Kindle Fire: Up Close With Amazon's Media Tablet

The Amazon Kindle Fire, one of the most anticipated tablets of the season, ships Tuesday. Here's a preview of some of its notable features.

Welcome to Amazon's Kindle Fire Tablet

After much anticipation, the Kindle Fire arrives this week. Priced at a bargain $199, the Kindle Fire is Amazon's first stab at a tablet. The company has packed the Fire with modest specs, and has tied the device tightly to its book, periodical, app, music, and video stores and services.

Join us on this walk-through of what it's like to use a Kindle Fire.

Kindle Fire: Home Screen

When you first boot up the Fire, you'll see a front home screen with the most recently accessed items--books, videos, periodicals, apps, music, whatever--in the center pane.

The core app icons line up at the bottom. You can also easily search directly from the home screen, or jump to your newsstand, books, music, video, docs, apps, or Web browser--all of which you can easily reach from the top menu.

Kindle Fire: The Bookshelf

The Fire presents books against a bookshelf backdrop, much as Apple does with its iBooks app.

You get a limited number of options for how to display your books. Through a link up top, the bookshelf hooks directly into Amazon's Kindle storefront.

Kindle Fire: Apps Library

The apps presentation uses the same bookshelf theme, but here the app icons (not the labels) are dominant.

As with books and other media, you can view apps stored in the cloud or on the device. The catch: The Kindle Fire is designed so that it can download apps only from Amazon's App Store. Amazon has announced that the selection of popular media apps will include Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, and Rhapsody.

Kindle Fire: A Smooth Back

The back of the Kindle Fire is clearly branded, and it has a soft, smooth texture.

Kindle Fire: Fonts and More

With its touchscreen interface, the Kindle Fire makes changing a book's visual characteristics to suit your personal preference easy.

You can choose from several font styles, and eight typeface sizes. In addition, you can adjust the line spacing, the margins, and the type and background shadings.

Kindle Fire: Highlighting and Notes

The responsive display lets you highlight a passage of text and make an annotation more easily than on the $79 E Ink Kindle.

The Kindle Fire keyboard, shown here, has a better layout and key design than the typical stock Android 2.3 keyboard does (the Kindle Fire's operating system is built on Android 2.3).

Kindle Fire: Movie Time

The integrated video player on the Kindle Fire is intended for use with Amazon videos. You can't view your own videos on the Amazon player.

The player is tightly integrated with the movies and TV shows that you purchase and rent from the Amazon Instant Video Store; you can stream material from the cloud or play videos from the device. If you're an Amazon Prime member, your $79 membership gets you access to a selection of free movies and TV shows.

Kindle Fire: Music Player

Amazon's music player interface appears fairly ordinary but serviceable, and it seems to be an improvement over the player in pure Android.

Conveniently, the volume slider is electronic, and sits just above the menu bar at the bottom. It's within finger-friendly reach if you're holding the tablet at the bottom.

Kindle Fire: Music Library

Similar to the app and book libraries, the music library is designed to let you access music stored in the cloud or on the device. The album screen pictured here also shows the Fire's Android 2.3 roots, with a vaguely familiar-looking pop-up menu at bottom.

The album presentation is decent, but the layout doesn't exactly make albums jump off the screen.

Kindle Fire: Odd Speaker Design

The Kindle Fire's two speakers are stacked on the edge. This has proven an odd design in practical use, based on my experiences with other tablets that have the same arrangement.

The audio sounds biased in one direction, and it's too easy to put your fingers over one of the speakers while holding the tablet.

Kindle Fire: Origins

In the lead-up to the Fire's release, a lot of talk in the blogosphere suggested that the Fire's design drew heavily from the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook, which was supposed to be made by the same manufacturer that Amazon uses.

Maybe so--but the two tablets are not carbon copies. The PlayBook (shown at right) has its two speakers facing forward, and centered horizontally alongside the screen. (More discussion in the next slide.)

Kindle Fire vs. RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

As you can see here, the PlayBook, positioned behind the Kindle Fire, is noticeably larger than the Fire.

The button placement is different in some respects, too, which leads me to think that perhaps the PlayBook influenced some of the Fire's internal design, but not so much the physical design.

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