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The Amazon Kindle Fire has already become a tablet to be reckoned with since its introduction on Sept. 28. In just one month (Sept. 28-Oct. 28) Amazon is rumored to have collected 500,000 preorders for the new tablet, with possibly another million or more pre-sales made through retail partners such as Target, Walmart, and Best Buy. What makes the Kindle Fire so popular? How does it compare with other tablets on the market? Here's the low-down. The 5 Best Features Price-- Price is undoubtedly the most attractive feature. At $199, the Kindle Fire is less than half the price of most other tablets; its nearest cost competitor is the Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble at $249. To achieve this cost advantage, Amazon has likely adopted a loss-leader strategy and priced its tablet below cost, anticipating that it will create more sales for Amazon down the line. In addition, the device forgoes many of the frills offered by other tablets. For example, it has no camera/video, no GPS, no microphone, and no Bluetooth or 3G wireless connectivity. (More on that below.) Portability -- The 7-in. touchscreen makes the Kindle Fire more portable than larger tablets such as Apple's iPad2 and HP's TouchPad. The whole tablet is less than half an inch thick and slightly smaller than a mid-sized paperback book in width and height. It weighs just 14.6 oz. Of course, size is a classic Goldilocks dilemma when it comes to tablets. Too big, too small, and just right depend on how you use it. If you do mostly Web browsing, then a 7-in. screen is usually too small for the typical Web page. You'd be doing a lot of scrolling around. But if you like to watch streaming video or movies, play games, listen to music, or read an e-book, then a 7-in. screen is usually just right. The device is clearly designed as a portable content-delivery device, particularly for Amazon content (but not exclusively). The 7-in., 1024 x 600-pixel display works well for streamed or downloaded visual media and delivers crisp, bright, vibrant images. Seamless Access to Amazon Portal -- When you order the Kindle Fire from Amazon's online store, it will be delivered with pre-links to all your favorite Amazon accounts, such as Apps, Games, Kindle eBooks, Cloud Player and Kindle Prime. The media can be bought or rented and then streamed or downloaded to the tablet from the vast server farms of Amazon Web Services (AWS). If you have other devices for streaming media, Amazon's Whispersync technology keeps them all
synchronized with the tablet. For example, if you stop watching a movie on the Kindle Fire, and later you want to start watching it again on your MacBook, Whispersync saves your place so you can pick up where you left off whenever you reconnect to the Web. Amazon also provides 5 GB of free Cloud storage, which helps compensate for the meager 8-GB of onboard storage. (More on that below.) In addition to Amazon's ginormous library of more than 18 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, and magazines, the Kindle Fire also provides seamless access to many other sources of content such as Netflix, Rhapsody, Pandora, Twitter, Comics by comiXology, Facebook, The Weather Channel and games from Zynga, EA, Gameloft, PopCap and Rovio. Simplicity -- Amazon has done a great job with the user interface (UI). The home screen is intuitively graphical, consisting of two virtual bookshelves with media icons arrayed on them. The upper, larger bookshelf, called the "carousel," contains icons that are stacked chronologically with the last-used item on top. The lower, smaller shelf is designed to hold your favorites. In one stroke, Amazon's bookshelf UI pays homage to its bookstore roots while also demonstrating a flair for form and function once found only in Apple products. Innovative 'Silk' Web Browser-- Perhaps the most innovative feature is the Web browser. Unlike standard browsers, Amazon's "Silk" browser does not compose a requested page locally. Instead, the high-speed AWS Cloud server caches the page first, then sends it to the tablet in one stream of code. The result is a split browser system that resides both on the tablet and in the server cloud. The division of labor enables web pages to download faster than with typical Android devices. According to Amazon, the servers also adapt to your browsing habits, so the process gets faster over time. Kindle Fire vs. Other Tablets Much has been said about the Kindle Fire vs. the Apple iPad2. Let's be clear: Apple has nothing to worry about. The two tablets are not really comparable in any meaningful way. In fact, Amazon has created its own genre of tablet, which makes it a little awkward to draw straight comparisons with other devices. Amazon has also created its own closed-platform version of Google's Android OS, so even comparing the Kindle Fire with other Android tablets is tricky. Nevertheless, it is useful to list the specs of other popular tablets just to see how the Amazon Kindle Fire stacks up against them. Kindle Fire: Operating System: Android (custom) Processor: 1-GHz Dual-Core TI OMAP 4 RAM: 512 MB Storage: 8 GB Display: 7-in. IPS LCD Resolution: 1024 x 600
Cameras: None Video: None Battery Life: 8 hrs. (reading only) WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 3G/4G: No Bluetooth: No GPS: No Dimensions: 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 in. Weight: 14.6 oz. Price: $199
Apple iPad2: Operating System: iOS 4 Processor: 1-GHz Dual-Core Apple A5 RAM: 512 MB Storage: 16 GB Display: 9.7-in. IPS LCD Resolution: 1024 x 768 Cameras: Two Video: 720p Battery Life: 10 hrs. (browsing, video, etc.) WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 3G/4G: 3G (+$130) Bluetooth: Yes GPS: Yes Dimensions: 9.5 x 7.3 x 0.35 in. Weight: 1.33 lb. Price: $499
BlackBerry Playbook: Operating System: QNX Processor: 1-GHz Dual-Core TI OMAP 4430 RAM: 1 GB Storage: 16 GB Display: 7-in. IPS LCD Resolution: 1024 x 600 Cameras: Two Video: 1080p Battery Life: 7 hrs. (playing video) WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 3G/4G: 3G/4G Bluetooth: Yes GPS: Yes Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.6 x 0.4 in.
Weight: 0.9 lb. Price: $499
Nook Tablet: Operating System: Android (custom) Processor: 1-GHz Dual-Core TI OMAP 4 RAM: 1 GB Storage: 16 GB Display: 7-in. IPS LCD Resolution: 1024 x 600 Cameras: None Video: None Battery Life: 11.5 hrs. (reading only) WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 3G/4G: No Bluetooth: No GPS: No Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 0.48 in. Weight: 14.1 oz. Price: $249
HP TouchPad: Operating System: WebOS 3.0 Processor: 1.2-GHz Dual-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon RAM: 1 GB Storage: 16 GB Display: 10.1-in. IPS LCD Resolution: 1024 x 768 Cameras: None Video: None Battery Life: 9 hrs. (playing video) WiFi: 802.11 b/g/n 3G/4G: 3G Bluetooth: Yes GPS: Yes Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.5 0.54 in. Weight: 1.6 lb. Price: $499
The list makes it pretty clear how Amazon can offer its tablet for only $199. It's no-frills all the way. The tablet has 512 MB of RAM, 8 GB of storage memory (half the storage of other devices), no camera, no video, no microphone, no 3G/4G, no Bluetooth, and no GPS. It also lacks an expandable memory slot.
If the Amazon Kindle Fire were competing head-to-head with other more-established tablets, it would lose. Instead, Amazon has shrewdly recognized that content is king, so it has created a lowcost, no-frills tablet that taps into what is arguably the largest online repository of content on the planet. Who needs a GPS for that? Do I really need to know my exact coordinates while streaming my favorite episode of "Mad Men?" Of all the other tablets in the above list, Barnes & Noble's newly announced Nook is the closest competitor. The Nook also runs a custom Android OS and taps into Barnes & Noble's content. The Nook has twice the RAM (1 GB), twice the storage (16 GB), and a longer-lasting battery. It also has an expandable memory slot and a microphone. Based on hardware specs alone, the Nook offers more, but it also costs $50 more. Moreover, when it comes to content Barnes & Noble is still mostly an online bookstore. Not even Apple can compete across the board with Amazon's vast array of media, products, software, etc. When it comes to overall content, Amazon is king. The 3 Worst Features 7-in. Display-- Although the 7-in. display is an asset when it comes to portability, it is an annoyance when viewing certain content. Web browsing and magazine reading, for example, are frustrating on a 7-in. screen. Screen size, therefore, cuts both ways. There is no obvious way to avoid this "Goldilocks dilemma" for all types of content without a technological breakthrough such as a flexible, roll-up tablet (which is probably just around the corner). For now, the trade-off is between the full viewing experience of larger displays vs. the more limited experience of smaller, cheaper, more portable screens. No Expandable Memory Slot-- When designing a bare-bones tablet, it makes sense to skimp on memory to lower your cost. But how much more, if anything, does it cost to include an expandable memory slot in your design? Including a memory slot not only keeps your manufacturing costs low, it also adds value for your customers, who now have the option of adding more memory. One can only assume that Amazon wants its users to store their media in the Amazon Cloud. Amazon provides free, unlimited cloud storage for all Amazon-acquired content, but non-Amazon content over 5 GB costs money to store. When combined with the onboard storage of 8 GB, the total free storage for generic content is just 13 GB. That's still less capacity than the onboard storage of other tablets, and not very much capacity for digital media. Also, the only access to the Amazon Cloud is through the Wi-Fi modem. There is no 3G or 4G connectivity. If you're traveling, for example, and have no Wi-Fi connection to the Cloud, all of the content you want to access must be pre-loaded. It would be better for Amazon and its customers if the Kindle Fire came with a memory slot. Mediocre Battery Life-- When compared to its closest competitor, Barnes & Noble's Nook, the stated battery life of the Kindle Fire comes up short by about 3 1/2 hours. An 8-hr. battery life for just reading is nothing to write home about. Besides, most people would be doing a lot more than just reading. Unfortunately, the rechargeable battery is sealed inside and can't be upgraded.
Verdict Kudos to Amazon for recognizing the value of a low-cost tablet specifically designed for delivering content. The beauty of this tablet is that it plays to Amazon's indisputable strength as a content provider while also extending the Kindle legacy. It's ironic to think back to November of 2007 when the Kindle First Generation was introduced for $399. It sold out in 5 1/2 hours. It was the only Kindle to have an expandable memory slot, too. (Hint, hint.) If pre-sales are any indication, the Kindle Fire is going to be another raging success. Despite the dismal economy, or perhaps because of it, people were lining up to buy this low-cost no-frills tablet even before it started to ship. The Kindle Fire is no iPad2, but it has the potential to become an important new media and information platform. Only time will tell if this is just another Kindle or something else altogether. Who knows, the Kindle Fire could do for Amazon what the Walkman did for Sony.
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