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Playing With Fire: First Impressions of Amazon’s New Device

By Sven Larsen Is it worth it? That’s the question everyone’s probably asking about Amazon’s new Kindle Fire, a device some have called an “iPad killer”. For most of us the $200 price point of the Fire was enough to provoke some seriously heavy interest and make it an early contender for our Holiday wish Read more

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By Sven Larsen

Is it worth it?

That’s the question everyone’s probably asking about Amazon’s new Kindle Fire, a device some have called an “iPad killer”. For most of us the $200 price point of the Fire was enough to provoke some seriously heavy interest and make it an early contender for our Holiday wish lists. But for me, the initial question remained. Was this a serious play on Amazon’s part or would this end up being the next Zune?

After some further reading and learning about things like Amazon’s new “Silk” web browser and their serious tweaks of the Android OS, the tech geek in me couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. I hit the big yellow button and put the gears in motion to have one of those suckers delivered to the Zemoga offices. I justified it to myself by thinking it would be good content for our blog. Besides, Zemoga is a platform agnostic company so the digital egalitarian in me felt we needed some more Android devices in house.

What follows is a stream of consciousness series of first impressions of the device (I’ve already promised Creative Lead Dan Licht and CTO Dennis Portello some time with the device as well some expect future posts with their own takes on the Fire). So without further ado, my Kindle experience post button push:

Pleasant surprise number one. I could actually order one. No two-week wait or backorder. Like any other Amazon product it was at my door within days.

Pleasant surprise number two. The Fire shares the rest of the Kindle series easy and eco friendly packaging. Nice to open up the box and having the device sitting there ready to go.

My first impression of the original Kindle was how light and sleek it was. Not so with the Fire. It’s heavy and blocky and definitely feels like a first generation device. When I showed it to Dan, he kind of liked the retro feel of the design. Me, not so much.

Unpleasant surprise number one. I have to download software for the device. Seriously? I can’t think of any good reason why all software wouldn’t come pre-installed.

Unpleasant surprise number two. Comic Sans on the welcome screen. Again, seriously? If you’re going to compete with the world’s best designed devices you might want to make some better choices, Amazon.

As an Amazon Prime member and owner of previous Kindle’s the registration process was a snap for me. This device is definitely aimed at the experienced Amazon customer/power user.

I hadn’t realized how well Apple had trained me on their devices. The Kindle home button is placed in the lower left hand corner, which is a very unusual choice for digital design. It seems like a weird compromise between web design’s standard top left screen placement and the iPhone’s center mounted home button. Definitely not instinctive.

Surprised at the design of the power on/off button. It’s tiny and not terribly easy to find at first. Wonder why they didn’t just use the same slider as the regular Kindle’s? In fact, in terms of user experience, there’s very little emulation of previous Kindle functionality. Amazon could have easily replicated some of the previous devices navigation tools for the touch screen. This is a very different experience.

Pleasant surprise number three. Book readers have an option for a reading mode that reduces some of the strain of reading on a backlit screen. It’s a smart choice and will address some of the arguments for previous Kindle owners not upgrading. Wonder if this mode allows you to read the Fire in sunlight, one of the selling points of previous Kindles (it’s been raining nonstop in New York for two days so I’ll have to get back to you on that one).

Unpleasant surprise number three. When I go to buy Kindle books through the Fire, the sampling function seems to be unavailable. Why not? It’s available through the site on other devices, why not here?

Video streaming is fast and easy. Haven’t tried downloading a video yet.

Ditto music streaming from Amazon’s cloud storage.

Magazine reading is incredibly disappointing on the Fire. Like many iPad version of magazines, there is very little interactivity in the content. But unlike the iPad, the Kindle’s screen size does not lend itself to magazine consumption. The Kindle specs were designed for paperback books not magazines (or comic books for that matter). If this is going to be a big selling point for the Fire, Amazon needs to work with magazine publishers to create a better user experience.

Gaming? Not my forte so I’ll let Dan or another aficionado address that in a future post.

 

OVERALL FIRST IMPRESSION – Good but not great. There were a lot of things I liked (mainly having to do with Amazon’s core competencies) and a bunch of things I didn’t (mainly related to UX). It’s clear to me that it’s very early days for Amazon in both the software and hardware business and they’ve got a long way to go before they duplicate the Apple experience.

But that’s probably not even their goal. Their goal is to move content to the masses and this device is certainly capable of doing that. And ultimately, that price point remains a huge driver. For most people, it’s all they need to know. But the tech stuff that tipped my buying decision? Not that impressive over all.

Is it worth it? Yes.

But an iPad killer? Not yet, Jeff, not yet.

What do you think? Will you be hoping for a Fire under the tree this holiday season?

 

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