. As Amazon's EC2 cloud aggregates usage data from Silk users, it can develop models for web page access patterns. The browser is then capable of prefetching what it thinks will be the next web page you click on based on historical data from a number of other users. I've always thought browser prefetching makes a lot of sense and it appears that Amazon is going to try to do some of that here with Silk.
 
 
Amazon's cloud can also deliver size optimized content depending on the device you're using. The example Amazon gives is a 3MB jpg that can be compressed to 50KB without you being able to tell the difference on a Kindle Fire. Silk will work with EC2 to determine the appropriate size of the image that it should send down to you. 
 
Given that the Kindle Fire is WiFi only, I wonder how much of an impact Silk's network optimizations are really going to have on the overall experience - particularly on fast WiFi connections. Web browsing on mobile devices is still largely CPU bound and with the Kindle Fire shipping with (presumably) the same CPU power as a number of other Android tablets that bottleneck shouldn't really change because of Silk.
 
We also don't know anything about Silk's underlying parsing and rendering engines. As Google has shown us, web page rendering performance depends just as much on software as it does hardware. Amazon is addressing the network part of the problem with Silk but there are also CPU and software issues that are either unchanged or big unknowns at this point.
A $79 Kindle! And Wrap-up
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  • JasonInofuentes - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    If there's a failure on their end then the browser defaults to normal operation and will likely behave just like the regular Android browser.

    As far as whether Amazon will data mine your browsing information, they stated that this data will be anonymized and will be discarded after a certain amount of time. It's unclear just how true the anonymity part of that statement is, it would only make sense that they would consider your browsing history in the targeted advertisements they display when you're on one of their sites or in their e-mails and recommendations. However, the impression I get is that they recognize that browsing is a private matter. Where they want to get more information is in your purchases, so by providing a streamlined environment in which to consume digital media (the Fire) they can do a better job of targeting your interests. More sales of their media leads to better data for their ads.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Thursday, September 29, 2011 - link

    Why compare it to 8.9" Samsung tablet, when there is 7"? Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    Until recently the 7" was a Froyo driven device with an anemic processor. The Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus that was recently announced would make a much more suitable comparison, and we'll know more once we get them in house. Reply
  • Octavean - Thursday, September 29, 2011 - link

    Nice turn of a phrase there at the end. Very nice indeed.

    Personally, I would like a larger 9" to 10" color screen version with free 3G for life at about ~$250 to ~$300 USD. I'd be all over that especially if it had a camera. The current lineup is nice though.

    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    Thanks!

    I think free 3G for life on a media tablet is out of the question. The reason that they get away with it on their readers is that simple text is no big risk, but movies and music would definitely pose a threat.
    Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, September 29, 2011 - link

    "while providing specifications that match devices more than twice it's price. "

    Hmm. If by "match" you mean
    - no GPS
    - no bluetooth
    - no camera
    - (apparently) no mic, or video out, or printing, or external keyboard, or any of the other sensors (orientation, compass, etc) in an iPad
    - low-end GPU
    - no obvious plan to upgrade the OS
    etc etc

    Look, it's a nice device for what it does. And if it does everything a person wants, great.
    But don't pretend it's something it's not.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 - link

    Tablets are a device market that is currently mostly falling between three stools. They can be considered communications devices, media consumption devices and productivity devices, with some overlap amongst the categories (e-mail is great to consume on a tablet, but not necessarily great to produce/communicate). Now, no one is arguing that the iPad hasn't done the best job of hitting on all three categories. So, no need to jump to its defense.
    The Fire isn't trying to land firmly on just one stool, media consumption. They are applying the 80/20 rule, or in this case the 80/33 rule. I think it's safe to say that 80% of what consumers do with their tablets (iPads, inclusive) falls in the media consumption realm. By not trying to compete for the other two stools they can provide a better experience for what people are actually doing with their tablets.
    Having reframe the question, lets look at your complaints.
    -The lack of Bluetooth and GPS are lamentable but minor. BT is particularly so since it limits users to wired headphones only. GPS on the other hand is forgettable, navigation by tablet was a practice ended before Magellan.
    -Tablet cameras are almost entirely awful experiences (iPad, inclusive), and is not missed by anyone that has watched someone attempt to take a picture with one.
    -The lack of mic makes sense given this is not intended as a communications device, video out is nice but a laughable use for a tablet (See Tablet cameras, above), printing from a tablet seems anachronistic at best, external keyboard use would be de rigueur on a productivity device, which this is not, an orientation sensor would seem a questionable deletion, but a compass falls along the same lines as the GPS (see Magellan above).
    -The PowerVR SGX540 is hardly low-end, especially in the OMAP 4430 as it is clocked above prior variants. It is among the better GPUs appearing in tablets today and a cursory reading of our phone reviews would demonstrate this,.
    -The OS issue is one of concern to anyone looking for a tablet that does at least a little of a lot of things. Certainly no one likes buying a tablet only to have a feature show up on a lesser specced phone,

    The iPad might be the best selling tablet on the market, it may even be the best tablet on the market, but it is not the market. Our readers know there are countless numbers of tablets out now and coming. They read our site to explore what is available in the whole market, not just one Store. As such they know that there are several tablets priced at $400 and up whose processors, displays, features and industrial design are comparable to the Fire.

    We welcome all comments. We just hope everyone will keep an open mind. Closed-mindedness helps no one.
    Reply
  • nofumble62 - Thursday, September 29, 2011 - link

    I have never pre-ordered anything new, but for $200, I didn't hesitate a second. I am looking forward to get rid of all the paper magazine, and now be able to read in bed. My kids has the Kindle, and I couldn't borrow from them. So I know this is a good deal the moment I saw it. I also a fan of Amazon since I bought at least 10 items a year from them. So this is a really sweat deal.

    Reply
  • ol1bit - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Mine is pre-ordered. Man I Love Amazon. I make fun of Apple Fan's, but I guess Amazon is turning me into an Amazon loyalist!

    I've had prime for 2 years, and love it, order everything though them. Now a kick ars tablet for what I want, cheap and fast. I wish it had an external sd slot though.

    But $199, and free 2 day shipping. :-) I can live with that. I already have my MP3s on the Amazon cloud.

    With this maybe I can just dump my Verizion Droid smart phone. and go back to my Free work phone!
    Reply
  • BeowulfX - Friday, September 30, 2011 - link

    Still no support for SDHC or microSD?

    At 8GB of internal storage...by today's standards, that aint much...and without an option to use microSD or SDHC...HD movies are going to gobble up this 8GB in no time...

    Too bad...oh well, may be next time?
    Reply

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