There is a natural tendency to compare all tablets to the popular, ground-breaking iPad, but the Amazon Kindle Fire really can’t be compared to the iPad. It is an entirely different, less expensive category of tablet. At less than one half of the price of the cheapest iPad, this should not be surprising. The Fire performs all the basic tablet functions quite well. You can easily use it to send and receive email, surf the Web, listen to music, read digital books and magazines, and play games. While the app selection is not as large as that of the iTunes store or the Android marketplace, there are good selections of games, entertainment, social networking, and productivity apps including must-have apps like Netflix, Pandora, Hulu, Angry Birds, and more.

For the price, the solidity of the hardware and the screen quality of the Fire are exceptional. Although the Fire is lacking some of the hardware options like cameras that are found in higher-end tablets, we found this to be acceptable because of its price. There are, however, two hardware limitations that we felt were weak points for even a basic tablet. We felt that Amazon should have included a microphone and a hardware volume control. We certainly hope that they will be included in future versions.

Although storage is very limited, Amazon provides useful cloud storage that offsets this limitation. There are limited customization options, but this results in a device that is very easy to use. We expect to see more customization options added as the operating system is updated. In fact, Amazon has already promised that such an update would be forthcoming.

With an extremely large bookstore, an excellent selection of music, and a constantly growing number of videos and apps, Amazon has made content a big draw for the Fire. It has also made it easier to access that content than any other tablet, including the iPad. Content and ease of access to that content is where the Kindle Fire excels and why it will be popular.

Power users might be frustrated by the lack of advanced features like cameras, GPS, Bluetooth, and/or by the small screen. These users should opt for a full-blown tablet. Those expecting basic functionality will be happy with the Fire. It is quite simply an outstanding entertainment device at an affordable price.

Strong Points

  • Solid build
  • Good screen
  • Easy to setup
  • Abundant content
  • Excellent integration of digital content
  • Easy to use
  • Good browser with Flash support
  • Excellent video playback

Weak Points

  • Needs more customization options
  • No physical volume control
  • No microphone
  • Cannot tell the bottom from the top when viewing face-on
  • Battery not user-replaceable
  • No expandable memory
  • On-screen keyboard spacebar not centered
  • No parental controls
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.