THE AMAZON KINDLE FIRE could be about to come to the UK, and it looks set to give the Google Nexus 7 a run for its money.
At present, the US-only tablet retails for a mere $199 there, and has so far seen impressive sales figures. The INQUIRER managed to get some hands-on time with the Kindle Fire, so we examine its chances of dominating the UK tablet market.
Design and build
In terms of build quality we were impressed with the Kindle Fire. Despite being made of plastic, we found that the tablet has a fairly solid feeling, featuring a thick outer case and a Gorilla Glass coated 7in touchscreen that felt as well built as similarly sized competitors such as the BlackBerry PlayBook or Galaxy Tab 7.0.
In fact, with its soft, slightly rounded sides, the device has an e-reader feel that matches Amazon's other Kindle devices. This means that the device felt very comfortable when held in the hand and was easy to use this way.
One of the few negatives we found was that the device felt slightly heavier than we expected, weighing 431g despite measuring only 190x120x11.4mm. While hardly back breaking, this could prove a problem for many users looking for a lightweight device to use while on the go.
Another feature that took us a bit of time to figure out was that the device has only a single physical control - the power button. This means that despite being avid tablet users, when attempting to change the device's volume we actually had to ask Amazon how to do it.
However, the device's lack of external buttons, when combined with its lack of a camera and matt black finish gave the Kindle Fire a very stripped down look that we quite liked - mainly because it makes the device look different from Apple's Ipad devices.
The Kindle Fire features a 7in 1024x600 169ppi IPS display that we were actually quite impressed with. We found that it was suitably bright and legible, though from our inital experience it appears the display is not quite as crisp as those on some similarly sized tablets like the Galaxy Tab 2.
Operating system and software
The Kindle Fire runs a heavily customised version of Android 2.3 Gingerbread. In fact, the Kindle Fire's custom user interface and skin mean that it bears little resemblance to Android on other devices, and we found it took a while to get used to.
The best way we can describe the user interface (UI) is that it's like being in a real world library. The UI features a series of shelves containing links to the user's Newsstand, Books, Music, Video, Docs, Apps and Web. Tabs are above the bookshelves and can be switched between using basic swipe and pull motions on the screen.
Another key difference we noticed was the tablet's Silk web browser, which Amazon claims has faster load times than rivals thanks to its use of cloud servers to boost the device's speed and power.
During our brief test we got to load a few pages and videos across multiple tabs and we have to say that we were pretty impressed by how speedy the web browser appeared to be. We look forward to seeing how well it competes against Google's latest Chrome mobile browser when we get our hands on it for more prolonged testing.
One other factor that separates the Kindle Fire from other Android tablets is the fact that the device doesn't have access to the main Google Play store, replacing this with Amazon's App Store. Unfortunately, the device we tried didn't have access to this, making it difficult for us to judge whether this is actually a positive or a negative.
The Kindle Fire is powered by a 1GHz dual-core processor backed by 512MB of RAM. While not particularly impressive compared to today's quad-core devices, we really didn't have any issue with the device's speed during our hands-on testing.
Testing the device we found that menus and apps launched quickly and videos and web pages loaded close to instantaneously - however it's worth noting that we didn't get a chance to do prolonged video tests or try any power hungry apps.
The elephant in the room whenever we're talking about the original Kindle launching in the UK is of course Google's Nexus 7 Android tablet.
The Kindle is scheduled for UK release within the next two weeks, and given that Amazon hasn't even confirmed the Kindle Fire's UK release, it's likely that Google will be the first tablet maker to seriously target the UK budget tablet market.
This means that despite being the first tablet to really mount any challenge to Apple in the US, it might be a latecomer to the game in the UK.
However, Google has admitted that its Ipad rival the Neuxs 7 will not be able to access music, movie and TV content when it launches in the UK, as the company has failed to strike deals with content owners.
If the Kindle Fire can launch offering such content - as it does in the US - then the device might still have a fighting chance of wrestling control of the budget tablet market from Google's Nexus 7.
Check back with The INQUIRER in the future for reviews of the Nexus 7 and the Kindle Fire. µ