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Amazon's Kindle Fire HD: The other side of the story

JR Raphael | Sept. 10, 2012
Whew! Reading over tech tweets and headlines this morning, I damn-near became convinced that Amazon's new Kindle Fire HD tablets are game-changing, Nexus-slaying devices.

I'll wait until I've had the chance to test-drive the device myself to pass any final judgment (Amazon didn't invite me to its little shindig -- please pause whilst I shed a tear), but there are certainly enough red flags out there to make me concerned, to say the least, about these products' performance.

Remember: Last year's Kindle Fire seemed awfully impressive, too...until people actually started using it.

2. Advertising

One thing Amazon didn't mention at its event is that all the new Kindle Fire HD models are going to be ad-supported. Yes, ad-supported.

From the company's press materials:

Special Offers

The new Kindle Fire family comes with special offers that appear on the lock screen. Examples of special money-saving offers that customers will enjoy include a $5 credit in the Amazon MP3 Store and a $5 credit for select titles in the Amazon Instant Video Store. Customers will also receive special offers and screensavers from brands like AT&T, Discover and Intel, such as a special offer of a $10 Gift Card when a customer uses their Discover card to purchase a digital product on Amazon.

Whether or not that's a problem is up to you, but when you're dropping $200 to $500 on a device, you deserve to know it's going to be plastered with ads.

3. Platform

Amazon's Kindle Fire HD tablets are based on Google's Android operating system -- Android 4.0, according to statements attributed to an Amazon spokesperson -- but it's really a stretch to think of them as "Android tablets." Amazon has essentially created its own platform that revolves around its custom applications and content.

Good? Bad? Again, that depends on you. The Kindle Fire's carousel-centric design is far less flexible and powerful than the standard Android setup, but it's also far more straight-forward and focused. 

You should know going in, though, that you won't have the typical customizable Android home screen with widgets, live wallpapers, and all that sort of stuff. You also won't have the standard suite of Google applications, such as the Android Gmail app, YouTube app, Google Maps app, or Calendar app (with native Google Calendar syncing). You won't have Google's Voice Actions, either, or the newer Android 4.1-level Voice Search and Google Now functions. There's actually no indication Amazon intends to upgrade the device to a base of Android 4.1, which -- features aside -- provides noticeable performance enhancements over the 4.0 platform.

And speaking of that...

4. Applications

Amazon's Kindle Fire HD devices don't include access to the main Google Play Store for applications; rather, they're built to utilize Amazon's own Android app store, which has a far more limited selection. It also tends to be far slower in terms of processing and pushing out developer-made updates to apps (which generally come fast and furiously when unfettered).


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