Amazon says its Kindle Fire tablet is shipping today, a day earlier than expected, while its Kindle Touch devices will ship tomorrow, six days earlier than previously announced.
It seems like ages since Amazon introduced us to the $199 Fire at a hectic New York City event, but in truth that was only about six weeks ago. Maybe our perception of time is warped because we’ve been hearing talk about this 7-inch Android tablet for months now. Maybe it’s because Amazon launching a tablet seemed like such a natural thing to do after Barnes & Noble paved the way with its Nook Color. Or, maybe it’s just because the gadget Amazon shipped looks nigh-identical to the 7-inch BlackBerry PlayBook that we’ve had for, well, ages.
The company made the announcements a few minutes ago, as the first hands-on reviews of the Kindle Fire start to trickle out, offering a mixed view of the experience.
For whatever the reason, what Amazon has delivered is a device that is intimately familiar yet mysterious — a simple, minimalistic exterior design hiding a flashy, seemingly quite trick customization that’s sitting atop a decidedly ho-hum Android Gingerbread build. Our questions leading up to this review were many: How will it handle sideloading? Are the battery life and performance better than the PlayBook? Can a tablet that costs two hundred bucks stand a chance against those that cost two and three times as much? C’mon baby, click on through to find out.
The Kindle Fire is not identical to the PlayBook on the outside, but it’s pretty damned close. Turn off the screens then put a little black tape over the BlackBerry logo on RIM’s slate and, at a glance, there’s almost nothing between them. The Fire is a simple, black thing with nothing in the way of styling pretenses. In fact, one could say it has nothing in the way of styling whatsoever.
Flip it over and you’ll see the word “kindle” subtly embossed across the back, only really visible if you hold the tablet at an angle in some light. Otherwise the matte, rubberized back absorbs too much and you can’t spot that one bit of styling indulgence the designers allowed themselves here. There’s an extremely subtle “Amazon” print below too and, beyond some scribbles from the FCC, that’s it.
Pretentious this isn’t, and neither is it a handful. Measured in inches it comes in at 7.5 x 4.7 x .47 (that’s 190 x 120 x 11.4mm), making it 0.4 inches shorter, 0.1 inches narrower and 0.07 inches thicker than the PlayBook. At 413g (14.6oz) it’s slightly lighter, too, but still far from a featherweight — it’s noticeably heavier than the 345g Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
But, for that extra heft you get an extra feeling of quality. Like the PlayBook, this thing feels incredibly solid, as if Amazon simply put a chisel to a big piece of slate, gave it a good whack and then put the resulting slab into a Frustration-Free box. The rubberized back may not look or feel particularly posh, but the entire assembly is reassuringly stout.
The slight step down in size here compared to the PlayBook comes at the expense of the bezels, which are slightly more trim on the Fire — at least on three sides. Held in portrait, the 7-inch, 1,024 x 600 IPS LCD is shifted ever so slightly toward the top. The slimmed-down black bars make no room for a front-facing camera and there are none to be found around back. So, while you won’t be buying one of these for its looks, neither does it care much about yours.
That non-removable, soft-touch back extends about two-thirds of the way up the edges of the device, the rest covered by shiny black plastic that flows up and around to the edge of the Gorilla Glass. Situated between those two layers are a pair of thin speakers that will send tinny, hollow audio out only on the right side when you’re holding this as you would watching a movie. Those with more than one ear will want to want to make use of some headphones, which are not included.
Bring your own and you’ll find their receptacle on the opposite side, where the 3.5mm audio output is located. That’s situated immediately next to a micro-USB port and a small power button. And that’s it. There’s just that one button to be found, meaning you’ll have to delve into the software whenever you want to adjust volume. There’s also no HDMI output for playing all of the great content Amazon throws your way and seemingly no ambient light sensor, as the tablet can’t auto-dim its screen.
Again, this is a 1024 x 600 IPS LCD panel that measures 7-inches from one corner all the way over to the opposite one. Those are the same specs as on the PlayBook and, as far as we can tell, this is the same panel. That’s a reasonably good thing, because while it won’t wow you at its maximum brightness, color reproduction is good and viewing angles are just as broad as you’d expect from an IPS panel.
What isn’t so impressive is the 169ppi pixel density. With more and more smartphones starting to offer 1280 x 800 resolutions in displays that are four and five inches we might have hoped for a bit more here. Suffice to say the LCD in the Fire is good — but it stops short of being great.
It’s also a very, very different experience if you’re coming from any of the company’s other Kindles. E Ink displays offer a lower resolution and significantly reduced color depth (from this LCD’s 16 million rainbow hues down to about 16 shades between black and white), but the Pearl display’s reflective nature means it’s just like reading paper and is very easy on the eyes. That is, of course, if you have enough light.
An LCD brings its own backlight to the party, meaning you can easily read the Fire in pitch blackness if you’re so inclined — just remember you’ll have to manually dial down the brightness before doing so.
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