Now first of all I would like to thank Land of Droid follower and personal friend Mark Dix A.K.A @HippieMark for lending me this device that he got so that I can review it. Which I might add comes without the box and extras as it’s just the device I have here. Secondly I will briefly detail what you will see in this review of the Kindle Fire. I will be detailing my thoughts of the device itself of course in regards to the hardware and feel of the Fire generally but, the main focus here is how the Kindle Fire shapes up from a UK users perspective. I will detail my feelings on it being used without being unlocked, rooted or modded in anyway running Amazon’s forked Android 2.3 version it has slapped on this 7” tablet, then onto a little modding and workarounds with that stock option, and then I will also be giving you my thoughts after unlocking the bootloader, rooting and running Ice Cream Sandwich, a proper tablet interface and Android version.
Amazon decided to leave the E-Ink world and go full fledged colour with a tablet, and with this we got the Kindle Fire. Choosing Android and deciding to completely overhaul the OS with a heavily forked version of Gingerbread 2.3 you got a very defined look and feel to the device. Unfortunately it’s not made it’s way over here to the UK and is only available in the US currently with seemingly no plans to be seeing it soon. Talking recently Amazon’s European vice president of Kindle, Jorrit Van der Meulen stated When asked about the Kindle Fire – “We generally don’t talk about upcoming products or future plans.” You can get the device shipped from various places currently for around £170-200, so it’s still a very cheap price for the device here on the British Isles.
Now let’s get in and see how it shapes up in the market from a UK users viewpoint. First some general specs and basics. I will then delve into the software and UK viewpoints.
TI OMAP 4430 Dual-core 1 GHz Cortex-A9 with PowerVR SGX540 GPU
- Operating System
Shipped:Android OS, v2.3 (customized heavily)
ROM:8GB storage (6GB User available) RAM: 512 MB
- Memory Card
IPS TFT capacitive touchscreen, 16M colors, 1024 x 600 pixels, 7.0 inches, with a 169 ppi pixel density.
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 1 x Hi-Speed USB – 5 pin Micro-USB Type B and 1 x Headphones – Output – Mini-phone stereo 3.5 mm.
Li-Ion 4400 mAh
- Supported Digital Media Formats
AAC, WAV, OGG, MP3, MIDI, MPEG-4, VP8.
- Supported Ebook And Text Formats
AZW, PRC (Mobipocket), PDF, DOC, TXT, DOCX
190 x 120 x 11.4 mm
Design And Build:
This device is by no means a light offering and that was my initial thought when it got into my hands, but compared to the offerings of the 7” market it is actually not too bad when you think about it. It does feel a little bulky, but I like a device that feels like it is a bit robust and well made, too many flimsy devices for my liking nowadays and it feels like it has a premium made quality to it rather than the sub $200 budget bracket device you would expect. It’s a simple plain black design with no fancy curves or graces, on the back is a matte rubber finish with the embossed word “Kindle” inscribed across the middle of the device and a “Amazon” logo with some FCC bits and pieces at the bottom. Pretty simple and basic design for the Amazon slate format tablet, couldn’t expect more really from the price and I like it. Simple, minimal and it feels very nice in hand. As I am a Kindle user and owner of the Kindle 4, which is quite plastic with a cheap feel to it as all Kindles are, I was quite surprised I didn’t get any of that cheaply made feel to the Kindle Fire, Well done Amazon on the build quality here.
In one hand it feel nice to hold and not to heavy or awkward to keep it away from it’s E-Reader background and roots. The dimensions of the device at a depth of 45 Inches make it very usable and easily handled, it’s pretty much in the middle of the class when it comes to 7” tablets and it’s hit a nice spot in my opinion. Not to heavy and not too light and flimsy feeling, a good medium I think. Reading with the Kindle Fire was no problem compared to my actual Kindle 4 and didn’t bring any aches on holding for long periods of time either.
On the front the touchscreen is the source of all navigation and options within the software, again very minimal design and basic. The top left you will see what looks like a camera, stop, it’s not that all, it’s an ambient light sensor. The light sensor is not used to automatically control the display brightness though in the stock firmware, seems it’s just something that was left in the hardware design pre software decisions were made. As I mentioned no camera in the Kindle Fire, another cost cutting measure to get it to that price bracket it’s in.
Buttons? Who needs buttons nowadays, well the Kindle Fire only has one, and that is the screen power/wakelock switch. If your a Kindle owner and user you will know and hate the placement position of the power switch an device ports, yes they have stuck them on the bottom like the normal Kindle. As a Kindle user I was more than aware to be careful on not placing it down on the foot of the device, but I still nonchalantly found myself occasionally doing so, a very annoying placement and one in my opinion that should of been changed away from the usual Amazon design. Well that is how it is and it comes with the basic ports with only a 3.5mm audio output port, a micro-USB port and a small power/wakelock switch. No HDMI, no USB and nothing more. Again very basic and minimal.
The Kindle Fire also has a non-removable back, so no easy access to the battery and internals unless you want to get messy and prise it apart. That rubber matte black finish covers the whole back and round to the sides as well, with the front being a shiny glossy plastic that covers around to the edges. The top houses the speakers and it’s as many mobile devices pretty tinny and I found it to be quite low in volume when it came to playing videos and music really, I expected more from Amazon who want you to enjoy all their content to the fullest.
So the Kindle Fire is minimal, some may say too minimal. Me, I like it, and if your looking for that basic design with no flashy looks and couple that with a good quality feel and build to your device then the Kindle Fire is for you. The disappointment is that there is no Front facing camera for video calling and chat. That addition would of been ideal and I think it should be a must of tablets to have at least a front facing camera for that purpose.
Screen And Display:
As you may have read and seen of course the Kindle Fire is a 7” screen sized device. Now with a reduced budget of materials to play with Amazon obviously had to look at one of the most expensive parts, and that of course is the screen. It’s a IPS TFT capacitive touchscreen, with 16M colours, 1024 x 600 pixels,and has a 169 ppi pixel density. It’s actually very nice and more then you would expect from a 7” device with a scrunched down resolution, although that is the main expected issue, the pixel density and even some phones now offer a better screen resolution at under 5” then the 7” Kindle Fire so you can see there little issue there maybe. That said the colours are crisp, the viewing angles good, text and icons are also displayed very nice and readable. Again you get a premium feel when viewing and using this screen on the Kindle Fire, it’s not top quality and high-end of course but, it’s better than expected for the price and certainly no let down.
It also has a Gorilla Glass touchscreen and this as usual attracts plenty of fingerprints, although this is essentially a budget device it responds excellently and without any fault. Typing was easy, swiping was easy and everything you need responded and registered without fuss. Budget device this maybe but, the screen is sublime and again makes it feel premium and more expensive then it actually is, again good job Amazon.
Compared to a normal E-Ink Kindle this is of course very different to read text and books. On a normal Kindle you have a lower resolution screen and no backlight, with the Kindle Fire you have the other end of the spectrum with a higher resolution and a LCD screen that of course has a backlight. It’s very nice to read on and easy on the eyes, almost like a magazine type look and of course it works in the dark as regular E-Ink Kindles don’t. Overall I was very impressed by the screen and display, it superseded my expectations and again I’ll use that word, it felt a lot more premium built then a tablet sub $200 normally would and we have all come to expect.
Software And User Interface: Pre-Root And Using The Stock Amazon Firmware
Now the Amazon Kindle Fire may well be an Android tablet and it well maybe running 2.3 Gingerbread, the thing is that you really wouldn’t know that at all when using this device. The main back side and end base of Android is their but, Amazon have heavily forked Android and customized it so much that it has very few, if not any traces of Google’s OS at all. Right, now as this is a review from a UK user and owners perspective I’ll be looking at not only the User interface itself, but what can be used, how easy it would be and any workarounds without rooting can be used.
First of all let’s look at what we face when we turn on the device and what we get, and it’s certainly different. After the initial wizard and setup of the device, which i went on and used my Amazon account that ties in with all my Amazon services US and UK (more on that shortly), no problem all sorted and away we go. The homescreen is presented and takes shape as a bookshelf, and what Amazon call the carousel takes precedent to navigate your recently used apps, books, music, movies and basically all your content through the top half and middle of the device. All these icons in the carousel are scrollable with a swipe of the finger and flip through nicely, but if you have a lot of content in the carousel it’s going to be a little cluttered, too much really and a lot to organise by removing items from the carousel one by one. What’s the solution for what you want straight away? – Well at the bottom of the screen is where you can pin and place your favourites, this takes place on the bottom shelve of the bookshelf and makes for easier access and quick launching. For me it was very limited, lacking in organization for the carousel and you ultimately find yourself making unnecessary steps into getting where you want. Moving on above the bookshelf and situated on a tab you have categorized sections; Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and also Web which launches Amazon’s Silk browser. Pretty self explanatory and it all ties in with Amazon’s products and content.
If you tap on books for example you are presented with a list of all the books you have, this is also split into two sections with a toggle above giving the options of your content from the “Cloud” and “Device”, this is also very similar to all the sections and category’s. This is all presented again on bookshelf’s and your content either from device or cloud can be sorted by recently viewed or by the title of said content. The “Device” section does list all your content and the “Cloud” obviously the Amazon Cloud system’s content if you have any for that particular service. All in all I found the navigation around the device pretty restrictive and it’s heavily skinned layout by Amazon was just hampering it rather then help. I must say it was very iOS like from the carousel, to the bookshelf and top tabs layout, it’s just screams out iOS for me and is similar so very restrictive in terms what you can do to make it your own device with a unique look.
That’s the basic layout, but above on the top of the screen you get some simple things and as you may suspect we have a notification bar. Now this also shows your name on the left, the time in the middle and on the right a cog, a WiFi status indicator and a battery gauge status indicator. If you tap on these and you will be presented with a slide down menu with a set of toggles and sliders to adjust according, what you can adjust is; Wi-Fi, Volume, screen brightness (No auto), syncing switch and enabling/disabling screen rotation. At the end you also get an added option labelled “More” and by tapping on this you open up the full list of settings. An annoyance here is their is no auto brightness even though their is a light sensor on the device and here is the only place to adjust volume on the device as well, pretty annoying again. It’s a pretty standard set of toggles, switches and overall a not all to much dissimilar set up to the Android we all know, but it is VERY heavily skinned and restrictive, something Android isn’t and something that resonates throughout already to me.
Tapping on the left of the notification bar which titles your name and you will get a list of background happenings, basically it’s the pull down notification you get in Android as we know. You also have a navigation bar at the bottom that houses various options but mainly the usual Home, Menu, Back and Search buttons, as the Kindle Fire has no buttons these are your buttons to get around, only thing is they disappear when apps go full screen or when tasks like web browsing are in work. To bring them back you have to tap the screen, sometimes i found myself doing this or more then one occasion and it’s untactful and graceless, a simple gesture or similar ICS like bar would of been better. Normally on Android you have the multitasking option of seeing what’s happening and task switching by seeing an open tab or scrollable tab with what apps are open and active, not so on the Kindle Fire as their simply isn’t the option, no switching to an app you left at an exact point or quick access.
Using The Device:
Overall that’s the basic layout, look, feel and navigation of the Kindle Fire out of the box. Let’s have a look now on using the device and it’s services as a UK user and how restrictive it can be.
Now as the Kindle Fire is only in the US, it’s geared towards those services primarily and it restricts the UK user if you use this device out of the box. For one the Amazon Appstore is a US only service and without a certain workaround (Instructions here at MoDaCo) you wouldn’t be able to access it via the UK. So workaround done and it’s in with my main Amazon account too and now i have access, i also have the Amazon Cloud storage and player to the tune of 20gb from an old workaround with a music library already uploaded, I’m not sure if you need a workaround anymore, I think you can access it via the US side of the website though. I’m also a Kindle user, i also have plenty of books associated with this account too. That’s my content as far as Amazon goes and I tested these and the rest as much as I could.
Books And Reading:
Now coming from being a Kindle owner the prospect of using the Kindle Fire excited me from this perspective quite a bit, why? If it’s good enough I can use it instead of the Kindle 4 E-Reader I have. I have full access to all my books and content of course and they synced up no problem and everything is as expected to be where it is as per other Kindles when synced over the cloud. The Kindle Store is accessible of course and much more easily navigated on a colour tablet then a Kindle E-Reader.
The reading experience is pretty much what you would expect and if you have used a tablet and the Kindle app before then you’ll know pretty much what you get here. It’s a black text on white background, this can change this to white on black or brown text on yellow if you like though if preferred. You can also change various other things like font size, line spacing, margins, the font itself, and more. Turning the page as expected is done by swiping left or right on the screen or as well as you can tap the edge of the screen, this however was clumsy and not always working unless you hit the right spot it seemed. It’s all pretty standard and what you would expect, a nice experience and overall when i had this device it was what i used for my reading. It all works and the ability to read in the dark, browse for books on the device and reading on a colour screen was very nice, although swiping the page for me isn’t my preferred way, I would of like to see some side edged way of turning the page on the bezel itself.
Now as I already have a Amazon cloud storage account it has lots of music in there it was all synced up and available via the cloud. Via the cloud these songs can be streamed and of course this depends on you internet connection, normally if all okay streaming a track takes a few seconds to start and if go and take it all offline you can download the track to your device as well with a few taps. As you have only 6GB to play with for files shifting around files where you want them is a easy process and doesn’t take long.
Purchasing music is easy enough and very simple, with a a tap of the store link that’s always in the upper right corner of the music section you go straight into the Amazon MP3 Store. Anything you buy can be pushed to your Kindle Fire or into your cloud storage as preferred. I purchased singles tracks and it all worked flawlessly well. Now this service would work in the UK as the UK side of Amazon has this service available, no workarounds needed, although the pushing to the cloud part would need the workaround to access Amazon’s cloud storage in the first place. Without the Cloud you would be left with little storage and not as much content as the US user has. It becomes a good product and service into a pretty poor one just like that.
The music playback and actual usage of the UI is pretty basic and simple, on the left you have the album art and playback controls on the right hand side of the screen. Volume controls are here as well so it’s easy to turn up that tune to rave out. Now onto the actual quality of this bad boys speakers, well it’s not exactly the best in my opinion. They are placed on the top either side and it’s not fantastic, and as they are on the top if you turn the device landscape you get a mono like experience. I found even at maximum volume the audio was pretty weak and lacking too, sound quality is okay, but nothing spectacular here. With headphones it doesn’t fair much better either, a bit better, but again average at best and low in volume.
With video it’s pretty limited too for the UK user. Amazon Prime is a US service and although I got an email with the free one month trial with the device, I couldn’t use it as I’m am in the UK. This service streams movies, TV shows and more, so you’re missing out on a important aspect of the device itself. Now as the Kindle Fire doesn’t use Google’s Android framework and it’s Gapps, there is no YouTube on the appstore and using the web sucks on a mobile device. I side loaded the YouTube apk and it just either forced closed a lot or wouldn’t let me work it properly, I’m assuming this is due to issues with the forked system itself. Take away using the workaround to get the cloud storage and you only have 6GB of space for video content, and this you have to put on yourself pretty much and a it makes it a pretty poor media experience for the UK user.
Video playback is decent and what you would expect, crisp and nice with a good flowing trouble free experience. Everything I loaded myself played nicely and for a sub $200 7” device I wasn’t expecting no more. The video playback controls are hidden and become present with a screen tap, pretty basic like the music controls and gives you the essentials you need. Overall if you’re a UK user and want to use the tablet for mainly media and video playback I would say think again, this US centred device in the UK becomes a pretty sub-standard model for that use. If you are tied in with Amazon’s services in the US then it would be a great device to have, over in the UK it renders it rubbish.
Overall from a UK users perspective the Kindle Fire becomes a less then average device in terms of using the OS and it’s US catered system. Without workarounds to use the appstore, cloud and without sideloading apps you are left with a lot of limitations. If I didn’t use such workarounds or without sideloading apps I would be left without the ability to download or get any more apps – This means no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any other major services we use from applications now, instead you would have to use them all via the browser and their is no point to that on a mobile device nowadays. Media would be sub-par and the space very limited without the cloud storage, which to the UK isn’t available as easy to the average user as it is in the US.
Unlocked, Rooted And With Google Access Running ICS:
Now as the Kindle Fire is pretty useless in the UK without all the options available it was time to get modding this device. There are various things and avenues you can take with the device, you can simply just install the Google framework and gapps with Google Play Store onto the stock firmware to access everything, but that wasn’t for me, I wanted to try out Android Ice Cream Sandwich. The Kindle Fire is a device that has a lot of support, and it would do at such a cheap price. I went off and proceeded to get to work on making it possible – Here you can visit the XDA-Developer Kindle Fire Development Thread where it has all you need to get where you want. It’s all a bit daunting if you never have done any of this but I assure you its very simple, by following all the step by step guides you can’t go wrong. After getting the ADB drivers sorted I installed the FireFireFire bootloader, Rooted and installed the TWRP recovery. Next I decided ICS was the only way and decided to use the ICS “EnergyROM”. Everything works here apart from the common ICS rom issues right now in that their isn’t full HWA and HD 720p video doesn’t work.
Now with the Kindle Fire running ICS it becomes a fantastic device, with the price tag being so cheap, also the device having no buttons makes it ideal with the ICS setup, and of course it’s now running a tablet OS and not a forked phone system that’s limited.
This rom I admit has some issues with video playback and full HWA because of kernel and driver unavailability, but it runs amazingly well, I used this for 7 days with ICS and had no problems at all really. Navigating and transitioning across the device was fluid and quick, the only problem was no HD video that I could see, this includes YouTube (Which can be viewed in the standard 480p anyway), and also some services didn’t work like iPlayer and TVCatchup. Personal videos on the device worked fine and played back without any choppiness or laggy feel just as long as it wasn’t HD. Games worked without any issue and using on screen controls was easy due to it’s size when it came to emulators or more intense games. Reading books was just as easy as the Kindle App on the Play Store replicates what you get from the stock firmware pretty much, as well as more options and sideloading book files now it’s not restricted.
Using Ice Cream Sandwich felt so natural on the Kindle Fire and with the full Google Framework and Play Store access now it turned this premium feeling tablet into a massive bargain. Work is being done now on a Ice Cream Sandwich 3.0 Kernel for the Kindle Fire and progress is in full flow to have everything fully working. Overall it’s a much better and amazing experience for a sub $200 tablet with just a few minor tweak and adjustments.
Now from a UK users perspective the Kindle Fire becomes useless pretty much. Without workarounds and modding it lacks apps, services and is frankly a waste of money, but then it can change very quickly by simply modding. The device itself i found fantastic, i was constantly feeling like i was holding a premium priced product and not this budget type device which i expected to be…. well rubbish feeling with the cutbacks usually made on budget devices. It’s well made and built, it feels good to hold, nice to use, and for the price it’s pretty amazing. I like 7” tablets and to me it’s all I need and perfect for the uses of multimedia, social networking, a few games, email and general use. Using it on the stock firmware left constant restrictions and limitations here in the UK, if it was fully integrated and usable with all the services akin to the US here then I think if you was all Amazon plugged in it would be a great device to use especially for the average consumer. I still personally would of turned Goggled it up and brought the Android back to this device. It makes it simply so much better.
If you are prepared to get deep in and mod a device then I would recommend shipping the Amazon Kindle Fire over and using it with ICS, who needs a Nexus Tablet when you can have a sub £200 full ICS 7” wonder here.
RATING: 4 droids (out of 5)