Has the Kindle Fire lost its spark?

Eric Mack
23 November, 2011
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After months of advance hype, some of the shine is coming off the Kindle Fire now that the 7in tablet is finally in the hands of real users. The US$199 slate has plenty of satisfied customers to be sure, but since consumers have had a few days to play with it and subject it to the real world, some flaws and cut corners in design are becoming more apparent.

The loudest complaints so far seem to be demanding easier volume control. Almost everything I’ve read on Amazon’s tablet mentions the need for physical volume control buttons. The current interface requires navigating to the dashboard to raise or lower sound levels.

“The lack of buttons makes controls harder,” writes user Billy Radcliffe in a popular review of the Kindle Fire on Amazon, but that’s just the start of his list of gripes. “The accessible storage memory is limited to just 5GB, which seems awfully small when carrying my own video content on a trip, and overall the interface of the system is just a little awkward and unfinished. Sometimes the back button doesn’t work, buttons are hard to push accurately or launch the wrong function, navigation isn’t exactly intuitive, etc.”

Radcliffe still gave the Kindle Fire three out of five stars, citing the quality of the screen and overall value proposition, including signing up for Amazon Prime for the included free video streaming and monthly ‘lending library’ ebook.

In fact, the Kindle Fire currently averages four out of five stars in more than a thousand user reviews on Amazon. Most satisfied reviewers mention something about the Kindle Fire being great ‘for the price.’ But while it’s easy to adopt the ‘you get what you pay for’ mantra, there also seem to be plenty of usability issues that feel more like oversights. Instapaper creator Marco Arment catalogs many of them in a lengthy screed about his many complaints with the tablet:

“Almost the entire interface is sluggish, jerky, and unresponsive.”

“Many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It’s often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag.”

“he on-screen Back button often doesn’t respond, which is particularly frustrating since it’s essential to so much navigation.”

“I keep performing small drags when I intend to tap, especially on the home screen. This makes the most common home-screen action — launching something — unnecessarily difficult and unreliable.”

Other common issues surfacing even in positive reviews include underwhelming battery life and responsiveness of the touchscreen.

“There are moments where feedback is not instant,” writes user A. Dent in a http://www.marco.org/2011/11/17/kindle-fire-review, adding “the battery life is not as good as my XOOMs…”

Meanwhile, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for users of the new Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble, either. The news that users only get direct access to 1 GB of the Nook’s built-in storage, basically requiring the purchase of an SD memory card, came as a rude surprise to many.

The New York Times’ David Pogue has also gone so far as to accuse Barnes & Noble of lying about the Nook Tablet’s HD video capability.

So it turns out that in the tablet wars, things can sometimes get ugly, and occasionally users lose out in the battle of expectations.


4 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Geek says:

    I have been following the Amazon tablet since it was a rumor. 3 weeks before the Fire was introduced it was supposed to be a RIM clone, that turned out not to be true.

    I have been interested to see how the Fire was going to be reviewed and how that stacked up with my own hands on experience. Since I do not have to look for issues to interest readers and just a consumer and user my perspective is different.

    Day #6 of ownership and use and I find the Fire worth every dollar spent performing a variety of functions without flaw. I do not compare it to an Ipad or my laptop, the Fire is a different device. I do not find it slow or sluggish or buggy and that is fact.

    It is an observation that there have been many reviews that have with clarity reviewed the Fire and stated what it does and have not dwelled on what it does not.

    My fire now goes with me in my briefcase to work and on my nightstand at home. A final word to make my review more professional (in jest) Amazon sells the Fire at a loss, it does not have a camera or the memory of other tablets. I guess I will just have to make due with it holding 4,000 books and 4 movies without using the cloud.

  2. Brian says:

    Too many reviews are nitpicking the negatives about the device while ignoring its strengths. They just focus on how it isn’t an iPad.

    The Fire interface is good enough to get the job done. There are times when you might have to tap something twice to respond, but it isn’t going to ruin the device. The only major flaw is the awkward method for adjusting the volume. Hopefully that can be fixed with software updates.

    Overall the Fire is a capable tablet at cheap price Amazon, like Apple, knows how to select the right core features to make a successful product that appeals to the market. The sales numbers will speak for themselves.

  3. cat says:

    that 1GB of space on Nook Tablet you’re talking about is allocated for side loading while all the rest of the space (about 12 GB) can be used by 3rd party apps and anything you get from B&N store. Also, don’t forget that Nook Tablet has microSD slot (not on any Kindle) that you can use to add a lot of space for anything you want by getting a cheap microSD card. Also consider other specs of Nook Tablet – it’s got Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Angry Brids, etc., the best battery life, the best screen, double the RAM and space for apps/photoes/movies, microSD slot and a microphone for Skype (not on Kindle), physical volume controls on the side (not on Kindle) and much zippier performance during video playback and apps usage than choppy/laggy act of Kindle Fire according to many user and pro’s reviews. Also, about Kindle Fire – it is confirmed that Prime movies can’t be downloaded, only streamed, making them impossible to watch without Wi-Fi on Kindle Fire. Also, on Fire when the Silk internet browser is pointed at the Android market, it reverts to the Amazon market with much more limited content. Wi-Fi connection problems are being frequently reported by Kindle Fire users and reviewers as well as touchscreen is being reported as having a sluggish response. Slower and jerkier than expected web browsing thus no benefit from Silk browser. Power button is badly placed, leading to accidental turning off of the device (a lot of complains about this one). Amazon’s own web site has hundreds of reviews (almost 600 already) of Kindle Fire’s new owners that gave it 1 or 2 star reviews because of choppy/laggy experience they got from this underpowered device.

  4. Xenophos says:

    Sounds like some people want a cheap iPad rather than a glorified ereader – isn’t that what the Fire is?

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