Using the Fire

The Kindle Fire is no speed demon, but it’s not sluggish either. It has a 1 GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP processor with 512 MB of RAM. It has occasional slow ups, but in general use, it is fast enough for the average user.

The on-screen keyboard is responsive and, like most other tablets, has suggestions for misspelled words but no auto-correction. Our only aggravation was that, as shown in Figure 12, the space bar is set off to the left instead of being centered. This quirk appears whether in landscape or portrait mode. If you are a hunt-and-peck typist, you may never notice this. If, however, you are used to pressing the space bar with your right thumb, it will be an annoyance that you will have to work to overcome.

Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet ReviewFigure 12: The on-screen keyboard

The Kindle Fire allows you to perform all the basic functions that you might expect from a tablet. You can browse the Web, send and receive email, read documents like PDF, Word, Excel, etc., view photos, listen to music and watch movies.

It handles all of these functions with aplomb. Its Silk Web browser was specially created by Amazon to cache Web pages on Amazon servers and speed browsing. It performs well and supports Flash. It also gives you the ability to view Web pages in a text-only view. While Web pages load quickly, the small screen means that there is more scrolling and zooming to view pages. There are no private browsing or parental controls, both of which are found on other tablets.

The stereo speakers on the top of the Fire are adequately loud. Although there are no audio enhancements or EQ settings, the Fire has clear audio output. It sounds surprisingly good when paired with a good headset or ear buds. Both music and videos play smoothly and easily.

Email functions are pretty basic, but again, adequate for most users.

While all the basics are covered, advanced features are not. There is no GPS, maps, Bluetooth, external keyboard support, cameras, microphone, video output, compass, or ambient light sensor. This lack of features limits what the Fire can do, but it doesn’t thwart its main functionality which is to play content such as music, videos, and books.

Content is where the Kindle Fire excels. The Kindle bookstore is one of the best for digital books, newspapers, and magazines. It offers everything from classics to best-sellers and business periodicals to comic books. There are plenty of free books available; Fire owners who are Prime members can use the Kindle Landing Library to borrow books at no cost. Many local libraries are also currently lending digital books for the Kindle that work beautifully on the Fire. Although limited by the screen size, most newspapers and magazines display quite well on the Kindle Fire. We were surprised to find that the Wall Street Journal for the Fire was available for Wall Street Journal print subscribers for free, since even print subscribers have to pay an additional fee to get it on a regular Kindle.

If you are a Prime subscriber, you will find a wealth of movie and television titles to stream on your Fire at no additional cost. The selection is not as good as Netflix, but it is continually growing. Netflix and Hulu are supported on the Fire.

Games and Android apps for the Fire must be downloaded from the Amazon store rather than the Android Marketplace. Although constantly growing, the Amazon app store doesn’t yet have near as many apps as Apple’s iTunes App store or the Android Marketplace. Yet, most of the common apps like Pandora, Facebook, Evernote and Angry Birds are available.

The Kindle Fire doesn’t yet support mobile networks. It works only over Wi-Fi. It supports 802.11b/g/n and connected well even on networks of questionable signal strength.

Amazon promises seven and a half hours of battery life and our Kindle Fire lived up to those expectations. Although some tablets offer better battery life, we found the Fire’s to be adequate.

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up's Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.