So I’ve had a Kindle Fire now since Christmas, thanks to my mother and my insatiable hunger for gadgets. As the former long-time owner of an iPad (it now more or less belongs to my wife and 6-year-old son now), I think I can compare the two in terms that should make it easy to decide which to get if you’re in the market for a tablet.
They’re Nothing Alike
First, you need to get it out of your head that they’re comparable in any way. The Kindle Fire is $199, while the lowest-priced iPad 2 is currently $499, which was also the entry price-point for the original model when it first released. While the so-called “Apple Tax” may account for some of that, features and performance account for the rest. When it comes to Apple products, the iPad is actually the most fairly-priced device when you compare it to the competition.
Now you may not want something that compares to an iPad. Or you may want an Android tablet because it’s an open platform that gives you greater access to your device. Or you might hate Apple and everything it stands for, so are looking at the alternatives and want a means to compare the two. Let me save you some time be saying this: if you have the disposable income, go ahead and get the iPad. But if you’re looking for something smaller than the iPad or just hate iOS, then read on and see if the Kindle is right for you.
I don’t know much about specs, memory, chipset, etc., so I won’t get into all that jazz. The Kindle Fire is solidly built, has a nice rubberized back that keeps you from having the “Oh god I’m about to drop it!” feeling, and despite it’s square form factor seems to be a good fit for my (meat-hook sized) hands. Due to its smaller size it is lighter and easier to hold for a longer duration, such as that commuter rail ride to and from work everyday. Reading on the iPad my hands, fingers, wrists would get noticeably fatigued, but Kindle is much better in that regard.
This is the Kindle’s biggest problem versus the iPad, for obvious reasons. The App Store is just a much larger marketplace for apps in general. Not only that, but if you take a look at the top sales charts for the Amazon App Store and the iTunes App Store you’ll find much higher-quality apps on the iOS side in terms of features, appearance, interface, and overall value. Even “5-star” Android apps and games tend to look clunky and clumsy.
The Kindle itself works well, though it’s generally sluggish. Quitting an app takes you to the home screen, where sometimes it takes a full 5 seconds to redraw, which would be unheard of on an iOS device.
So the Kindle loses in a slap-fight with the iPad. Does mean it’s not worthwhile? Of course not, after all it is a $199 device, so you get what you pay for. Where the Kindle shines is in general day-to-day use.
Remember when you bought your iPad and you said “Yeah, I’ll keep it around for surfing the web and reading email”, but then you gradually started using it for almost every computer-related task in the house? It doesn’t hurt that 90% of our computer-related tasks are internet and email but still, the iPad has wormed its way into the everyday lives of anyone who’s bought one.
The Kindle just doesn’t work that way. It’s okay for browsing the internet, in fact for that it works very well. The on-screen keyboard is small of course, so it’s great for reading but not writing email. So that’s pretty much out. You won’t be writing a screenplay or a novel on this little thing.
Watching videos works well, and it’s a nice size between the iPhone and the iPad. Not too small, and not so large that it gets heavy when you’re holding the device in one hand while standing on a cross-town bus. You also have direct access to your Amazon books library, can instantly download any ebooks you’ve purchased, and can email documents to a unique email address and have them delivered wirelessly to your Fire.
Buying apps is also a better experience than on the iPad: you can browse the Amazon App Store, click “one-click purchase”, and the next time you’re connected to WiFi you can pull your purchased apps out of thin air. It’s like magic!
I’ve also found that it’s a great little comic reader, if you can just get your hands on a CBZ app that you like and get the comics themselves. If you spring for Amazon Prime then you have instant, free access to thousands of movies and TV shows, though as of yet there is no output for the Kindle Fire so you’re stuck watching on its (admittedly beautiful and bright) screen.
Battery life is another place where the Kindle is a total loser. While I can leave the iPad laying around the house for over a week and be confident that it will work the next time I need it, the Kindle Fire dies within a matter of days of non-use.
I was pretty harsh on the Fire, but it’s actually a decent device. If you get courageous you can root it and give yourself access to Google’s Android Market for a wider variety of apps, but frankly it just doesn’t seem worth it. The Kindle Fire is underpowered for most tablet-computer uses, but it does just fine at what it was intended for: reading books, watching video, and just generally having a larger-than-iPhone screen around to consume your mass media on. It’s smaller and more convenient, though with that smaller size and price comes a lack of features.