I had two questions when I opened the Kindle Fire package and started to play with the device last night:
1. Would this device be as easy to use as the other Kindle products, the ones that come with the world’s shortest printed user guide?
2. Who is the ideal customer or customers for the Kindle Fire?
No, wait, I had a third question:
3. Could I get through a device demo with Hubby on the sofa next to me without either of us saying, “FIRE! FIRE!”
There was a good bit of Beavis and Butthead while we tried out the device, including wonderful moments like:
“Use your finger, dumbass.” (Said while I was trying to figure out one the swipe menus that weren't available if you tapped on them.) (Huh huh huhhhuhuhuh).
“Where are the holes?” (Said while I was looking for the speakers.)
Ultimately, Butthead could use this device with no problems. It's that easy. And this is not to say that anyone who picks up a Kindle Fire is Beavis, or Butthead. I'm saying that it is incredibly simple, intuitive and easy to figure out. So yes, this device was indeed as user-friendly and user-intuitive as the other Kindle products I've experienced.
And the printed user guide was super, super small.
In fact, it's a card tucked inside a pocket in the lid.
And the on-screen demo is fast and easy, too. As for who the ideal customer of the Kindle FIRE might be, I'm still not 100% sure I know, but here's my theory. The Kindle FIRE is for people who already do nearly everything on Amazon, because it is their opportunity to do more with stuff they already own, and stuff that's easier to buy or access through the FIRE. If all the media you consume, like books, tv, movies, games, apps, etc, is from Amazon, or if you already access all of it through Amazon, then this device will make you very happy.
As Moira Rogers Bree said on Twitter, “I am the ideal Kindle Fire customer. I've been buying all my music, movies, books & TV digitally from Amazon for 2 years.” “I'm really excited to finally have something where I can just open it out of the box and have ALL my media right there.” And that is exactly what happened: I turned it on, it already knew my account information, and all the books, movies, apps and recent digital media purchases I'd made were already there in the top carousel. It already knew and could access half my stuff because I buy a LOT of stuff through Amazon.
The way I see it, in entering the tablet market, Amazon has employed a slightly different strategy than Apple.
Back in the day, everyone wanted an iPod because it was freaking cool. And the next iPod, and the iPad, etc. Apple built the device everyone wanted, and then built software around it.
Amazon built the service that everyone uses, and then built a device to further serve that everyone.
So if you're an Amazon customer, and you have a Prime membership, get free 2-day shipping and buy books, and other forms of entertainment from Amazon, this device is a tablet extension of the service and products you've already purchased. Hubby and I are very different tablet users, and so I had him with me while I tried out the Kindle FIRE. I use an iPad 2, (one with, alas, a big honking crack in it) and his main computer right now is an Asus Transformer with a keyboard dock that turns it into a laptop. He and I each have Android phones as well. So we each have our own tablet and smartphone. Do we need something in between the tablet and the phone? No, probably not. But do we each have a crap ton of stuff from Amazon that we read and watch and use? Oh, yes. Me especially.
One thing I think the Kindle FIRE does perfectly is allow people to have their own tablet at a smaller cost than the Transformer or the iPad, with nearly the same primary entertainment foci. So in other words, for $199, you get your own private screen. Instead of “I want my MTV,” it's now, “I want my own tv, and movie screen, and book, and web browser, and Angry Birds, and Twitter,” and so on.
Much like the walkman allowed everyone the privacy of their own music, the tablet, and specifically the Kindle FIRE, allows people the privacy of their own portable good-looking tv and movie screen that also reads books and does a ton of other things.
The “my personal tv screen” is a powerful thing, too. Last night Hubby and I had the tv on in the living room, but there wasn't anything we wanted to watch, so we put on one of the music channels we like. I decided to watch an episode of “Doctor Who” that I'd already seen to test on the FIRE, and 45 minutes later I looked up to realize I'd watched the whole thing – despite already having seen it – and despite the fact that I could have just as easily put it on Netflix via the Wii on the larger tv and watched it with surround sound (which makes Doctor Who extra creepy, if that's possible). I was very happy and comfortable watching my tv show on my lap, instead of on the large tv across the room – which was already on! It's a little embarrassing but I think it's demonstrative of the ease and appeal of the Kindle FIRE. As for tv shows and movies, there are a LOT of choices.
I was incorrect about something last night and was corrected by Angela James this morning. I thought there was no separate menu for Children's Videos – I was wrong. It's beneath a swipe menu all the way to the right on the “video” tab. And there's a pretty spiffy selection of children's movies to choose from. TV shows, too. The screen is gorgeous and even the screensaver images are eye candy. I got the feeling attention was paid to what the device would look like when the screen was locked, because the images chosen are stunning.
A few negatives: It is a little heavy to hold in one hand, and that's a common complaint of mine because I have very small hands (I know) and I get ornery when I can't comfortably hold a device on which I am reading. The iPad is also not comfortable for me to hold, but I have a case that offers me five different tilted easel positions so I can set it up just the way I want for what I'm doing and can use it without holding onto it. I've also accidentally hit the power button on the bottom a bunch of times and locked the screen without meaning to. The button sticks out just a little bit and is easy to brush with a finger without meaning to.
Also, if you're not using headphones and you're watching a movie or tv show in landscape mode, the speakers are all on the left, and the sound is meh. I cupped my left hand under the speakers to project the sound forward to my ears. The web browser and web surfing is a slow and dodgy experience. The browser is not responsive to touch as quickly as I'd like, and I found myself on pages that I didn't intend to look at because the tapping of my finger to close a floating window on a web page had registered too late.
But what about reading?
If you look at this picture, you can compare the text on the Kindle for iPad, which has a bluish tint, and the text on the Kindle FIRE. The text doesn't seem to have a noticeable difference to my eyes, but I prefer the wider, two-page landscape method of reading on the iPad. That said, your eyes may vary in reaction and tolerance from mine. I think the screen is much better for movies and tv than for reading. I think it's too small for me to read on comfortably, but I'll keep trying and if my initial opinion changes, I'll update.
Linda Holmes from NPR's MonkeySee said to me on Twitter that this was sort of like a “Superkindle,” and that's a pretty good description. It is easy for those not technically savvy to use five seconds after taking it out of the box, and it takes a few minutes to find all your recent book purchases and app and tv show purchases, too, so you see everything you've most recently bought at Amazon. In a sense, if you're a frequent Amazon customer, this device will 'know' you – or at least seem familiar to you – very quickly. However, I would not use this to write anything, or do anything requiring more dexterity than a tweet or a note in the margin of a book. The Kindle FIRE is not for writing or drawing, or really creating in any way, which makes me doubt it's long-term efficacy. I cite Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus a lot when I speak to writers' groups because of his point that many of us are no longer content to passively consume our entertainment. We are encouraged and driven to create in response to what we consume. The Kindle FIRE doesn't yield many opportunities to create, nor can it be modified to do so – whereas with the iPad, which I find cumbersome to type on, I can connect via Bluetooth a wireless keyboard and use that to compose when I have something of some length to say (which is pretty much always).
So, to sum up, the Kindle FIRE is great for anyone who is a frequent consumer of Amazon content and products, and, as Jane wrote neatly in her summary, it is ideal for people who consume content rather than create. If I had to give the Kindle FIRE a grade, I'd say it gets a B-. There's room for improvement, and it's not what I would think of as a book reader first, but for books and tv and movies and app usage with very light internet surfing (unless that browser gets an upgrade in a hurry), it's a serviceable and more than adequate option at its price point.
ETA: It is possible to root the FIRE, thanks to this link from Hubby.
Also, via @RunGNC on Twitter, IFixIt did a teardown of a FIRE and found a bluetooth transmitter, specifically the Jorjin WG7310 WLAN/BT/FM Combo Module, though it's not currently supported. But, like Prego, it's in there. Which could mean future toothiness.