Review: Kindle Fire sacrifices to get under $200

“Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color, launched last year, has the same problem—a nice color screen that’s too small. The iPad gets it right, for a few hundred dollars more.

“While we’re on the subject of ‘too small,’ let’s talk about the Fire’s memory. It has 8 gigabytes of storage. That’s enough for more books than you’ll ever read, but 10 movies will eat up the whole thing.

“The cheapest iPad, which costs $499, has twice as much memory. The Nook Color, which costs $199, also has 8 gigabytes, but it comes with a slot for memory expansion with cheap cards. I don’t understand why the Fire doesn’t have a slot like that. The very first Kindle did. There’s no step-up model of the Fire with more memory.

“Amazon says the Fire doesn’t need more memory because the company provides an online storage locker, where you can stuff all your music and other content. That works when you have Wi-Fi coverage, but not otherwise—the Fire doesn’t have the ability to use cellular networks, as some of the monochrome models do.

“The Fire also lacks a camera and a microphone. Those aren’t things you’d expect in an eReader (the Nook also lacks them). But they are standard features on tablets and are quite useful, particularly for video conferencing. Their absence is forgivable at $199.

“The color screen means, inevitably, that battery life suffers compared with eReaders that use power-sipping monochrome screens. Amazon puts the reading time at eight hours, compared with about 30 hours for the new $99 Kindle Touch, which has a monochrome, touch-sensitive screen and is designed just for reading.

“The Fire’s software is based on Google Inc.’s Android software, used in smart phones and a bevy of tablets that compete with the iPad. None has really caught on, except to some extent the Nook Color. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says this is because the other tablets lack an ecosystem of the kind Apple provides in iTunes: an integrated market for books, movies, music, and applications.

“Amazon has done a good job of setting up its own store. Buying and downloading books and movies is a quick process—as long as you’re buying them from Amazon.

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