Amazon sent a wave through the cellular industry when it announced that its Android-based tablet, the Kindle Fire, would land at $ 199. The custom UI looked good, Amazon promised tons of apps and media content available, and it seemed ready to steal some thunder from even Apple's acclaimed iPad 2, which costs more than twice as much.
And now it is here. Do the expectations match the reality of the device after we use it? Yes and no. It's still probably the best value for a tablet out there, and will make tablet computers available to a lot of people who either couldn't afford Apple's iPads or couldn't tolerate Android honeycomb-based tablets. While it's somewhat limited in terms of apps and content providers when compared to other Android tablets, no one can argue that Amazon doesn't have a great, self-contained ecosystem. Amazon's streaming services, books, and other "print" media offerings, as well as the app store – all supported by its cloud storage – offer users ample opportunity to find things to buy and spend the hours with.
In an obvious attempt to keep manufacturing costs down, the Amazon Kindle Fire features one of the most basic hardware designs ever seen on a tablet. Not only are the typical Android home, back and menu buttons missing (replaced by onscreen controls), volume controls and cameras are also missing. The only interesting parts on the outside of the Fire are a very poorly placed power switch, a micro-USB charge / data port, and the 3.5mm headphone jack, all of which are in a cluster at the bottom of the tablet.
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The back of the device is covered in a soft-touch black paint that hides prints well enough but doesn't offer anything at all in terms of style. The Kindle Fire is powered by a dual-core 1 GHz processor, 512 MB RAM and 8 GB of internal storage. Only 6.5GB of storage is available to the user, and there's no microSD expansion slot, but Amazon's cloud-based storage for apps and media mitigates that blow, as things can be deleted and re-downloaded from the cloud as needed.
The 7-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels works well and is both bright and reasonably sharp, although it may be missing something in the viewing angles department. The 190mm x 120mm x 11.4mm (7.5 in x 4.7 in x 0.4 in) and weight of 413 g (14.6 oz) of the fire make it easy to hold for extended periods of time.
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Amazon's cost-saving design could lead some consumers to consider the Barnes and Noble Nook Tablet instead, as the Nook has a more interesting look, real hardware controls, and microSD storage expansion for little more money.