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Brief Review of Amazon Kindle Fire (India Edition)

Online retail giant Amazon recently started selling its much awaited $199 Kindle Fire tablet. There has been a lot of hype as well as interest in the device because of the price and the bundled features. Kindle Fire is only available in US right now, with no official statement about availability in other countries or regions.

My Kindle Fire Impressions:

Being US only device right now, Amazon does not officially ship Kindle Fire anywhere including India. So, I had to use my virtual US address and get the tablet delivered there and later get it shipped to me in India. I won’t be talking much about the hardware of the tablet; you can read about it in hundreds of the reviews already available on the web, we will be focusing more on the software part and its operability in countries outside US.

Features:

  • 7-inch multi-touch display with IPS (in-plane switching) technology, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution
  • Weight – 413 grams
  • 8GB internal storage
  • Free cloud storage for all Amazon content
  • 1GHz dual core processor
  • 512MB RAM

In the box: Kindle Fire, Charger

Look and Feel:

Based on RIM’s Playbook reference design, there are obvious design similarities (as seen in the images). As I have never used Playbook so I won’t comment any further on those similarities or differences. Coming back, Amazon has done a nice job with the overall looks and body of Fire, it gives a premium feel. Back of the tablet is rubberized, giving it a softness but does not help in holding or using the device.

You get stereo speakers on the top of the tablet if held in the portrait orientation, and you can hold it any way you want, yes display rotates according your orientation (also dependent on the apps). There is only one button on the device that is the power button, no volume buttons are present. You also get a 3.5 mm headset jack and a microUSB cum charging port.

Display and Touch:

Amazon Kindle Fire comes with an IPS display, which is great – nice colors, sharpness and brightness, you will not be disappointed at all. But Fire does give problems with touch; it features a capacitive touchscreen, which does not respond to taps sometimes. On many occasions, I had to tap five or six times to select a setting or choose options. The problems are more prominent on top and bottom of the tab touchscreen.

OS and Interface:

Kindle Fire comes with a modified version of Android 2.3, so you don’t see the usual Android stuff present on the device, but there are still some reminiscences of our good old Android. As there are no physical or capacitive buttons on the tablet, Kindle Fire uses soft buttons, which are normally visible or can be brought up by tapping a small arrow.

When you wake up your Kindle Fire, you are greeted by a yellow slide to unlock mechanism with some really cool background image. These images rotate from a predefined set, so you see a different image every time you switch on your Kindle.

The home-screen in Kindle Fire is completely different from what you would have seen so far in Android devices. The main screen contains a carousel of recent items (apps, documents, videos, music etc.) and a favorites list. You can choose your favorite apps to put here. Then there is search box and tabs for different sections like Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Browser. You have the usual notifications bar on the top along with quick settings menu.

Coming to the important parts now, Amazon used its own Android Appstore on Kindle Fire and there are no Google Apps present. So, if you are living outside US like me, get ready to do some tinkering with your brand new Kindle otherwise you won’t be able to download any apps. Amazon Appstore is a no go for you if you don’t have an US billing address, so you need alternatives like Android Market or Third-party stores like Getjar or SlideMe.

With some tweaking you will be able to install Android Market as well as other Google Apps on your brand new Kindle Fire (there are a few guides available on XDA). Once installed, you will still have access to only a part of the total apps in Market, as Kindle Fire misses several hardware components that are often needed by apps to operate. You might even need to sideload APK for many useful apps like even Facebook.

On the brighter side, you can officially download e-books from Amazon store, as they are available internationally and that is all you get from the Amazon content ecosystem, if you are living outside US.

Amazon also gives you free Prime membership for one month, which includes free access to Amazon Instant Videos along with other benefits but that is also not useful for anyone living outside US. I am still trying to figure out a proxy method, which should enable video access.

You can always sideload videos, music or documents to your Kindle Fire via a normal microUSB cable, which does not come with the tablet. There is a limited inbuilt codec support, so to play some files extensions like .mkv, you will need to download applications like MX Video Player.

Amazon has talked a lot about its Silk Browser, which should enable faster webpage downloads, but we did not notice any significant improvement. It works as a decent browser for a tablet with tabs support; you can always download other browsers via Market.

Performance:

Amazon has packed in a 1GHz dual core TI OMAP 4430 processor along with 512MB of RAM in the Kindle Fire tablet, which in turn gives us a smooth experience. Normal game playing and multitasking on Kindle Fire has been decent if not earth shattering.

We ran a couple of benchmarking apps on the tablet and here are the results.

Quadrant: 1760

Vellamo: 740

Kindle Fire gave us around eight hours of battery life with heavy usage like constant video playback, web browsing and gaming. This has become more or less a standard these days for tablets, but we can always try to extract more uptime by reducing brightness and switching off WiFi.

Kindle Fire as Readers’ tablet:

Most of you, who are looking forward to buy Kindle Fire, will surely be loading a lot of e-books or subscribe to magazines. While Kindle Fire works as a great e-book reader, reading magazines on Fire is a mess. Due to the small screen the text size is very small and as you know digital copies of magazines are like the scanned versions (read images), so you have to zoom-in and out and then scroll around to read the full article.

How to Buy in India:

Online stores like Shopyourworld, 20North are already selling Amazon Kindle Fire in India for a price around INR 13.5K, which is around 1K more than what you would pay if you use freight forwarding services like Shopandship. For us, there was no customs duty on the tablet, so you just have to pay the actual cost of the tab along with shipping to India.

Conclusion – To buy or not to buy Kindle Fire outside US:

Unless you are comfortable with hacking and tweaking your Android device, I would suggest not to. If you are buying it solely for the purpose of hacking the hell out of it then it is a nice device with great power and within weeks we are expecting to see Ice Cream Sandwich builds for it.

For someone living in US, Amazon Kindle Fire is a great device at $199 and best for casual browsing, multimedia playback and gaming device at home or on the go.

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