Hands-on with the Amazon Kindle Fire

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Hands-on with the Amazon Kindle Fire

Although it wont be available in Australia for some time (if it makes it over here at all), many of our readers are curious about Amazon's would-be iPad killer; the Kindle Fire. Here's a primer on why you should be clamouring for a local release...

Amazon Kindle Fire

With its combination of seamless Amazon shopping and recession-friendly pricing, the Kindle Fire is destined to be stuffed into millions of American stockings this Christmas. Yanks have overlooked its lack of GPS, camera and mobile data, focusing on cloud features to rival Apple – and a price-tag less than half that of an iPad.

We jetted over to the US to see whether the Fire will still be hot stuff when it eventually (hopefully) makes it way downunder.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire - Build

The Fire has shed the E Ink screens of previous Kindles - and sadly also left behind some of their quirky cool. This solid 7in slab feels as glamorous as a holiday in New Jersey, although the sharp, colourful 1024x600 LCD hints at a saucy weekend in the Florida sun.

Gadget freaks will bemoan the bare bones spec (no Bluetooth, even?) but 1GHz dual-core innards means there’s power where it counts.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire – Shopping

It’s no surprise that Amazon puts retail front and centre on the Fire, with tabs to buy mags, books, music, videos and apps prominent on the home screen.

A scrolling 3D carousel flips smartly through recent items, and 1-Click shopping throughout makes it scarily easy to rack up purchases.Everything you buy (except that hedge trimmer for dad) is stored in the cloud for free – or you can download it to the slim 6GB of memory on board.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire – Silk browser

The all-new Silk browser is designed to speed up web surfing by off-loading the hard work to Amazon’s servers in the cloud.

In practice, though, the Fire is noticeably slower to load pages than the latest Honeycomb tablets and much slower than the iPad. At least Flash works fine – and Jeff Bezos promises that Silk will get faster as more people use it.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire – Prime mover

Amazon’s US$79 Prime service is increasingly less about free shipping and more about free media. The Fire comes with 30 days of Prime membership, giving access to over 10,000 films and TV shows to stream over its excellent video player, plus 5000 free Kindle books. By the time the Fire reaches Blighty, Prime might include free music streams, too. Outside of Prime, blockbuster vids come with a generous 24 hour rental window.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire – Apps

If you’re an ebook fan, stick with a traditional E Ink Kindle. The Kindle app here is embarrassingly basic, and it’s too easy to turn pages by accident. Bizarrely, the Facebook ‘app’ is nothing more than a link to the website.

The email engine is ace, though, and the on screen keyboard is just fine. The Amazon Store has around 10,000 apps – including one paid app free every day.

Amazon Kindle Fire

Amazon Kindle Fire – verdict

As a portable video viewer and portal to Amazon’s online empire, the Kindle Fire can’t be faulted. It makes consuming media as easy – easier even – than Apple, and it generally provides better value. The Fire is a long way from rivalling full-fat tablets though, especially when it comes to communications, creating content and sheer number of apps.

The lack of support outside the US means importing a Fire is a bit of a waste of time, but we should definitely be excited about the unconfirmed international release next year. 

Amazon's laser focus on media means the Fire is a superb value cloud gadget, even if it's no iPad killer.

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