Is The Kindle Fire Experience Disappointing?

Does smaller tablet size help or hurt?

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Is The Kindle Fire Experience Disappointing?
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The Kindle Fire represents yet another company’s attempt to break the stranglehold Apple’s iPad has over the tablet. In fact, the iPad’s market share is so much more than its competitors, and even though I know this to be false, there’s a distinct feeling iPads are the only tablet device on the market. We’re not the only ones to notice, either:

It might frustrate the competition to hear this, but it needs to be said: the iPad 2 isn’t just the best tablet on the market, it feels like the only tablet on the market.

To put it another way, if you asked a regular Joe on the street to name a tablet device and they responded with something other than the iPad, the shock could cause catatonia.

Granted, the previous statement is hyperbolic, but the fact remains, iPads are so much more popular than their competitors, it’s probably not that far from the truth. So when Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet hit the markets, and experienced some early success, it was hailed as the true, yet cheaper opponent to the iPad’s “king of the hill” position.

But then, usability reviews from various users start hitting the web, and all of the positive buzz comes to screeching halt. While the early sales figures for the Kindle Fire have been strong, apparently, the thing’s not that fun to use, or at least according to the review that’s blowing up the trades this week, the “Kindle Fire offers a disappointingly poor user experience.”

The review in question comes from Jakob Nielsen, and it starts in a complimentary manner, indicating the Kindle Fire’s smaller size is great for mobile web viewing, but then, it’s all down hill from there. In fact, the compliment is available in the review’s summary, which appears at the top of the page, and folks, aside from the making the mobile web look good, there isn’t much in the way of a ringing endorsement from Nielsen.

Actually, it’s just the opposite. The big issue as far as Nielsen is concerned has to do with the touch interface, perhaps the most important aspect of tablet design. If your primary method of navigation is lacking in its execution, you’re fighting a losing battle. One of the key features being pushed by the Amazon concerns the Kindle Fire’s seven-inch touchscreen in regards to portability. From Amazon’s Kindle Fire page:

Designed to travel with you wherever you go. Small enough to fit in your purse and light enough to hold in just one hand, Kindle Fire is perfect for browsing, playing, reading and shopping on-the-go.

The smaller size, however, may be the Fire’s undoing, at least according to Nielsen’s experience:

The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation. You haven’t seen the fat-finger problem in its full glory until you’ve watched users struggle to touch things on the Fire. One poor guy spent several minutes trying to log in to Facebook, but was repeatedly foiled by accidentally touching the wrong field or button — this on a page with only 2 text fields and 1 button.

Apparently, long, slender fingers are the key to tablet usability satisfaction. Apparently, the Fire’s weight is bothersome as well:

The Fire is a heavy object. It’s unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time. Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye, you can’t comfortably sit and read an engaging novel all evening. The lack of physical buttons for turning the page also impedes on the reading experience for fiction. On the older Kindles, it’s easy to keep a finger on the button when all you use it for is to turn the page. In contrast, tapping an area of the screen disrupts reading enjoyment, is slightly error-prone, and leaves smudges on the screen. The Fire screen also has more glare than the traditional Kindle.

The Kindle Fire’s user interface did not escape scrutiny either, and the results here weren’t very positive, either, saying the UI design is simply “bad.” After expanding the point some, the basic idea is the Fire’s design makes browsing problematic, although, Nielsen has an idea why:

If I were given to conspiracy theories, I’d say that Amazon deliberately designed a poor web browsing user experience to keep Fire users from shopping on competing sites. Amazon’s own built-in shopping app has great usability, so they clearly know how to design for the tablet [Emphasis added].

While the 7-inch screen makes the mobile web look good, it appears to interfere with the usability of the device, at least according to one review. Does reading such criticism make give you pause about pursuing a Kindle Fire or was your mind made up as soon as Amazon launched it? The next question is, is anyone ever going to make a legitimate iPad killer or have the tablet wars already been decided before they even began?

Is The Kindle Fire Experience Disappointing?
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  • misterjunk

    I agree with the sentiment of this article. For $200 this is still a media consumption device that will take a slice of the lower end of the market. Basically this is a device that will sell due to price and not touch the dominance of the iPad.
    There will come a time when tablets with other operating systems start eroding Apple’s lead, but that won’t happen until the applications improve significantly. It’s a commodity play based on the ecosystems. Pick up a iPad and you can tell the quality and breadth of applications available in Apple’s ecosystem. For Android it’s a mixed bag of quality that I hope Ice Cream Sandwich starts to address for all tablet form factors. For Amazon, they don’t need you to have a ‘tablet’ but more of a media consumption device to tie you into their ecosystem.

  • Steve

    I pre-ordered with the mindset I’d likely return it. After a few weeks with it there’s no way it’s going back. The 7″ size is ideal to me – easy enough to hold in one hand. I don’t know that it replaces an iPad but I have zero interest in an iPad to begin with (don’t care for the $$$ and bulk).

    Kindle functions great for music, videos, e-reader (though does not compare to e-ink readers), browsing, some games for me, simple games for my 2-year old, etc. It just plain works — at the $199 price point at least. I’ve found it replaces most of the stuff I did on my smartphone, sans the phone part I rarely use anyhow. I don’t see upgrading my Samsung Captivate anytime soon, which I definitely would have without this, and my wife barely touches her iPhone 4 when at home and uses my Kindle instead.

    Footnote: Out of the box it’s a solid product. Users with some tech background should at least learn the simple process to sideload apps to avoid being locked to Amazon’s app store. Allows one to add utility like different launchers, “Wifi Keep Alive” to fix the annoying wifi sleep policy, Google apps except Market (Google Voice on it is great to read/send texts) and so on. It takes little effort to really improve the experience and make it more a tablet, less a pure consumption tool. The more adventurous can root for even greater customization/utility, albeit with some risk.

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