Does the Kindle Fire Really Suck? I Think Not

Today's New York Times is reporting that the new Amazon Kindle Fire is just shy of a complete failure. David Streitfeld's Personal Tech column is entitled "As Kindle Fire Faces Critics, Remedies Are Promised", but look closely at that url and you can see the original title of the piece: "amazon's-fire-some-say-may-become-the-edsel-of-tablets".

The piece touts user complaints and extensively quotes UI design crank Jakob Nielsen who has said that the Kindle is a "disappointingly poor" experience and that he feels "the Fire is going to be a failure. I can't recommend buying it."

I pre-ordered a Kindle Fire the day that they were announced, even as an Apple fanboy and long-time owner of an iPad and then, more recently, an iPad 2. Do I feel the Fire is "the Edsel of Tablets"? Most assuredly not. In fact, there's lots about it to like.

Key Complaints About the Kindle Fire

Users are criticizing the Android user interface, as adapted to the Kindle Fire. The entire user experience is touch-screen based, including volume control, jumping to the home area of the system, and more. If you're used to the iPad, it's a bit disconcerting to not have any physical buttons on the device itself, but like anything else new, it's just a matter of getting the hang of it. I find the system adjustments (brightness, volume, etc) very straightforward, albeit different than the iPad. For that matter, it's a lot more tricky to adjust the brightness on an iPad than on the Kindle Fire.

There are also what I consider more legitimate gripes, including lack of multiple accounts (a failing with all Apple iOS devices too), sluggish performance and a lack of parental controls. The touch screen is also occasionally slow. I agree with all of those, and add another one: the addition of an SD Card reader would dramatically improve the Fire because then you wouldn't realize it only has a minuscule 5GB of storage. Add a movie, a few favorite CDs and some photos and it's full.

But let's be candid, the biggest thing going for the Kindle Fire is its pricetag. For $199 it really is a sort of iPad Jr. in a lot of ways, including an app store full of great games and utilities, a fully-functional (albeit slow) Web browser, the ability to play movies, stream TV and serve as a beautiful photo viewer and PDF reader, as well as a Kindle ebook reader. Apple has iBooks, but the Kindle experience is still superior and it remains ironic that the Kindle app for the iPad is better -- in my opinion, at least -- than Apple's own solution.

Nielsen raises some good points about the user experience, but I can't help wonder if he's used any Android device prior to his grandstanding predictions about the Kindle Fire. The Android experience is less seamless than Apple's iOS, the apps are less consistent in their user experience, and the Fire itself? It is underpowered. But the pricetag reflects that.

To wrap this up, I'm not sure what the problem is. Could Amazon release a glorious $399 Kindle Fire Plus, with more storage space, external volume control and a faster processor? Of course. But is that what the market seeks, and is that in alignment with its goals to make the Kindle pervasive? I don't think so.

Sorry, on this one, Nielsen, you're wrong. The Kindle Fire won't be the next Edsel by any stretch, but instead an important and valuable milestone on the evolution of tablets, the first viable and popular non-Apple tablet on the market...