The first time I played with an iPad, all I could think of was Neal Stephenson’s post-cyberpunk masterpiece, The Diamond Age. Subtitled “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer,” the novel tells the story of a girl more or less raised by an intricately engineered interactive computer in the guise of a book. The Primer, a nanotech marvel, is far more sophisticated than the tablet computers of 2011–but when you flick around the intuitive operating systems of today’s tablets and smartphones, you can see the Primer on the horizon.
Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is another Primer cousin.
It’s funny–in the days leading up to its arrival, I assumed I’d have a lot to say about the Kindle Fire when it finally came. What happened instead is that the Fire simply inserted itself into my daily life in a manner so seamless I had little to say about it. It was as if I’d had one all along.
In a way, I had: My chief impression of the Kindle Fire so far is that it’s like my (much-loved) Android smartphone, only bigger. (My phone, for the curious, is a Samsung Epic: Trixie to her friends.) The Fire’s gorgeous display and easy navigation puts me on familiar ground. It’s heavier than I expected, a solid weight in my hand. It’s about the same size as my Kindle, but thicker, and of course the whole thing is screen. No keyboard. A glossy black screen, a rubbery-feeling back. It’s book-sized, which I love.
The tech sites have been overflowing with detailed reviews of the Kindle Fire’s specs and performance. What I always want to know, when I’m reading device reviews, is: how are you using it? On a practical level, I mean. What are you doing with it throughout your day? What apps do you use, enjoy, rely on?
So far, my answer to those questions is: reading books, mostly. Actually, I’m reading on it more than I expected to. See, I love my regular Kindle’s easy-on-the-eyes e-ink display, and I especially love its lack of internet distractions. Sure, I can check my mail on the Kindle, but the pokey browser and monochrome display render internet activity helpfully unappealing. I’ve seen it as a plus that I’m not tempted to flick away from a novel to take a peek at Twitter, the way I’m tempted if I’m reading a book on my phone.
Well, on the Kindle Fire, web-browsing, blog-reading, and mail-checking are even easier (and prettier) than on my phone. But so far, I’m most enchanted by the Fire as an e-reader. The regular Kindle still beats it for daytime, sunlit reading. For reading in bed at night, the Fire is my new best friend: that’s when backlighting becomes a plus. The 7-inch screen is much better for book-reading than my phone, but not so big that it’s bulky or uncomfortable. (The iPad has always struck me as too large for comfy curling up in bed. But I don’t have one, so I could be wrong.) On the Fire, as on the iPod Touch or an Android smartphone, you turn pages with a tap of the thumb, which is even easier than pressing the Kindle’s page-turn button.
Comics look AMAZING on the Fire–just like they do on the iPad. Backlit comics are utterly luminous; it’s like this is the medium comics wanted to be all along. If only they weren’t so darned expensive ($2.99-3.99 a pop). I downloaded a free issue of Tiny Titans via the Comixology app just to see what comics would be like on this device, and all of us–kids, hubby, me–were blown away by how beautiful the panels looked. And the size was fairly comfortable, to my surprise. I still think the iPad is a better comics reader due to its larger size. The Fire is just a bit too small for ideal comics-reading if you struggle with small print the way I do. Sure, you can enlarge the panels, but that’s a pain.
Amazon has trumpeted the Fire’s video-viewing capabilities. Of course we were eager to try this feature out. You certainly can’t beat the convenience: The trip from Home screen to the opening frame of Arrested Development (free via my Amazon Prime membership) took less than fifteen seconds (I counted fourteen Mississippis) and the picture quality was stunning.
Playing videos outside Prime has been less satisfactory; my husband and I are trying to catch up on Season 5 of The Guild, and there’s been a fair amount of lag and stuttering.
As for games, naturally we had to download Angry Birds–the official gadget rite of initiation. Again, the quality of the graphics made us all go oooh. The kids asked for Bejeweled, too. That’s all we’ve tried so far–suggestions welcome! Of course you know a Glitch app is at the top of my wish list.
A couple of Fire negatives:
• Typing on the screen keyboard is ponderous because it doesn’t have Swype. And honestly, this is messing me up. The Fire looks and acts so much like my smartphone that my brain cannot seem to wrap itself around the tedious reality of key-tapping on this thing. Swype is so much faster, easier, better in every way. Without Swype, how will I tweet?
• Occasionally the operating system seems to hang. I’ll push the browser’s back arrow, for example, and nothing will happen. Sometimes it takes an extra tap or two to get a response.
I’ll be interested to see what role the Kindle Fire settles into in our home. What I’m really eager to experiment with are good apps for kids–digital books, games, educational apps, etc. If you’ve got favorites, leave me a comment!