04 December 2011

I love me some Fire.

Want to watch movies, listen to music, read a book, subscribe to magazines or play video games on an easy to carry device?  Sure, you could buy an iPad, like everyone else, or you can pay less than half the price and do the same thing on technology that is better suited to the task.  iPad owners everywhere are looking up my home address so they can T.P. my house but let me explain before they send the Cupertino Gestapo after me.

In mid 2011 the tablet battle had been to make a device that can do nearly everything a PC can do, run it extremely quickly and to have a feature set the competition could not match.  While Apple decimated the competition, Jeff Bezos realized that most people were merely consuming media.  Apple’s approach of storing everything on the device was inefficient and required purchasing more and more gigs of storage.  (Apple could resolve part of the problem by allowing memory upgrades but then they would sell fewer tablets.)  Amazon’s answer is the world’s first cloud tablet: Kindle Fire.

When we purchased an iPad we plugged it into a computer, logged into our Apple account and then set it to start syncing all of our content to the device.  A couple of hours later our iPad was ready to use and any time we want to grab a new song or movie from our home network we connect it with the USB cable.  (iCloud has another set of problems that has not worked well for us, but that is a conversation for another day.)

The Kindle Fire was already connected to our Amazon account before we even turned it on.  Our favorite music, videos, photos and documents were in the Amazon cloud so there was no need to wait hours for it to sync or to purchase a more expensive tablet to store it.  We have as much content and apps available on our Fire as our filled iPad and still have over half of the space free which might explain why Amazon only has one 8 gig model available.

We have found the design of the Fire better for consuming media than the iPad.  Even the newer model from Apple is too heavy for holding more than an hour at a time whereas the Fire is merely the weight of a good book.  If you are primarily watching movies and reading material then the widescreen is a better perspective.  The size is also important since the Fire will fit nearly anywhere, even in a jacket pocket., whereas an iPad needs to be in your hand or a separate bag for travel.

The most important distinction between the two devices is the price.  No one needs a tablet.  While I can understand a smart phone replacing a computer for people who only need access to email and Facebook, a tablet is an accessory to a home computer.  As such, anything over the two hundred dollar price point is a significant expense given the current state of our economy.  While the iPad is a nice device, I also always felt it was way too expensive for something we use to play a game or watch a movie.  The Kindle Fire is the tablet for hobos, and while two Benjamin’s is hardly “cheap”, it is finally a price that makes sense for what a tablet does.  Heck, Amazon is so concerned about pricing that it gives away a free app every day in their store – just in case you exhausted your savings account buying the device.

While the Fire is a great step forward for tablets, there is still room for improvement.  Anything living in the cloud requires an internet connection and since there is no 3G model of the Fire you may be limited to using locally stored items (books, magazines, apps) when away from a Wi-Fi connection.  The speed of the device can also be jumpy since the processor is just barely fast enough for the job.  For web browsing the Fire is fine but the iPad is nicer.  The base OS still needs work such as cleaning up the launcher and support for Exchange Server connections.  Lastly, while the image quality is quite good it is still not nearly as good as the older Kindle models for all day or sunlight reading sessions.

For some of you the iPad is still the better choice that is worth the premium price.  It is better-crafted hardware that can do much more so it lives closer to the “desktop replacement” world than the Fire.  If you have purchased most of your content through the iTunes store then it is worth the extra cash to stay in the Apple universe.  Plus the price difference can be narrowed if you pick up an iPad from Apple’s refurbished store.

As is always the case with technology, this game is still changing.  Apple recently launched their own cloud service and supposedly has different sized tablets in the works.  Amazon has been slightly more public about their intent to release different versions of the Fire in the coming months, as well, and likely will continue to have a price point far below the iPad.  So, this is a nice review for where we are today but no one knows who will be lighting the world on fire tomorrow.