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Kindle Fire: The Honda Civic Of Tablets?

The hardware is heavy and unimpressive, the user interface is unresponsive, the battery is second-rate, but none of that might matter.

It's no iPad. Get that straight from the beginning. But at $200, 40% of the cost of the lowest-end iPad, it doesn't have to be. The Amazon Kindle Fire is probably the first big-time tablet not sold by Apple.

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Most of the people I've handed a Kindle Fire quickly remark on how heavy it seems for the size, and I agree. The Fire weighs just 14.6 ounces but measures 7.5 inches by 4.7 inches by 0.45 inches thick. In comparison, the second-generation iPad weighs 21 ounces and measures 9.5 by 7.31 by 0.34 inches thick. The iPad weighs almost 1 1/2 times as much as the Fire, but has more than twice the screen real estate. The Fire is also missing a few small things such as a camera, microphone, and GPS, so apps that rely on one or more of those features are not an option.

The software also seems less polished. To a degree, you have to expect this in version 1.0 of anything, and this is Fire 1.0. The UI is pretty, but unresponsive. After touching an icon I am always finding myself wondering whether the system recognized the touch. It's very easy to touch and slightly drag the icon--which the system will ignore. At other times, it just seems to ignore touches. Don't be surprised if you touch a second time and end up with two events, eventually. Over time I learned just to be patient. Then again, in some apps (such as the game Cut The Rope) the screen seemed very responsive.

Let's go to the videotape!
Click here to see the out of box experience videos for the Kindle Fire and Kindle Touch.

There's a role for less-expensive, not-as-good products in just about any market. In one sense, a Honda Accord is just a bigger, better Honda Civic that costs more. Lots of people get along just fine with their Civics. So the simple fact that it doesn't compare, side by side, with the iPad isn't at all a reason to criticize it. There are better reasons.

And the Fire comes with features which the iPad lacks, mainly the tie-ins to Amazon Prime membership. Prime is a subscription membership ($79/year) which gives members two-day shipping on all orders, free access to the Kindle Lending Library with thousands of books, and (here's the Fire angle) access to Amazon Instant Video, which has tons of streamable TV shows and movies. You won't find the latest stuff in there, but there's a lot. My family and I watched many videos on the Fire and the experience was excellent.

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