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Review: Kindle Fire sacrifices to get under $200
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Published : Nov 14, 2011 - 14:34
Updated : Nov 14, 2011 - 16:01

NEW YORK (AP) — The Kindle was always an odd product name. Amazon used a verb to name a thing, raising the question: Kindle what? Now we have the answer: Kindle Fire.

The Kindle Fire is the first full-color, touch-screen Kindle. It's available in the U.S. starting Tuesday for $199.

A price like that for what's essentially a small iPad is bound to light the flames of desire this holiday season. I want to cool those down a bit, or some of you will buy the Fire and feel burned.

This file photo shows the Kindle Fire at a news conference held in New York in September. (AP)


The Fire is the best Kindle yet, no doubt about it. It's amazing that it costs half of what the first Kindle cost, just four years ago, yet does so much more than display books.

It's more of an all-purpose computer than an e-reader. It shows movies, TV shows and Web pages. It does email and lets you play games. You'll be lucky to get any reading done, with so many other things to do.

But it has to be weighed against the competition. When you do that, it becomes apparent just how spare Amazon had to keep the device to limbo under that $200 price level.

The Kindle's design is even starker than the iPad's. It's a black monolith with only one button -- the power switch -- and two jacks, for headphones and power.

All the controls are on the screen.

The screen measures 7 inches diagonally, a bit larger than the monochrome Kindles and a bit less than half the size of the iPad's.

The smaller size does make the Fire more portable than an iPad; it will fit nicely into a handbag, for instance.

The size of the screen wasn't much of an issue on the monochrome Kindles because they were mainly good for showing text anyway.

But the responsive color screen of the Fire opens up a lot of possibilities, such as showing magazine and comic-book pages.

Here, the small size of the screen gets in the way. It's just too far from standard page sizes to do them justice. Magazine pages look tiny. Amazon has to jump through some hoops to make them readable, like including a mode that shows just the text. But flicking through a magazine is still a lot of work — and that's one thing that should not be like work.

Barnes & Noble's Nook Color, launched last year, has the same problem — a nice color screen that's too small. The iPad gets it right, for a few hundred dollars more.

While we're on the subject of "too small," let's talk about the Fire's memory. It has 8 gigabytes of storage.

That's enough for more books than you'll ever read, but ten movies will eat up the whole thing.

The cheapest iPad, which costs $499, has twice as much memory. The Nook Color, which costs $199, also has 8 gigabytes, but it comes with a slot for memory expansion with cheap cards. I don't understand why the Fire doesn't have a slot like that. The very first Kindle did. There's no step-up model of the Fire with more memory.

Amazon says the Fire doesn't need more memory because the company provides an online storage locker, where you can stuff all your music and other content. That works when you have Wi-Fi coverage, but not otherwise — the Fire doesn't have the ability to use cellular networks, as some of the monochrome models do.

The Fire also lacks a camera and a microphone. Those aren't things you'd expect in an e-reader (the Nook also lacks them). But they are standard features on tablets and are quite useful, particularly for videoconferencing. Their absence is forgivable at $199.

The color screen means, inevitably, that battery life suffers compared with e-readers that use power-sipping monochrome screens. Amazon puts the reading time at eight hours, compared with about 30 hours for the new $99 Kindle Touch, which has a monochrome, touch-sensitive screen and is designed just for reading.

The Fire's software is based on Google Inc.'s Android software, used in smartphones and a bevy of tablets that compete with the iPad. None has really caught on, except to some extent the Nook Color. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says this because the other tablets lack an ecosystem of the kind Apple provides in iTunes: an integrated market for books, movies, music and applications.

Amazon has done a good job of setting up its own store. Buying and downloading books and movies is a quick process — as long as you're buying them from Amazon.

People complain about how Apple dictates the terms of access to the iPhone and iPad, but Amazon's Kindles have always been more restrictive, and the Fire is only a slight departure from that strategy.

You can't buy copy-protected books from anyone but Amazon and expect to read them on the Fire, as you can on the iPad. Even the Nooks allow third-party books. Amazon achieves this control by operating its own app store, separate from the Android Market run by Google. Clever people will figure out a way to bypass this and install any app they want, but most people won't want to bother.

To Amazon's credit, it's allowing the excellent Comixology comics app onto the Fire. That means you don't have to buy your comics from Amazon, and you aren't restricted to the Fire's built-in (and inferior) comics browser. It's also letting the apps for the Netflix and Hulu streaming services onto the device, in competition with Amazon's own streaming service.

So the Fire does justice to fiction and movies, but the iPad does better in almost every way, particularly in the selection of apps, which is about 50 times greater than the Fire's.

If the step up to $499 is too much, you might want to consider the Nook Tablet, which comes out Friday. At $249, it will be the same size as the Fire, but with twice the memory, plus a memory expansion slot. It won't access all of Amazon's goodies and apps, but it will have Netflix and Hulu. Take a look at it before jumping to the Fire.

 

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20만원대 아마존 '킨들 파이어' 대박조짐

오는 15일(현지시간) 발매되는  아마존의 태블릿PC 킨들 파이어가 예약주문이 150만대를 넘어서는 등 현재 이 시장을 주도하고 있는 애플의 아이패드2의 '대항마'가 될 가능성이 크다는 분석들이 속속  나오고 있어 주목된다.

13일(현지시간) 외신과 업계 등에 따르면 시장조사업체인 e데이터소스의 애널리스트 카너 니컬러스는 지난주 미국 IT 전문매체인 씨넷에 아마존이 지난 9월28일부터 지난달 28일까지 한달간 받은 예약주문이 50만대에 이르는 것으로 조사됐다고 밝 혔다.

니컬러스는 특히 아마존 이외에 전자소매점 베스트바이와 할인판매점 타깃, 월마트 등 이들의 판매 제휴사에서 같은 시간대에 받은 예약주문이 100만대 정도 될 것으로 추정했다.

아마존의 킨들 파이어는 아마존 이외에도 미국 전역의 제휴매장 1만6천곳에서 오는 15일부터 동시에 판매된다.

그는 특히 "킨들 파이어의 가격이 500달러대에 달하는 다른 태블릿PC의 절반도 안되는 199달러여서 이미 태블릿PC를 소유한 사람들이 추가로 구입하고 있는 부분이 눈길을 끈다"며 "이들이 주요 구입층은 아니지만 주목할 필요가 있다"고 지적했다.

물론 애플이 지난해 4월3일 아이패드 첫 출시 첫날 30만대를 판매했던 것에 비해서는 강한 것은 아니지만 애플이 주도하는 태블릿PC시장에 등장한 강력한 첫번째 도전자가 될 것이라는데는 이견이 없다는 것이다.

다만 아마존이 제휴사와 판매 계약을 할 때 예약주문량과 관계없이 대규모 물량을 가져가기로 한 것으로 알려져 제휴사들의 예약주문량의 정확성에 다소 의문이 드는데다 이번 크리스마스 시즌에는 반즈앤노블도 200달러대 태블릿 '누크'를 내놓을 예정이어서 태블릿 시장의 경쟁이 갈수록 격화될 것으로 보인다고 미국의  IT전문매 체 PC맥은 지적했다.

미 경제전문지 포천도 IT전문매체인 BGR를 인용해 가전제품 쇼핑가이드 레트레보닷컴(Retrevo.com)이 지난달 소비자 1천명을 대상으로 조사한 결과, 태블릿PC 소유자 가운데 27%, 비소유자 가운데 12%가 이번 크리스마스 시즌 킨들 파이어 구입을 고려하는 것으로 조사됐다고 전했다. 아이패드에 대해서는 각각 20%와 10%가 같은 대답을 했다.

 

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