The Kindle Fire: “Appears Serviceable”

We’re in the process of buying a house. The home inspection process introduced me to the single most common word used by home inspectors: serviceable. Doors appeared serviceable. Furnace appeared serviceable. Sauna, hot tub and indoor lap pool appeared serviceable (well…).

It’s this exact word that comes to mind when using the Kindle Fire. I tried the 7″, $159 model. It was perfectly serviceable. It did what it was supposed to do. It did it well. Here’s what you can do on a Fire:

1. Buy Things
Functionality aside, this is what it’s designed to do. You can buy books, magazines, movies, shows, apps, games, and pretty much anything else under the sun- from Amazon! This is the reason Walmart and Target just stopped selling them, and who can blame them! This device is essentially a trojan horse for their main competitor.

The consumer aspect is compounded by ads which appear on the screen after waking the device but before putting it into action. I found them easy to ignore, though my husband insisted they were penetrating my subconscious.

He’s probably right, but you know what? All this marketing and advertising means you can get a pretty miraculous device for $160. Ten years ago it would have seemed impossible to get a magical tablet for less than the annual car tune-up. Just ignore the ads, don’t buy anything you don’t really need, and you’re getting a pretty good deal. This leads me to the other things the Fire can do…

2. Read
Here’s where I show my age. I just don’t like reading on a screen. I started a book on the Fire, happened to look up, and saw shadow lines of text floating across the wall. That can’t be good for your eyes, or brain. That said, many people read on these with no problem whatsoever, and the younger you are I think the more tolerant you will be. Heck, some of our students read on the iPhones, so a 7″ screen is a huge improvement! For my reading, I still really prefer the primitive, original e-ink Kindle which is exactly like reading on paper. I was interested to see that the old-school Kindle is indeed still the most common way people read e-books, according to this survey anyway.

You can highlight and annotate books and documents, and my very favorite feature is that you can retrieve any highlights or notes you’ve made in a book on the Amazon website, and then copy & paste them wherever you want. You can easily get personal documents or PDF’s onto the Kindle as well, though getting them back off, and accessing any notes or highlights is less straightforward.

3. Look & Listen
The Fire also serves as a media player for audio, video, you name it. Naturally a lot of this is tied to music or videos you’ve bought from Amazon, but streaming Netflix worked really well and you do have access to the many Android apps for music etc.

4. App Away
The Fire runs the Android operating system so there are many, many apps out there for pretty much anything you can think of. Are there as many as there are for an iPad? No. Would you have paid 3 times as much for an iPad? Yes. It’s up to the individual to weigh their priorities here.

All in all I think the Fire is a good deal for what it does, essentially an ‘iPad Light” for a fraction of the cost. The main thing it’s lacking is a camera, which you can get on the $500 model, but then you may as well get the iPad. I have some complaints about Android usability, such as hiding the volume controls & settings. The battery life is not great (about a day or two on a charge) and it’s slow to charge. In terms of accessibility for the print-disabled the Fire leaves much, or in fact, everything, to be desired. This is one area where the iPad leaves everyone else in the dust.

Tablet Evolution
Look for Apple’s iPad Mini, due to be announced at the end of this month. Rumors have the price somewhere in the $300 ballpark, still quite a bit more than the Fire. I do see how the 7″ form factor is a real sweet spot- big enough to be viewable but small enough to be portable.

The 10″ iPad may turn out to be a just another point on the long nose of tablet innovation, moving aside to make room for smaller, svelter devices. For a little history check out the 1972 Dynabook. It was only a concept, never built, but it was the very first tablet. It only took us 15 years to make it reality- just a blip, really!

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