Playing with fire

Published December 13, 2012

The Thanksgiving Black Friday sale business doesn’t really reach the UK, although the internet’s ability to shrink the globe means we do get to see some deals. I spotted one such deal on the Amazon site, where they had reduced the Kindle Fire to just £99. Now, we don’t really need another device in our lives, but I was interested to see what it was like, and we could always use another gadget for testing things on.

It was delivered in super quick time, and arrived in one of those snazzy Kindle boxes. My first impression was that it was hefty, chunky, a bit of a brick, but not in a bad way. I’m busy rallying against the ongoing desire from Apple for things to be so thin they are almost transparent. The new iPod Touch is ridiculous, you can hold it and not even realise there’s anything in your hand. So, to have a gadget with a substance was nice. It is a bit on the heavy side, I’ll grant you, but it’s regulation and square and feels good as you hold it.

Use and usability

The screen is good, it’s not the HD version but still manages to pack a good punch and the colours are nice. The size of page and default for the font on the Kindle app really appealed to me, although I know I would get tired of holding that thing before reading for too long. My first app test was with the Sims FreePlay game (which is rubbish, by the way) and that looked great, played okay. It was fine once the app was open, but getting it there was slightly odd. I found the app in the store, tapped to download and the progress bar started filling up. It got to the end and I tapped to open, and then there was a whole other wait for something else to load. I don’t quite understand why there are two downloads, but this wasn’t the only app to have this experience.

Books and apps are all fine, but as far as I could see, the TV and video are all tied to a LoveFilm account. I had just thought about restarting my LoveFilm account as they had massively improved the selection of TV programmes available since I last subscribed. So I restarted it, and had a watch. Again, the screen was good, it felt a bit laggy trying to process some of the bigger files (and apps) but once it gets going, there are no issues.

Taking a swipe

Really, my biggest problem with the device is the operating software is just a bit user-unfriendly. Scrolling can stop and start very abruptly, sometimes small swipes do a lot, sometimes they don’t even register. Navigating through the menu items to get to video and TV was confusing to me. I like the idea of the carousal in the middle displaying all your recently used items - books, TV, apps - but I’ve never been too comfortable using carousel’s in any form. It’s a good concept, but not one I like.

It also takes a bit of getting used to, not having the home button… or any button at all! You have to swipe your way around to get back to base, with just an on/off switch. That’s something that you would get used to easily enough, although I think not having volume buttons is a bit of an issue - these are things you need access to quickly sometimes.

I also haven’t mentioned the Amazon Prime thing - you get 30 days free when you purchase the device, and it allows you free shipping and one book a month from the Kindle lending library. Neither of these things are particularly useful to me (don’t buy many physical items from Amazon, and I have a big enough book backlog as it is), but I think there must be a plan to merge Prime and LoveFilm or tie the two together in some way in the future.

The Kindle Fire makes no attempts to shy away from the fact it is a consumption device. Where the iPad has pretentions of taking photo, video and even making amazing art on it, the Kindle Fire exists so Amazon can feed you entertainment. This is fine, and if I didn’t have an iPad already, it would be a really tempting device to try. The app selection is obviously different, and your mileage varies quite a lot, but having books, music and visual entertainment in the palm of your hand - albeit in brick form - is good. And at £99, I couldn’t argue with that. When it’s not on sale, there’s an extra £30 on top of that, and you have to factor in a LoveFilm subscription, if you really want to make the most of your Fire experience, but even then, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than the Apple alternative.

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