Book Review

Bezos and Butthead: My Review of the Kindle Fire


Title: Kindle Fire
Author: Amazon
Publication Info: Amazon 2011
Genre: Nonfiction

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:


The user guide is a single card, not in Braille, alas, with one page of printed instructions.“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.


The on screen demo shows you where menu items are, and how to use the on screen navigation.

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.

The screen savers are color-rich and beautiful images of text, crayons, pencils, film strips, etc.

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.

The iPad text from the Kindle App has a bluish tinge to it. Next to that, the Kindle FIRE text appears white. Both are light text against black background.

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).

Typing on the Kindle FIRE would be cumbersome because half your hands has to hold the device still while your thumbs type. 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.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    AnnaM says:

    Thanks for the review.  I am curious how Amazon and B&N both plan to address people who may want to change platforms.  If I had a Kindle Fire given to me today, I would have a crapton of content from B&N that I couldn’t carry over, could I?  And I am not smoking glue so they can’t convince me to buy all my books AGAIN.

  2. 2
    Karenmc says:

    There’s a CRACK in your iPad?! Did one of the dogs get ahold of it?

    I already have the Kindle WSO, which works just jim dandy, although I have to turn a lamp on to use it, as well as an iPad. My favorite part of the Kindle IS the Special Offers.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    @AnnaM: I believe, though I haven’t tried to do so, that you can sideload content, so you might be able to sideload a BN app. I just looked in the Amazon app store, and the nook app doesn’t seem to be there.

    @KarenMC: I have NO idea what happened to the iPad. I think it fell against something and it cracked across one corner. NO idea.

    What kind of special offers have you received that you liked?

  4. 4
    Jessica E says:

    Will you be reviewing the Nook Tablet as well?  I’m very interested in your impressions and compare/contrast of the two.  I have a 1st edition Nook that I love but at some point I’d like to upgrade.  I do very little on Amazon so I don’t think that the Kindle, or its siblings, would be the right choice for me.

  5. 5

    The Teleread blog had a post about putting the Nook app on a Fire; you don’t have to root the Fire.

  6. 6

    I think I will stick to my ordinary Kindle3, with buttons(!) on and all kinds of old fashioned stuff an’ all.

    Instead I shall wait for the next Generation Fires from Amazon, cause as I understand, this is just so that they could launch the thing – this is the kind of beta test you would expect from games such as World of Warcraft by Blizzard: Almost – but not yet there.
    (Ah yes, I’m a bit of a gamer…)

    Yet – I still feel tempted to buy that Fire-thingy…. :P

  7. 7
    Lis says:

    Thanks for the review :) I was looking at the fire, but from what you’ve said I might just be better off with a simple kindle. Don’t need all the extras that wouldn’t get used anyway.

  8. 8
    tikaanidog says:

    I debated a lot on whether to get the kindle touch (my first instinct), or kindle fire (color! pretty! less battery life….). what did I finally end up with? the Vizio Tablet through costco. they had it for $10 less than the kindle fire (currently $189.99), and the kindle app works just fine, plus if I want to get b&n ebooks (all I have are amazon ebooks right now), that app comes pre-installed. plus it has all the other functions of a tablet. it’s not the fastest processer, but for what I’ll use it for (mainly ebooks, and a little web browsing), it doesn’t need it. For the price, I just couldn’t NOT get it :)

    and I have to say, angry birds on the 8” tablet screen ROCKS!

  9. 9
    Emily says:

    Okay so I behind in technology. For one thing I can’t afford it right now. For another I am less than impressed with it. I can do all the things on my laptop like listen to music, watch tv. In terms of games and I stuff I love games, but I find they distract from getting anything meaningful done on my computer. If I had games and movies and tv I probably would do all of that stuff and not read. That makes an e-reader counterintuitive to me since if I bought an e-reader its purpose would be so I could read more.
    I think its okay that other people don’t agree with me. That brings me to my final point. I have brought this up before but I find Kindle’s advertising campaign very sexist. If you go to youtube and type in Kindle Friends, you’ll find the videos in question. They involve a man who is smart, sarcastic, and belittling with his kindle offering to woman who is silly vapid and a book lover. There are at least 3 or 4 ads featuring these people. In general Kindle has been very popular with women (romance novel fans), but this makes them unhappy since they really want to appeal to men. (More men buy gadgets?)  This new version will probably appeal to some men who don’t read but are Amazon account holders.

    The front page of the New York Times this morning; yes the printed paper, featured Ann Patchett who is opening a bookstore in Nashville, because “she doesn’t want to live in a city without a bookstore”.  Yes probably a lot of people have digital, but other people are probably left without access to books. Just something to consider.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    @Jessica E: “Will you be reviewing the Nook Tablet as well?”

    I don’t have any plans to review the nook tablet, but I know Jane from DearAuthor is cooking a review on the nook tablet and the Kindle Fire as well, and I know her reviews are thorough. You should get a good sense of both devices when she’s done.

    @tikaanidog Angry Birds on a bigger screen is TOTALLY fun! Like, stayed up too late kinds of fun!

    @Emily: I agree with you, and haven’t really liked the Kindle advertisements in many of their iterations. They depict men going to work and women sitting on the beach reading – not at all accurately portraying the female digital reader who does likely read on her commute to work.

    Men don’t buy more gadgets, though. This article is a bit out of date, but it cites a stunning figure that according to the Consumer Electronics Association, “women are outspending men in electronics purchases US$55 billion to US$41 billion. The trade organization also reports that women influence 90 percent of consumer electronics purchases.” That was 2007. I can only presume it’s gone up. So I have no idea what Amazon or their marketing department is thinking, which is part of why I am determined to review devices like these because (a) I would buy them and (b) many women I know would a well. Same goes for the nook, and other tablets.

  11. 11
    Aimee says:

    The Fire is pretty cool – and I think the Amazon base is the key.  I had my husband return my Fire this morning, because I had ordered it not really knowing what to expect from a Tablet.  Finding that it didn’t do anything more than my smart phone was a major disappointment and felt redundant and wasteful.  I’m eager to see what happens in future generations.  I’m a creator as much as a consumer (THANK you for that distinction – it’s what was bothering me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on), and I’m sure they’ll corner that market in the next year or two.

  12. 12
    Karen says:

    I wanted to like the Fire more than I do (at least based on the product information and reviews).  I could live without the “content creation” part of the tablet world, since I don’t mind switching to my laptop for that.  But I don’t like that you’re walled off in Amazon world.  I order a lot of stuff from Amazon, but I also have my own videos and music and other stuff that I would want to load onto the Fire, and that seems problematic.  I tried the Amazon cloud player a while back and it did not play nicely with a lot of my music files, so I expect the Fire would be equally rigid.  I have a Kindle and that’s also a walled garden, but that seems to be inevitable with the current DRM situation, unless you go to a lot of trouble to strip all your books.  But I expect a tablet to work with all of my “stuff”, and it doesn’t seem like the Fire does that.

  13. 13
    ev says:

    Mine will be here tomorrow, so we shall see how I like it. I also have a Dell Droid tablet but I wanted to see how the new Fire stacks up against it. I know I don’t want an ipad. There’s also the new Sony tablet, which I haven’t had a chance to look at, along with the Nook one. But at least on my Dell I can do any app. My laptop and netbook are both getting old (5 and 3 years respectively), but I really don’t want to buy new ones of either. So I hope I can find a tablet that does what I want, esp when traveling.

  14. 14
    lorenet says:

    I have one complaint with my Fire:  The carousel displays ALL the books I have purchased from Amazon, not just the ones I have chosen to download.  With over 1000 books and my fair share of suggestive covers, I don’t want anyone who picks up my Fire to view these books.  Am hoping that Amazon will address this issue with a software update.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    I have one complaint with my Fire:  The carousel displays ALL the books I have purchased from Amazon, not just the ones I have chosen to download.  With over 1000 books and my fair share of suggestive covers, I don’t want anyone who picks up my Fire to view these books.

    YES. I noticed this last night, and was trying to figure out how to customize the carousel. I don’t know if it’s possible or if I have to wait for a hack to do it. But you’re right. There are some things I don’t want showing up there among my recent purchases when my mother in law wants to see the FIRE.

  16. 16

    Thanks for the review. Hubby and I saw the commercial last night and he started the “maybe we should get you that for Christmas”. Now I can tell him to wait.

  17. 17
    Karenmc says:

    Hey Sarah, the Special Offers are things like $1 for a book (from a specific list of maybe 100), $5 off any purchase of a non-ebook item, discounts on Kindle covers or lights, kind of an on-going offer for a $50 Amazon gift card when you sign up for the Amazon VISA card, etc. The $1 for abook offer was how I got the Maggie Robinson book for the SBTB Book Chat.

  18. 18
    Janet says:

    You can decide whether to see all of your books in the Cloud – or just those on your Device. You will have to download those books to your Fire though – through a wi-fi connection.

    After the oohing and awwing yesterday I still can’t decide if I love it or not. I prefer the e-ink and I”m not crazy about the lack of whispernet.

  19. 19
    delphia2000 says:

    I got myself a NookColor earlier this year and I’m pretty happy with it. It seems like the only thing the Fire & Nook Tablet do that I can’t do with my Nook Color is to stream movies off the net. However, since I live in buttcrack Alaska, I can’t stream anything with my net connection, so it’s not even something I’d need. I have bought a few books, but mostly I read free books, super cheapo books or fanfics that I’ve downloaded into PDF or text files. I can also play game apps….way too many game apps. :oD I liked the variety of ebook forms that I can read on Nook. Kindle was too restrictive for me.

    BTW, if there are any Dana Stabenow fans here, the first book of her SF trilogy is available free in ebook form in a couple places on the net, including her website.

  20. 20
    Jeannie says:

    Sarah, thank you, thank you, thank you, for doing a review of the Kindle Fire. You speak in layman’s terms so it’s easier for me (not tech savvy at all!) to glean what information I need from you.
    I wanted so badly to pre-order this, seriously, I kept going back and to, my mouse pointer hovering over the pre-order button. Good thing I didn’t have a twitch. I love my Kindle and I buy most all of my books through Amazon, but I’m afraid this would be all I’d use this for, a glorified fancy ereader, and from your screen shot, I don’t like the color contrasts. I much prefer the e-ink.

    Another problem I have is where I live, the boonies. My husband has Wifi on his phone and our computers sync with that but I’m curious if it would work for the Fire as well.

    BUT I will say this, if they come out with one that runs off of 3G or 4G *I guess that would be their Whispernet?) I’ll buy it.

  21. 21
    Evelyn Ryan says:

    I’m enjoying my new Fire. Since i had read this before it got her, I knew about the on/off button issue, so I just flip it around. Works fine and no accidents.

    I had it with me on a trip to the ER this morning and both the PA and the Dr were really interested in it and had fun playing with it. Neither of them will spend the money on an iPad, esp since this will fit in the pockets of their coats and scrubs.

    I also bought a cover that lets me prop it up. I had pre-ordered it and they price dropped so they emailed me and told me I have credit now. I can deal with that.

    Now I’m hoping family listened when I said I would love Amazon g/c’s for Christmas.

    I still have my Nook Color. That is now plugged in by the bed so I don’t have to transport up and down- I tend to forget it when I do and kick myself at work. The Fire is smaller than the Nook, which is nice in my purse. I have noticed that the Wi-fi on the Fire gives me less problems than the Nook does which has a problem sometimes connecting.

  22. 22
    ChrisZ says:

    My husband and I anxiously took turns checking the front window at every passing car sound the day the Fire was released.  Our UPS van didn’t show until after 6, just when we were about to give up.  I’m pretty sure hubby had checked the tracking number every 15 minutes for hours.  Once the Fire arrived (and properly charged -tick tock tick tock) we dove in with giddy delight.  Much like with the 4th left over turkey dish we soon found ourselves clinging to our excitement with the barest hint of fingernail.
    Whaaaaat?  The “cloud” shows all the covers of my books?  What if I don’t want my 9 year old, or my brothers-in-law going through my library?  My people want to share new technology.  “Let me see.”  We are a tech household.  We are a people of Geek.  When the family came over this weekend, my husband simply said “No comments about my wife’s books” as he handed over the Fire for their perusal.  I love my hubby.
    Yes, you can click over to see your “device” but that doesn’t make the “cloud” option go away.  It just hangs there…..
    ha.  Sorry, couldn’t help myself.  Anyway, I also have small hands, luckily for me hubby has huge hands, but I digress, I thought it was awkward to hold kind of heavy.  I think one of the things I like about the regular kindles is that the plastic rim kind of gives you somewhere to put your fingers.  The almost completely glass front of the fire is cold and shows prints.
    We already have Kindles (that we love), smartphones and laptops.  This just didn’t do it for us and it is going back.

  23. 23
    gwen hayes says:

    Ok, so let’s say I want to buy one for my 16 year old son, and want him to be able to use my amazon prime movie thing, but not have all my books front and center on his homepage. Is there a way to do that? I don’t care about the books myself, but I doubt he’ll want to show his friends his new toy with all mom’s romance covers.

  24. 24
    SB Sarah says:

    Hey Gwen! I don’t think so, as your Amazon account pulls everything – books, apps, video, etc. I haven’t found a way to hide the carousel at the top or modify it much. Unless you want to set him up with his own account, maybe.

  25. 25
    gwen hayes says:

    Thanks! I am setting up an account for him. He won’t have access to the streaming vids from prime, but he can use Netflix instead. I’m glad I found this review. I think he would have been embarrassed.

  26. 26
    SB Sarah says:

    Gwen, he would not be alone. I bought a bunch of erotic short fiction to look at the self published ones and to see all those covers in the carousel made me go download a bunch of stuff I didn’t want on my device, just so I could hand it to my sons without the, “Mommy, why are there boobies?” questions. I wish the carousel was more customizable.

  27. 27

    Hold your finger on the item in the Carousel and t will give you an option to delete it—this doesn’t delete it from your cloud.  When you return to Device View it will have vanished.

    It will still be in the Recently Viewed lists, but if you view a few things it goes by-by.

    (Hi Gwen!)

  28. 28
    gwen hayes says:

    Good to know! Thanks Chrissy…and hi back.

  29. 29
    Taylor Reynolds says:

    I opened my Fire (early Christmas present, shh don’t tell!) a few days ago and so far I’m super happy with it. I was looking for the functionality of my smartphone on a larger platform, and that’s exactly what I got. I’ve spent entirely too much money at Amazon over the past ten years (I added it all up a few weeks ago just to see) and I’m super happy that music I bought years ago is still saved for me in the Amazon cloud. I didn’t have an e-reader yet (had been using my phone), so the Fire gave me that, plus interweb access and all my Amazon content.

    I’ve had a few friends ask for recommendations between the Fire and the iPad and I tell them if they want a small computer to go for the iPad, but if they want a big phone and buy mostly from Amazon, the Fire is perfect.

  30. 30

    There has been a recent software update I’d recommend. The browser works much better and better parental controls and more manageable carousel.

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