How to Kindle a Fire

“There’s a nice deal on a Kindle Fire. That’ll make a great coaster for my iPad” – Stephen Colbert

I’ve always been a little jealous of my wife’s iPad. She uses it every night while we sit in front of the TV and surfs the web with big bold print, uses her blog reader, or just plays Bejeweled. A new iPad was definitely not in the budget this year but my wife saved her scheckels and kindly bought me a shiny new Kindle Fire from Amazon.

Kindle Fire: Everything I think about the Kindle Fire seems to have a but attached.

The Kindle Fire is a great price ($200 for a tablet versus a minimum of $500 for an iPad) but it does come up short against the iPad. The 7″ inch screen is a wonderful upgrade from a smartphone but print is still ridiculously small on most websites I tried. Yes you can enlarge the print and scroll around with your fingers but this is imprecise and a little cumbersome (but far superior to a smartphone).

The “revolutionary” Silk browser is not ultra-fast as Amazon claims. Firefox on my computer loads much faster. Silk is supposed to learn from your browsing history and speed up – I have only tested it a little bit so maybe my speed increase will kick in later. I certainly like the idea of a browser accelerated by Amazon’s servers. Silk does support Flash so that is certainly a point against Apple.

If you are used to Apple’s App store then Amazon’s App choices will seem a joke. Yes they do have the ubiquitous Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. Still one of the things I most  liked about the iPad was the ability to play board games. I looked up Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. All of them are available in nice editions on the iPad but none are available on the Fire. You can get Monopoly and Scrabble but I don’t care for Monotony and I don’t play Scrabble because of the rampant availability of cheat programs.

Fine – I went to my back up options. I looked up Puzzle Quest, Galactrix, and Puzzle Quest 2. Still a no-go on the Fire in spite of them being available on numerous other platforms. I went back to my trusty Plants vs. Zombies. It looks and plays great but it only has Adventure mode – no Zen garden and no mini-games which, as you might guess, are my favorite parts. Hopefully Popcap will update this like they did the iPod/iPhone version.

Amazon does feature a FREE app every day which is very nice. I always use my Fire daily if only to snag the freebie. I even got Bejeweled 2 for FREE and it is much better on the Fire than on a smartphone. I look forward to Amazon’s app store filling up at some point.

Netflix and Hulu Plus work great and are easy-to-use. The 7″ Fire screen is absolutely gorgeous. I was surprised to find how enjoyable the screen-size was. Sound is only okay as half volume is inaudible and full volume is just a normal level (mind you the family does accuse me of being deaf – personally I can’t hear them).

If you own movies and/or music from Amazon then it is very easy to transfer them wirelessly to the Fire. 8 gigabyte is not a lot but it fits all 13 episodes of The Walking Dead from Amazon plus two movies. Transferring movies from your computer requires a micro USB cable. I have one but have yet to try this feature as I suspect that I will have to play with video formats, sizes and resolutions.

Verdict: The Kindle Fire is no iPad killer and doesn’t even really play in the same ballpark. It is however an incredible value if you use it as a traveling movie machine with games. Also buying a Kindle Fire leaves you $300 to do something silly like feed your family.

Note: While I am critical here of the Fire, I am enjoying it quite a bit and am bound to enjoy it more as the Amazon market matures.