Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

A tablet that fails to impress, as either a tablet or as an e-reader

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Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Amazon Web Services Kindle Fire
  • Expert Rating

    2.50 / 5

Pros

  • Easy shopping for Amazon books, music, videos
  • Smooth integration of cloud and local storage

Cons

  • Sluggish performance
  • Interface still has some bugs
  • Not as flexible and versatile as other tablets

Bottom Line

The 7in Android-based Amazon Fire will appeal to those who buy books, videos, and music at Amazon, but it will frustrate those looking for a more versatile slate.

Would you buy this?

Overall, the Fire has a curious design. An asymmetrical black bezel surrounds the 7in (17.78cm) display (it's thicker along the bottom when you hold it in portrait mode). The tablet takes simplicity to the extreme. It sports just one button, a sleep/wake/power button at the bottom edge. I like that the button is easy to press, and that it glows red when the device is charging, but it's also too easy to invoke accidentally. Next to the power button are the Micro-USB port (for charging and transferring data) and the headphone jack.

Both of the Fire's speakers are located along one edge (the top in portrait mode, or the left in landscape). That means you'll lose the stereo effect no matter how you hold the Fire, and you'll likely end up covering one of the speakers with your hand when holding it in landscape.

The only cabling included is a wall charger; you'll need to supply your own USB cable (if you want to transfer data between your PC and the Fire) and headphones. The tablet handles volume control entirely via software, and in my tests that proved problematic time and again, especially in apps (more on this later).

When you first start up the tablet, the Fire walks you through a few simple setup points, and then deposits you into your home screen — the same screen you land in when you swipe to the left to unlock the device. The home screen has a search bar at the top, with tabs for Newsstand (where you access various periodicals), Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps, and Web beneath. At the centre of the home screen is a carousel that shows your most recent acquisitions or most recently accessed content of any sort — books, periodicals, music, videos, websites, apps — in reverse order, with the latest on top. You can flip through these, and they go by surprisingly quickly, but I found it bothersome to find age-old books I'd bought showing up in this carousel, even though I hadn't downloaded the books from my cloud archive to the device (at least the same didn't happen with my sizable Amazon music collection).

At the bottom of the home screen is a Favourites shelf. The Kindle Fire comes with Amazon's Appstore app, the Pulse reader app, the IMDb app, and the Facebook app icon pinned there already. Temper your enthusiasm, though: The Facebook “app” merely leads you off to the mobile version of the Facebook site.

The top of the home screen shows the name of your device, the time, the battery status, and the Wi-Fi status. It also features a "gears" button that calls up a pop-over menu for quick access to various settings like the rotation lock, the volume slider — your only volume control for the tablet — brightness, Wi-Fi, and sync (for use with Amazon's Whispernet synchronization between Kindle devices). It serves as the jumping-off point for the main settings menu, as well.

Want to go back to where you were previously? Tap on the sole, clearly delineated back arrow at the bottom of the screen. Or tap the home button, also clearly delineated, when it appears at the lower left. In apps, you can navigate by tapping the up arrow at the bottom of the screen, which in turn reveals the home, back, and menu buttons. But if you're viewing video in Amazon's video player, you'll need to swipe up from the bottom, since the player consumes the whole screen.

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