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Consuming Fire

October 3, 2011
By Dave Hecei ( , The Post-Journal

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, Amazon held a press event in New York City. As expected, Amazon used this event to unveil new Kindle devices. The Kindle is Amazon's popular E-Book reading device. During the event, Amazon introduced several new devices, including a new tablet based on Google's Android operating system. Amazon is positioning this new tablet, and the Amazon Marketplace, directly at Apple and the iPad.

E-Book readers and touch tablets are big business right now. The iPad 2 from Apple is currently the most popular tablet on the market. This holds true even after several new competitors arriving on the market over the last six to eight months. HP, RIM (Blackberry), and Samsung are just a few of the choices, but none have come close to taking over the iPad's position.

Amazon is hoping their new tablet can change this. Their new tablet is called the Fire (get it - Kindle, Fire). It is somewhat smaller than an iPad with a 7-inch widescreen touch display. It is an IPS type LCD display, which is the same type used in the iPad.

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Inside the Fire is a dual-core processor, similar to what is found in the iPad 2 but reports are a slightly slower clock speed. It also has 8GB of storage, 802.11n WiFi networking, stereo speakers, headphone jack, and USB port (for charging and syncing). Amazon's specs rate the Fire's battery at 8 hours of continuous reading or 7.5 hours of watching video (with WiFi turned off).

The Kindle Fire runs the Android mobile operating system, but Amazon has covered it with their own custom interface. The computer requirements are none. No this is not a mistake, the Kindle Fire can be used as a completely stand alone device. This independence is thanks to Amazon including free Amazon Cloud Storage space. I couldn't find out exactly how much storage is available, but I'm sure it will be sufficient for most users.

So, out of the box, what can the new Kindle Fire do? Of course there is the Kindle software for reading books, magazines, newspapers, and docs. Along with books, Amazon also sells (and rents?) TV shows, movies, and music. The Fire can work with all these plus your own files - TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC, Audible books, DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, non-copy protected AAC, MP3, MIDI, OGG, WAV, MP4, and VP8. The Kindle Fire also includes an email app, allowing you to access services like GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AOL.

One of the more interesting pieces of the Kindle Fire is the web browser - and yes it supports Adobe Flash. Amazon calls their browser Silk and it uses a similar technology used by the mobile versions of Opera. Amazon has set up their own EC2 servers to be used to render any webpage you surf to and sends the compacted version to your Kindle Fire. The end effect is to speed up the load times of the web sites you visit. You are essentially using the power of Amazon's massive cloud-services instead of having the tablet do all the heavy lifting. The only downside is the privacy ramifications this might entail, since you are doing all your surfing through Amazon who may or may not be interested in what you are doing.

What makes the Fire an interesting tablet is Amazon. None of the other competitors are ideally setup to with what Apple can offer. Yes, they can make some great hardware, but that is only a part of the equation. What really makes the iPad great is all the software, and this is all done through the App Store. Amazon has their own MarketPlace. This is where you can get all the movies, TV shows, books, magazines, music, and yes, Apps. If the Fire can create the same type of experience that the Apple iPad/iTunes/App Store can give, then they can quite possibly compete with the iPad.

This is not to say that the Kindle Fire is perfect. It hasn't even shipped yet (Amazon lists a release date of Nov. 15) so we really don't know much about living with the Fire as a tablet. As it sits now, the Kindle Fire is much more of a consumption device than a creation device, something the iPad 2 can now do quite well. The Kindle Fire is set to be the ultimate E-Book reader, plus a lot more. It can surf, e-mail, watch videos, listen to music, and play games.

The only other problem with the Fire, as a tablet device, is the screen size. I have never been the biggest fan of widescreens and the Fire has a very wide one. For reading books and newspapers it should work fine. For watching a blockbuster movie, it will be fantastic. For email, and web surfing, not as much. If you hold it horizontally, the screen is nice and wide, but very squat. If you hold it vertically, it's nice and tall, but very narrow. You'll have to try one out to see if you like this form factor for yourself.

If there is anyone out there that has a chance of catching up to the iPad, Amazon is on the top of my list. I haven't mentioned the best part of the Fire yet, the price. Amazon is pricing the Fire well below any other major tablet device out there, including Apple's iPad. There is only one model available and it is priced at just $199, which is $300 less than the base iPad 2.

If you are looking for the ultimate Kindle e-book reader with a color display and amazingly low price, then the Fire is for you. If you are looking for a tablet that can do all that an iPad 2 can do, for less money, that day hasn't come just yet.



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