Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?

by Brian Kirby on November 28, 2011. Updated December 6, 2012

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The much anticipated Amazon Kindle Fire Color 7″ Tablet was launched in November 2011 and represents Amazons first venture into the tablet computer market. There is no getting away from the spectacularly low price of the Kindle Fire at  just $199 with free shipping. However, if you buy the Kindle Fire based on the low price tag alone will you be left frustrated by the performance of the Kindle Fire or disappointed by the features available on the tablet?

Let’s take an in-depth look at the key areas of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablet to determine if the Fire represents good value for money, if it lives up to Amazon’s claims as to what it can do and if it will provide genuine and lasting worth to its owner.

Getting Started with the Kindle Fire Tablet

The Kindle Fire arrives as expected from in a no frills box that contains just the Kindle Fire device, a power cord and a simple  cardboard sheet of instructions. My first impressions of the tablet are favorable – it is obvious the Fire has been designed with the emphasis on functionality over style but at the same time the Fire does not look or feel cheap.

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The Fire is a comfortable size – it is 7.5 x 4.7 x 0.45 (inches) and weighs under 15 ounces which means it can be held comfortably, yet securely, in one hand. The Fire has smooth, rounded edges and corners and a rubber-like covering on the back that is surprisingly decorated with “Kindle” and not “Kindle Fire” as one might expect. The Kindle Fire’s default orientation is vertical so it  reads like a book by default. Keeping with its simple design, the Kindle Fire has just one button (the power button), 2 USB ports and a plugin slot for headphones.

Setup of the Kindle Fire is very straight forward and easy to follow. Once you power on the tablet you connect to your wireless network and then register your Kindle Fire to your Amazon Account. If you purchased the Fire on your existing Amazon Account then once you power on your Fire, you will be automatically recognized and any previously purchased Amazon content will be readily available on your new tablet.

The Kindle Fire’s screen runs 1024 x 600 pixels and content looks great and is easy to read / view. One particular feature of the Kindle Fire I have been really impressed with is it’s durability and it’s scratch resistant screen. Amazon claim the Kindle Fire is “chemically strengthened to be 20 times stiffer and 30 times harder than plastic, making it extra durable and resistant to accidental bumps and scrapes”. I have found the Kindle Fire to be extremely durable with the Gorilla Glass being pretty close to indestructible and the screen being the best scratch resistant piece of technology I have ever used.

Kindle Fire Operating System & Performance

amazon kindle fire tablet Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?The Kindle Fire runs on a heavily-customized version of the Android 2.3 Operating System although you would not know this when using it as Amazon have obviously taken great care in fully customizing the Android OS look & feel. The Kindle Fire User Interface is designed like a bookshelf. The top shelf of the bookcase contains icons for the most recent activities (movies, books, apps, websites etc.). You swipe through your content which can take a little getting used to but overall the user interface is smartly designed and is very easy to use, even for novices or tablet newbies.

Memory wise the Kindle Fire comes with 512 MB of RAM which is just about adequate. Initial criticisms of sluggish performance, following the Kindle Fire’s release in November 2012, were quickly resolved by the 6.2.1 Update Release which “enhances fluidity and performance, improves touch navigation responsiveness, gives you the option to choose which items display on the carousel, and adds the ability to add a password lock on WI-Fi access”. Ensure you install all available updates immediately as soon as you power your Kindle Fire for the first time.

While the Kindle Fire Spec suggests there is a 8 GB internal hard drive, essentially only 6 GB of this is actually readily available to the user for storing media. This will prove a problem for most users who will generally have more than 6GB of media files already through music, movies, eBooks and videos. This issue  is further compounded by the lack of a memory card expansion slot which denies users the opportunity to expand the memory at their own cost. As a work-a-round users should store most content on the Amazon Cloud and only store media used frequently in offline mode on the Fire’s hard-drive. This is obviously not an ideal solution but it is manageable in most instances, albeit with a little planning and maneuvering required.

Amazon claim the Kindle Fire battery lasts for up to 8 hours of continuous reading time or 7.5 hours of video playback with no wireless connection. With WI-Fi in use, the battery life will depend on the content being browsed and downloaded. In my tests I found the Kindle Fire battery life to be very satisfactory and in general is what Amazon have claimed it to be – in my experience I must charge the Kindle Fire every second night and this covers me adequately for general browsing and entertainment day-to-day usage.

Overall, in our extensive testing to-date, the Amazon Kindle performance is inline with what Amazon claim it to be and what one would expect based on the Kindle Fire Specs. We have not found any performance issues that would act as a deterrent against buying the Kindle Fire.

Kindle Fire Content – Apps / Music / Movies / Books

As the Kindle Fire runs on a customized version of Android, the number of applications that can be downloaded for the Fire is limited. While there are over 200,000 apps available in the Android App Marketplace there are only 10,000+ applications available on the Amazon App Marketplace. Android apps not designed for the Kindle Fire may work but must be side-loaded onto the Fire by activating the “Allow Installation of Applications From Unknown Sources” option in Settings. Strangely there is no standard Facebook app although Facebook mobile does suffice. The Fire does come with a simple POP/IMAP email program, the Kindle Docs Reader and popular apps such as Netflix and YouTube are available through the Amazon App store. Popular Android apps that require a camera or a microphone must obviously be avoided also given the lack of such devices on the Kindle Fire. Despite the Android limitation there are a wide range of high-quality apps available for the Fire and Amazon are increasing the number everyday with well known app providers coming on board all the time. Check out our ultimate list of the Best Kindle Fire Apps for further information.

Music wise the Amazon store has a large selection of both free and paid song titles available. Music files are stored in your Cloud Drive or can also be downloaded to the Kindle Fire’s local drive for offline listening. Music files downloaded are Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free which means there are no restrictions on the files and you are free to use the songs as you wish in the future. You can also upload your existing music collection on your Fire’s hard-drive but you should note that this will fill up the hard drive very quickly given the limited internal memory capacity.

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The Kindle Fire excels when reading books, as one would expect of such a product from Amazon. There are well over 1 million eBooks available in the Amazon Library including the latest releases and current bestsellers. A book can  be downloaded in under 30 seconds and you can flip through the pages conveniently by tapping or swiping the screen. The font size & style and the line spacing can be adjusted for more convenient viewing and the Fire is also equipped with a background light so it can be read easily in the dark or in limited light such as on an airplane. For a list of free kindle books visit our Free Kindle Books page.

As the Kindle Fire contains only 6GB of usable on-board memory the Amazon Cloud Storage takes on added significance as the Kindle Fire is essentially an entertainment device which means working with lots of digital content. Amazon provide 5GB of Free Cloud Storage with each additional 1GB of Cloud Storage costing $1 per year. Amazon MP3s are automatically stored on the Cloud and do not contribute to the 5GB storage limit. Digital content can be synced across many devices using Amazon’s WhisperSync device which enables you to pick-up a movie or book where you previously finished reading or watching.

Software & Services

amazon kindle fire silk browser Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?Amazon have highlighted the new Kindle Fire Silk Web Browser as “a revolutionary, cloud-accelerated browser that uses a split browser architecture to leverage the computing speed and power of the Amazon Web Services cloud”. Sound very impressive! However, in extensive testing of the Silk Browser, and indeed in general day-to-day Internet surfing and downloading, I have found no evidence to support Amazons big claims regarding the Silk Browser. The browser is perfectly fine to use but in my opinion performs at the same speed as any other standard browser across a standard wireless network. The Silk Browser does contain tabbed pages and JavaScript and Flash content is supported as standard but overall the Silk Browser is adequate, and not spectacular as expected given the emphasis placed on it by Amazon.

amazon kindle fire email app Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?The Kindle Fire also comes equipped with a built in email application that supports all the standard emails services including GMail, Hotmail and Yahoo mail. However, the email app is of poor quality, is limited in functionality, sluggish to perform and is pretty unremarkable overall. Standard Word / PDF documents can be viewed on the Kindle Fire and while there are apps in the app store that can facilitate the creation and editing of documents I would not recommend any as it is best to leave these activities to your laptop.

Amazon Prime Media Library

amazon prime free shipping1 e1329339878259 Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?Apart from the sub $200 price tag there is one great additional feature that no other tablet can match: the Amazon Prime Library! For an entertainment tablet such as the Kindle Fire, content plays a key role in the users experience. With Amazon Prime, users are guaranteed to have a vast amount of content available for instant streaming at a very reasonable price of just $79 for an annual subscription.

amazon prime free shipping2 e1329339594298 Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?For the $79 subscription users can access the Amazon Prime Library which is packed with thousands of movies and TV shows. The best part of watching TV shows is that all are commercial free so you can watch them uninterrupted from start to finish. Users can also access the Prime Lending Library which enables users to borrow one book a month for as long as required. However, avid readers will be disappointed with the selection of books available and Amazon should well look to update the book library considerably.

amazon prime free shipping e1329339078233 Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?Another great feature of Amazon Prime is the offer of “FREE Two-Day Shipping on millions of items fulfilled by”. For me this feature alone essentially saves me money as I would easily spend more annually on Amazon shipping than the $79 cost of Prime. Although it is not commonly known or readily promoted, Amazon Prime Subscribers can actually share their membership with up to four “household members” enabling your friends to also avail of Prime’s free two-day shipping. To activate this feature go to Account -> Settings -> Manage Prime Membership. Your friends will love you even more for sharing this with them!

Amazon are currently offering a great 1-month Free Prime Trial that enables users sign up for a commitment-free, month long trial. Even if you do not wish to signup to Prime long-term you can still take advantage of this trial offer to get you started with great content on your Kindle Fire. Be warned though – it is hard to go back once you get accustomed to the great features of Prime icon smile Kindle Fire Review: How Good is the $199 Fire Tablet?

Limitations of the Kindle Fire

  • The Kindle Fire comes with Wi-Fi connection but 3G support is not offered which limits the portability and flexibility of the device.
  • The Kindle Fire comes without an in-built camera which is quite frustrating as it is therefore not possible to utilize video conferencing through Skype etc. on the tablet.
  • The Kindle Fire has good internal speakers but there is no microphone which means apps which require aural input cannot be used.
  • The Kindle Fire has only 6 GB of internal, usable memory which is limited for an entertainment device. Furthermore, it is not possible to add extra memory either as there is no memory expansion slot available.

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Since its in launch November 2011the Kindle Fire has proved to be a huge hit with customers throughout America with over 1 million Fire tablets having sold to date. Sure, as a result of Amazon trying to keep the price below the $200 mark, there are some irritating flaws, but if you are realistic about what to expect for $199, you will love your Kindle Fire & get great use out of it everyday.

In final conclusion, the Kindle Fire represents great value at $199 and I have no hesitation in recommending it to readers. From reading the above review you will be very clear of what the Kindle Fire can and cannot do and armed with this knowledge the Kindle Fire will meet and exceed your expectations with ease!

Where to Get the Kindle Fire Tablet

The Amazon Kindle Fire is available on Amazon for $199, which currently includes free shipping and a 1-Year Limited Warranty and Service as standard.

The Kindle Fire vs The Apple iPad vs The Nook Color

The Kindle Fire is a cheaper alternative to the Apple iPad Tablet and The Nook Color Tablet – for an in-depth comparison of the top tablets on these tablets read our Kindle Fire vs iPad Review or our Kindle Fire vs Nook Color Review.