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Amazon Kindle Fire first impressions: Solid but limited

Melissa J. Perenson | Sept. 29, 2011
My gut reaction to what I saw today: This is not the Amazon tablet we've all been looking for.

Still another issue beyond the comparatively limited app selection: Amazon again gave mixed answers regarding compatibility between the Kindle Fire and the greater universe of Android apps. One spokesperson said that apps that called for features that aren't on the tablet (such as a camera) wouldn't work; another said outright that the company would be curating apps; and still another, when asked about app compatibility, mentioned that apps would have to be qualified to work, and that some might not work with the Kindle Fire. Furthermore, when asked about the coming Google Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, and how apps designed for it or Honeycomb will work on the Kindle Fire, the Amazon rep couldn't field an answer beyond noting that if Ice Cream Sandwich requires Amazon to do something to maintain compatibility, "we'll do our best" to do so.

As a potential buyer, I would have liked more reassurance that come mid-2012, the hot Android apps will work on my Kindle Fire tablet, because the changes made to the operating system are minimal enough that Amazon expects to be able to work around any situations that may arise. Yes, I understand that Amazon hasn't seen Ice Cream Sandwich yet, but the company's developers should be aware of the direction the OS is heading in, and how that might impact Amazon's ecosystem.

I also was surprised by Amazon's lack of emphasis on the quality of the reading experience on an LCD screen. I've seen the lengths to which some tablet makers go in an effort to minimize glare (applying coatings, for instance, or closing or eliminating the air gap between the glass and LCD), and to optimize the tablet for reading. Again, I received mixed answers from Kindle Fire representatives when I asked this question. One couldn't point to anything in particular that the company had done; the other noted that Amazon had optimized its fonts (though you could have fooled me, judging from the pixelated text I saw in today's demos). Maybe the Amazon Silk Web browser and Kindle book reader were still too early to be fully optimized, but let's just say that I was less than encouraged by the text I saw. In fact, I was startled to see how visible the touchscreen grid was at certain angles; some things we just shouldn't be able to notice.

Amazon made a point of noting that the Kindle Fire carries a resolution of 1024 by 600 pixels, with 169 pixels per inch. That's not so terrific that they earn any bragging rights, however. The RIM PlayBook had 169 pixels per inch in a display of the same resolution, the original Samsung Galaxy Tab from a year ago had 149, and the Apple iPad 2 has 132. Acer's Iconia Tab A100 is at about 170 ppi, and the just announced Toshiba Thrive 7", due in December, is at 225 ppi with its 1280 by 800 display. And yes, the dots on the Kindle Fire were visible--more so than I recall being the case on the RIM PlayBook, even. Whether that's because of the operating system's font rendering or it has to do with the display itself is difficult to tell at this point.


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