Kindle Fire in an iPad Household -- Some Thoughts
In an effort to (a) relieve some of the demand on the family iPad 2 from the three members of our household (including our seven year old) and (b) to expand the functionality of my wife's beloved Kindle (and elminating the dreaded "lights on in the bedroom while she's reading an e-ink display" problem, I've added a Kindle Fire to the household inventory of four computers, an iPad, and two Android smartphones. Thought others might find our impressions worth noting.
() Is it an adequate substitute for an iPad? Let's get this out of the way. The answer is no. The screen is half the size of the iPad. No bluetooth so no true keyboard or wireless speakers. No camera. No microphone. Limited app selection. etc. etc. All in all, I'd say the experience is analogous to trying to substitute an iPad for a powerful laptop. Some requirements can be met. Some can be finessed with workarounds. Some are simply beyond the scope of the device. All in all, I'd say it provides 80% of the functionality of an iPad (sometimes just as good, sometimes less successfully) at about 40% of the price of a wifi iPad. Is it an upgrade from an earlier generation Kindle? Probably yes. Unless, of course, one wants to retain the light weight of a dedicated e-reader and the e-ink display.
() No 3G. Not a problem for my household. I use a 4G/LTE mobile hotspot that provides net access for a laptop, iPad, and the KF simultaneously. (Should I need it.) And our home wifi network is very very fast. Others, of course, may tether with their phones or find that the absence of 3G access is a deal breaker.
() Web Performance. In general very good. Comparable to the iPad over the same network. I have some strong suspicions about early reviewers' negative comments but I won't clutter this post.
() UI Design and Performance. Very different from the iPad but just as rigid and unyielding to customization. On the other hand, the KF can be "rooted" and customized. The most recent models of the iPad don't have a jailbreak (yet and maybe never.) As with the iPad some apps are limited to only one orientation (typically portrait.) It's a PITA if you have the KF on a desk/table just as it is with the iPad. But the iPad has fewer such annoyances.
() Form Factor. The screen is about half the size of the iPad with attendant limitations (especially in web browsing on desktop websites.) On the other hand, it weighs 30% less than the iPad and can be easily slipped into a purse, briefcase, backpack, or even an overcoat pocket without special accommodations.
() Parental Control. Despite the complaints in this area, the KF surprisingly provides features lacking on the iPad. A free app available in the Android App Store (Kids Place) enables setting up a "sandbox" of enabled apps for a kid without allowing access to other apps on the system. As far as I know, there is no equivalent feature in the iPad ecosystem. Not perfect by any means. It would be useful, for example, to segregate books in the same manner. Not possible. And of course, if one enables web access for a kid via this app, there are no restrictions on the sites accessed (identical to the iPad.) Complaints about kids spending $$$ on Amazon products without parental consent, by the way, are nonsense. Multilevel protection available there.
By the way, this single feature is a BIG PLUS for the KF compared to the iPad for those who want to share the device between a parent and a kid. Apple should be ashamed that it does not support an even better set of "sharing" features in a device that costs two and a half times as much.
() Hardware issues. Awkward placement of the power switch and headphone jack on the bottom of the device. Yes, you can turn the device "upside down" but it's a PITA and some apps don't reorient properly. Lousy speaker, even worse than the iPad. But through headphones or wired (no bluetooth remember) speakers, the audio is excellent.
() Movies and other video. The KF is excellent. Quite competitive with the iPad given the 16x9 aspect ratio ideal for movies and the excellent screen. And of course, for those who care, Flash is supported in the browser.
() Available Apps. No comparison in terms of volume, of course. But many of the most popular apps are available and work well. A "free app a day" is a nice promotion in Amazon App Store. Where the iPad shines (imo) is in availability of apps that appeal to narrow niche markets. Helps to make it more than a mass consumer device. The KF is not in the same class. I doubt it will be. And if the apps available from Amazon aren't enough, sideloading from other sites adds thousands of other Android apps.
() Content Creation. No contest. Take the constraints of the iPad and multiply them by 10. Other than emails (with good support for attachments via K9 mail), the KF is not competitive.
Overall impressions. Would I trade my iPad for a KF? Of course not. But that's in part because some of my requirements for content creation are simply impossible to meet with the KF. Is it a good "entry level" tablet? Depends. I imagine that many users will "outgrow" its limitations fairly quickly. Others may find that spending hundreds more for what they consider "bells and whistles" is silly and will happily sacrifice 20% of the potential functionality of the iPad for the 60% savings.
But at least for this forum, a more relevant question is whether to purchase another iPad or opt for a KF. That's a silly question for single folks. Unless you're a gadget freak or an Android hacker, I can't think of a reasonable rationale for having both devices. But if your household has several members who compete for the iPad, it's an important question. And on that score, at least for our household, there's no question that the KF is a better choice. It leverages my wife's investment in content she already owns for her Kindle. It provides a great platform for my kid to explore and play without making her feel that she's being shortchanged when dad won't let go of the iPad. I was frankly surprised that the KF is easier to set up for her needs (without impacting other users) than the iPad. That alone is a significant advantage.