When comparing tablet PCs, it is customary to draw up a comparative table of specifications and see which brand comes up tops in which category -- processor, OS, screen resolution, Net access, battery life, price etc. Indeed Online multi-brand sellers encourage buyers to shortlist a few favourites and then check to see how they stack up before -- hopefully -- making a purchase decision.
As a reviewer -- this is 10th tablet I have got to handle, and over a fairly extended period -- this sort of spec-based comparison has worked reasonably well for me -- but I realized, fairly quickly that such a numbers game would do injustice to what Amazon's Kindle Fire HD tablet has to offer.
It takes its time to get ready: fresh out of the box, it takes 4-6 hours to fully charge its batteries; but once primed, it offers a superiority in experience that is both obvious and intangible -- if that is not confusing.
The touch controls -- from the first swipe to unlock the device, to going past the in-your-face opening screens that tempt you to buy e-books and mags from Amazon, to detecting a WiFi network and settling down to some serious surfing -- are smoother than anything I have hitherto experienced. I don't think users will be aware about Amazon's explanation that the touch sensors are directly laminated to the screen without the air gap to be found in competitors to provide enhanced sensitivity -- they will just experience it ... and if this is the first tablet they are handling they may well conclude that this is how touch always works. I have handled resistive and capacitive touch screens ranging from good to bad to ugly and I could tell them otherwise.
Likewise with setting up the wireless internet access. Admittedly this is the only way to access the Net with Kindle: it does not offer the option of inserting a data card dongle; nor does it provide a slot to take a mobile SIM, omissions that I found somewhat surprising, considering that the Kindle Fire is a fairly late entrant in the tablet 'maidan'. But it more than makes up in the speed and efficiency with which it latches on to the nearest hotspot and then remains connected for hours without the intermittent breaks that we are all too familiar with. Again, users may not care to know all about the dual antenna, dual band WiFi access circuitry it deploys; but they will intuitively sense that the connection seems zippier, the web pages open faster than other devices on their network. I used the Kindle Fire HD at my home-office, where I have 2 WiFi networks ( one as a standby for the other) -- a 2GBPS and a 15 GBPS and while I did not measure this, I felt I was able to surf faster on the Kindle than on my regular desktop and netbook machines. Subjective, I agree; but these are just the little things that make for a long term, irritation- free tablet experience.
The 7 inch Kindle Fire comes with a 1280 by 800 pixel display, while the 8.9 inch model offers 1920 by 1200. I got to try out only the 7 inch version -- and got very good movie picture quality and excellent sound even with the entry level settings in a YouTube video. I tried out the video of VuTech featured in our Tech Video spot at IndiaTechOnline this week and the sound and picture quality were both excellent at full screen. The Dolby dual stereo speakers on either side of the picture are a feature of both the 7 inch and the 8.9 inch.
The stark simplicity of the Kindle Fire can seem extreme: The black cardboard carton needs to be torn open along a perforation... you can't repack and sell as new after opening and using once. The contents are minimal: the Kindle; a USB cable to charge the device ( through a USB port of PC or laptop only; a mains charger is not provided) and a single sheet of paper showing how to start the Kindle. For everything else one has to go to the Kindle website. The device features just five interfaces: a power on button, a volume control and a headphone input on one side and a micro USB port for charging ( only! and a HDMI port to connect the device to a TV or large display. The box has a seal which says " Certified frustration free" -- and they mean it.
If you recall that the DNA of the Kindle Fire goes back to the Kindle e-book reader, it won't surprise you that the 23 million-strong book, magazine, song, movie and game Kindle store is somewhat central to the tablet's USP. I am unrepentantly Indian in not liking commerce thrust on me when I pay hard money for product ( Like most of us, I'm Ok with people selling things when I get the basic product free or almost free). So I found the Kindle Fire's hard sell in the way its tabs are organised, somewhat irritating. I am somewhat consoled by the fact that owning the product gives me unlimited cloud storage to keep my downloaded goodies -- as well the documents I may have generated on my other devices.
Anyway I learned very quickly to navigate away rapidly to the comforting biz-free look and feel of my favourite browser options. I enjoyed many of the free books you can find -- and experienced the Kindle Fire's superior read experience, even in the intense glare of an Indian outdoors .
The 7 inch Kindle Fire HD is available in two versions: with 16 GB onboard storage ( Rs 15,999) or 32 GB ( Rs 18,999. The respective prices for the 18.9 inch model are Rs 21,999 and Rs 25,999.
As I said in the very beginning of this review, stacking up the specs of the Kindle Fire ( you will find them here) will point to the obvious: that the Amazon avatar of the tablet is pricier than many similarly spec'ed competitors. But this is a luxe product and there are I guess enough customers out there for whom the premium placed on the Kindle Fire HD may seem perfectly justified.
Anand Parthasarathy in Bangalore August 20 2013.