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Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Kindle Fire: Too Small, Too Large?

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen says Amazon's 7-inch tablet is too small for full-size websites, but mobile sites offer poor user experience.

The Kindle is the latest "must have" gadget for this holiday season, much like other Kindles before it. There is no doubt Amazon has another winner on its hands. At $199 it significantly undercuts the iPad 2 in price. As expected though, a lot of features are missing in terms of power and capabilities. It looks like Amazon also gave up some of the elegance of the iPad 2 when the user interface and hardware were designed.

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has focused his expertise on the Kindle Fire and found it lacking in several areas. For clarification, this is not some random blogger reviewing the Fire. You can see his credentials and links to outside critiques of his work on his About page.

The biggest issue turns out to be one of size. At 7 inches, the device doesn't work particularly well with full-size websites or mobile sites. The iPad and other 10-inch tablets allow you to easily navigate full-size websites with your fingers. You can do the same on a phone that has a 4-inch or smaller screen when the site is designed for mobile users.

At 7 inches though, that full-size site is difficult to navigate or enter data with your fingers. The Kindle is at its best when a server serves up the mobile page, which the user can control to some extent in the Fire's settings. The problem, though, is mobile pages often aren't as rich as full-size pages. Thus the user must choose between difficult navigation with links and boxes that are too small, or a trimmed-down mobile site.

You should read the rest of Nielsen's overview on usability if you are contemplating a Fire for yourself or a loved one this holiday season. You might find a regular Kindle would be better for someone who has e-books as a primary interest, or decide that coughing up an extra $300 to get the base iPad 2 is worthwhile to have a truly enjoyable tablet experience. Or, you could skip it altogether and use the $199 on something that gives great value in its category, not a compromised experience.

A J.P. Morgan analyst feels the Fire won't steal iPad sales, rather, it will actually help sales. His logic is the Kindle Fire will only whet their appetite for a great tablet experience. This analysis meshes with Nielsen's usability study. Someone that might not have originally considered a $499 tablet may do so after using the Fire and getting a glimpse of what a tablet can do.

It doesn't mean the Fire doesn't have a market. It does, but anyone getting one and expecting a slightly smaller iPad experience is likely to be in for a disappointment.

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User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2011 | 6:14:24 PM
re: Kindle Fire: Too Small, Too Large?
This is quite misleading. Nielsen's criticism isn't of the Kindle per se, it is of the 7" form factor in general. And most of the criticism relates to web browsing, not movies, books, magazines, or games--what the Fire is primarily designed for.

By the same token you could criticize the iPad for being horrible for reading books, because it is too huge and heavy to hold in one hand. But that would miss the point too.
User Rank: Strategist
12/7/2011 | 9:14:31 PM
re: Kindle Fire: Too Small, Too Large?
@Bellingman is right. I've been using a Playbook for months, and just bought a Fire for my wife. For media consumption, particularly reading in bed, the 10" form factor is too big and heavy. The e-ink readers have great battery life and are significantly lighter, but they are pretty much unitaskers. For someone who is primarily a reader but wants significant additional capability, the 7" tablet is a great size and now only a little more expensive than a dedicated e-reader. If you goal is primarily to browse the web I personally would rather have a netbook, but the 10" tablet is fine if you seldom actually type anything.

The bigger problem with the article, though, is lack of balance. You can find an expert who says anything, and I'm guessing Ed found one who agrees with his opinion and let his enthusiasm get away from him, but it is still a terribly biased article.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2011 | 12:31:52 AM
re: Kindle Fire: Too Small, Too Large?
Everyone knows the web will be rewritten for 7" format as Amazon takes over from smartphones, just like smartphones took over from desktop/laptop. Why he's complaining about compatibility with legacy formats is beyond me, shows just how far behind the times Nielsen is. 7" will be infinitely more usable than other formats.
User Rank: Apprentice
12/8/2011 | 7:43:44 PM
re: Kindle Fire: Too Small, Too Large?
It's really fine and great that Nielsen reviewed the Kindle Fire. I don't really care what Nielsen has to say. When can we expect IW's own hands on review of the Fire and can that review please be fully sourced and written by someone who is a legitimate subject matter expert on tablets?
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