Amazon Kindle Fire review: Midnight oil
Unboxing Kindle Fire
The Kindle Fire ships in a plain box and there's a single accessory inside - the standard microUSB charger. No one could reasonably expect more for the price. Amazon are always open for business and would certainly love for the shopping to begin as soon as the box is opened. There're plenty of accessories available to buy on Amazon, from USB cables to various sleeves and leather cases.
Design and build quality
The Kindle Fire is an almost exact replica of the BlackBerry PlayBook. As if they wanted something classic but not too popular. The two devices are nearly identical in proportion, RIM's tablet being a tad taller and wider. The screens are the same size and resolution and around back you get the same soft rubbery finish.
Strictly speaking, the Amazon Kindle Fire looks like RIM's tablet but perhaps the other way around could be a major morale booster for the PlayBook. In all fairness though, build quality is one thing we were perfectly happy with in the BlackBerry tablet. So, the Kindle Fire is excellently built and with very good handling. The thinner screen bezel makes it even better.
The most notable difference between those two is the lack of any camera on the Kindle. There is no volume rocker either.
But first things first. The Kindle Fire comes with an LG-made 7" IPS TFT display of WSVGA (1024 x 600) resolution. We guess the typical Kindle user is right to expect the same level of comfort as they get from e-ink screens. Of course these are vastly different scenarios. Reading text off an e-ink screen is equally enjoyable indoors and outdoors. Unfortunately, we can't say the same about the Fire. Whether browsing the internet or watching videos, the screen is a poor outdoor performer. .
The Kindle Fire display is quite reflective and just not bright enough. Our test reported reasonably deep blacks, not so bright white, but overall satisfactory contrast. It's the brightness that fails it. Our brightness test at 50% returned results that are closer to what you'd expect at 20% to 30% screen brightness.
At full 100%, the Kindle Fire fares better than the PlayBook, but is by far not the brightest screen we've seen on a tablet. It is possible that Amazon chose to lower the maximum brightness in order to squeeze some additional minutes of battery life. Although, the Fire cannot possibly be expected to match the battery longevity of e-readers.
|Display test||50% brightness||100% brightness|
|Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2||Black, cd/m2||White, cd/m2|
|Amazon Kindle Fire||0.09||82||933||0.45||401||896|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus||0.17||196||1141||0.34||424||1236|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1||0.31||257||826||0.55||502||915|
|LG Optimus Pad||0.19||170||889||0.57||458||811|
|Apple iPad 2||0.18||167||925||0.55||429||775|
There seems to be nothing around the display. The glossy black bezel is thinner than the PlayBook's - the edge is no longer touch sensitive, the lack of camera hardware perhaps helps too. If you look closer though, you'll find an ambient-light sensor hidden in the top left corner. Unfortunately, the Kindle Fire's screen doesn't react to changes in lighting. It seems the OS isn't using the sensor just yet.
The long sides of the Kindle Fire are completely bare. A volume rocker would've been welcome. A couple of extra clicks to get to the software controls are a minor but real annoyance.
Both the stereo speakers are on top (in portrait mode), while the bottom features the 3.5mm audio jack and microUSB port. A tiny Lock/Power key is there as well. It seems the wrong place to have the sleep button but we didn't have usability problems with its placement. It's not so easy to accidentally put the tablet to sleep as some user reviews have suggested.
The two connectivity ports are two close to one another and the Fire isn't very comfortable to hold with both the charger and a headset plugged in. The bigger problem is the speaker placement. They are easy to muffle with a hand when the device is held landscape.
The Kindle Fire's back is made entirely of rubberized plastic with the Kindle logo carved out in the middle. It's slip-proof and nice to touch but easily covered in smudges. On top of that, it's a nightmare to clean. The soft surface is somewhat too easy to scratch as well.
The battery inside is non-user-replaceable and has a capacity of 4400mAh - less than the PlayBook's. We made a few tests to give you an idea of what to expect. If you use the Kindle Fire for web browsing you'll have 6 hours and 15 minutes before it dies, while if you want to watch some movies you'll have plenty of time - it took us 6 and a half hours before you drain the battery.
The Amazon Kindle Fire is chunky in a nice, friendly way, and solidly built. It's comfortable to hold and looks simple and welcoming. It's somewhat similar to the BlackBerry PlayBook but not awkwardly so. Just like it, the Kindle Fire makes a strong claim that zero styling doesn't mean zero style. The one thing that bothered us a bit was the back - it quickly gets covered in smudges and looks vulnerable to scratches..