Alright boys, I've given the Kindle Fire the once over ... as best as you can do in a Best Buy with their slimmed down demo unit.
The unit is definitely NOT striking. It looks like one of those Android tablets that you see on display that you really don't know who makes it and you have to check the tag.
I picked it up and noticed it's a bit heavier than I would have expected, but that could be the security bolt on the back. The unit feels sturdy enough - but being tethered to the desk doesn't help.
I'm starting to get why people with 10" tabs make fun of 7" tabs. It seems SO DAMN SMALL. I'm spoiled. And going from a true 10" tab like the TF to the Fire is a real let down. Of course, most people won't have that comparison (unless they slide down the kiosk to the 10" tablets).
Once you get the sucker out of "Oh new user? Let me explain stuff" demo mode, you are at the main screen.
They want you to be damn sure you don't confuse this with anything to do with Android. The UI is gray slate and what I would call "servicable" but not remarkable. No one is going to gasp at how gorgeous it is. The IPS screen really shines through, though - and you can tell this is a notch about the el cheap slates.
Once I started flipping around the UI, I noticed just how bad the glare of the screen is. I was constantly fighting the overhead lights for good visibility. Now, this is in a store, but even +Justin Mayse noticed just how bad the glare is.
It will need some sort of screen overlay/protector to knock down that glare.
The screen will also be a filthy finger print magnet too - just like everything else with a nice screen.
Back to the UI ...
If you have used the new Amazon App Store, you're right at home here. They have a unified front and every app uses it. Topics scroll horizontally along the top, content appears below. A functional-yet-basic feeling coverflow style is used to pan through content on the home screen. It feels very first gen - but could easily be improved by a software update.
The books use the bookshelf UI that is popular, you scroll around with your finger.
As mentioned in other reviews, they have some tweaking to do with the shift and click interface. Instead of tapping to select something, your tap will slightly move the UI around, and your item will not be selected. It's kinda like playing Operation! .. you need a very stead hand. Grandma might get pissed she can't choose a book with her arthritis. To make matters worse, when you select a book it just sits there - no "working" animation or anything (that I saw) before the book actually comes up. So very often, I didn't know whether my tap was misread as a slide, or if I was just waiting for the book to open. That needs fixing (again, easy enough with software).
The videos section worked just like Netflix (they must've been in cahoots), that scrolling Metro block look (which I'm NOT a fan of). You could watch some onboard stuff, but nothing from the cloud. I watched a Smallville trailer, and it was fine - nothing great - but that could EASILY be the source material. I'll reserve judgement.
I took a look at the magazines and as you can see, some comics action. The comics looked great - and so did the magazine - until you tried to read content. That's when the 7" really lets you down. I know, I used to be the preacher about how 7" was enough and 10" was too big. Well, congrats to Bill Loguidice, he was right about this sort of content; 10" beats the crap out of 7".
I opened a book and read a few pages - and this is where this product truly lets you down. If you were worried about reading books on a color IPS display, then your worries were justified. If you have a standard Kindle or anything with pearl e-Ink tech, this is going to leave you ... well, pissed. Between the horrifying glare, the small amount of print restricted to the screen, and no button to page flip (my wife LOVES the page buttons on her Kindle DX) - reading will no longer be a pleasure, but more of a chore. But hey, we all knew this would be the trade off.
I tried out the music player - it needs some work too. Totally serviceable, but there are 100 better music players on the Market ... let's hope some of them are on the Amazon App store. The sound quality was actually amazing, but when you slide your hand up to the side to change the volume, you start cursing a little; especially if you have music playing in the background and you're in the middle of a magazine or book. HUGE screw up not including volume control on the unit. My bet? We'll see a V2 unit in less than 6 months that has 'em put on there. It cranks up pretty good for little tiny speakers, but even in the quiet tablet section of Best Buy, I couldn't fully enjoy the audio.
The DOCS section was anemic so I didn't get to play much there.
I turned my attention to apps - and some of the preloaded stuff I found on there. Peggle is a fat, bloated, CPU sucking game so I chose that. Remarkably, the Fire played it incredibly clean. I didn't see framerate loss or anything that would piss me off. I don't know if this is an OPTIMIZED version included with the tablet (I doubt it), but it was snappy enough. No connectivity meant no checking out the Amazon App store either.
Last up, the web browser. The demo unit has NOTHING ... a non-interactive video essentially telling you about the browser and how it works. Too bad.
The final complaint I would have is the same thing that others have said; the soft keys replacing the "android" face buttons. They are COMPLETELY inconsistent in visibility. Sometimes they are there. Sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they collapse. You have to TOUCH the screen to bring them back, which might monkey with what you're working with.
Summary: Most of what's "wrong" here is software. Fixable. The big issues revolve around minor hardware things; volume controls (huge), AT LEAST a single HOME button, an SD card slot for bringing your content to the unit. The glaring glared screen. The size not being conducive to the "media" it's serving up.
Still, what do you want for $200? That's how this unit will get by. People can "forgive" a lot, if the price is right.
I would give this unit 3 out of 5 stars in its current state. I'd max out on 4 stars once we get a couple new builds of the UI done where they fix the issues mentioned above.
Is it a tablet? Or is it a color eReader? I'm going with "media tablet". It's obviously driven to consume media from Amazon and you get some app support as a bonus. You're not going to do anything PRODUCTIVE on here - but if all you want to do is be entertained (and occasionally pissed off - especially in bright light areas) the Amazon Fire might just be for you.
My recommendation? Put your hands (and eyeballs) on it. Plan on spending 15-20 minutes with it (try to get one that HAS wifi and is fully usable, but the demo unit will suffice). This isn't a perfect fit for everyone, but each person will know in 15 minutes if the price is low enough to make up for the shortcomings.
My pics here: