Amazon Kindle Fire: The reviews are in

November 14, 2011: 8:16 AM ET

The consensus: No Apple iPad killer, but for the price it's not bad

Photo: Amazon

It's inevitable that reviewers will compare Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle fire with Apple's (AAPL) iPad. This works in Amazon's favor in terms of price ($199 vs. $499 and up). This works against Amazon in terms of features, functions, apps, speed, screen size, responsiveness, etc.

Marco.org's Marco Arment: "I expected the Kindle Fire to be good for books, great for magazines and newspapers, great for video, and good for apps and games. In practice, it's none of these. Granted, I've only spent two days with it, so I can't share any long-term impressions. But I'm honestly unlikely to have any, because this isn't a device that makes me want to use it more. And that's fatal."

The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg: "To be clear, the Kindle Fire is much less capable and versatile than the entry-level $499 iPad 2. It has a fraction of the apps, a smaller screen, much weaker battery life, a slower Web browser, half the internal storage and no cameras or microphone. It also has a rigid and somewhat frustrating user interface far less fluid than Apple's.

But the Fire has some big things going for it. First, the $199 price, though the Fire's seven-inch screen is less than half the surface area of the iPad's display. Second, the Amazon and Kindle brands, already known and loved for e-readers and more. Third, Amazon is the only major tablet maker other than Apple with a large, famous, easy-to-use content ecosystem that sells music, video, books and periodicals. The Fire can be thought of as a hardware front end to all that cloud content."

Consumer Reports: "In our first look, the Amazon Kindle Fire was a fine performer, especially if your priority is to get Amazon content including movies, TV shows, music, and books. The display is smaller than the iPad's, and the app market is more limited, but for $200 you're getting a full-featured tablet that performs well."

The Verge's Joshua Topolsky: "The design of the Kindle Fire is anything but inspired. It would be one thing if the device were simply a black rectangle with a high gloss screen (spoiler alert: it is). But what's more striking about the device is just how identical it looks in comparison to a product we've seen before. Namely, the BlackBerry PlayBook. I can't overstate how similar these two products seem. They are a similar size (their dimensions closely match), both feature a 1024 x 600, 7-inch display on the front and have a plastic, soft-touch casing on the sides and back, and both weigh 0.9 pounds."

Mashable's Lance Ulanoff: "This is a product I wanted to love. The Kindle Fire's unveiling was so impressive. Jeff Bezos hitting all the right notes in true Jobsian fashion, telling the tale of a product vision so clear it made my eyes tear up. Instead, now I'm discovering it's a somewhat flawed gadget — a product that literally does not always know which way is up."

The New York Times' David Pogue: "Most problematic, though, the Fire does not have anything like the polish or speed of an iPad. You feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger. Animations are sluggish and jerky — even the page turns that you'd think would be the pride of the Kindle team. Taps sometimes don't register. There are no progress or "wait" indicators, so you frequently don't know if the machine has even registered your touch commands. The momentum of the animations hasn't been calculated right, so the whole thing feels ornery."

Fortune's JP Mangalinden: "The Kindle Fire takes Amazon's wildly popular services and presents them in a solid piece of hardware with a responsive, easy-to-understand interface that works. It doesn't have the iPad's extra layer of polish and sheen, but with the Amazon brand, a wide ecosystem of services at its disposal, and that $199 price point, it doesn't really need it. In that sense, Apple's tablet just met its first real competitor."

Engadget's Tim Stevens: "When stacked up against other popular tablets, the Fire can't compete. Its performance is a occasionally sluggish, its interface often clunky, its storage too slight, its functionality a bit restricted and its 7-inch screen too limiting if you were hoping to convert all your paper magazine subscriptions into the digital ones. Other, bigger tablets do it better -- usually at two or three times the cost."

CNET's Donald Bell: "Amazon's triumph isn't just about making cheap hardware. The Kindle Fire is a product that stands on Amazon's years of hard work building out its e-book and digital media offerings, its app store, and its Cloud storage and processing technologies. But as much as I like this tablet, the Kindle Fire isn't getting our best rating or an Editors' Choice. There's no doubt that I would choose an iPad 2 over a Kindle Fire in a heartbeat. In fact, I'd take an original iPad over a Kindle Fire.

Wired's Jon Phillips: "The Fire isn't a dud, but its real-world performance and utility match neither the benchmarks of public expectation, nor the standards set by the world's best tablets."

Chicago Sun Times' Andy Ihnatko: "The Fire is a marvelous device. And Apple and Amazon couldn't have created a more complementary pair of tablets if they'd colluded on it. Want a tablet that does everything, and which does books exceptionally well? Buy an iPad. Want something more compact, and you're not terribly interested in much more than content consumption? The Fire is aces. I feel as if every potential tablet consumer will recognize themselves in one of those two descriptions."

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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