Amazon Kindle Fire: 4 Key Considerations

Amazon unveiled its long-awaited tablet today--at the magic price point of $199. Check out these benefits, compromises, and surprises.
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Amazon finally sat down to the adults table in the tablet world today. For those expecting a Samsung tablet at an Amazon price, please try to hide your disappointment, but remember: We need another Android clone like we need another mobile patent lawsuit. Time for something different. While the Amazon Kindle Fire isn't going to be for everyone (read: Apple lovers, iPad owners, and possibly Amazon neophytes), it conjures up a simple new notion: a tablet for the rest of us.

Here are four key factors (good and bad) to consider as you take your first glance at the tablet:

1. Price: A $199 price for a high-ish end tablet, even with the shortcomings, is a big eye-opener. Remember the stampede for the HP TouchPad firesale of $99 units (you don't? it was only a month or so ago; where are you living?). That was for a discontinued device, essentially a web browser/e-mail reader. $199 spells b-i-n-g-o for many shoppers. And for those who still want things cheaper, Amazon announced a touch-based black-and-white Kindle for $99 and dropped its regular (touchless) Kindle to $79. Amazon is creating the Target of the tablet market: plain, simple, utilitarian. There are trade-offs, of course. More on that in a moment.

[ What's the next killer tablet app? Think Multisite Videoconferencing, reports InformationWeek's Kurt Marko. ]

2. A pretty face:This is an Android tablet, and yet Amazon has put its own face on top, hiding the slightly-arcane mobile OS from the user experience. And it wouldn't appear that they've done this in the TouchWiz, Sense, Lenovo (Social Touch, App Wheel, Launcher) way, but in a way that makes the tablet a front end to Amazon's services--books, music, video, and buying stuff.

Its "recency carousel" gives users quick access to recent content. But this is where Amazon is placing its bet, because surely it can't be making much money from the tablet device. The money will come from Amazon services and, well, buying stuff on Amazon. Read a book, listen to music, do some holiday shopping. Ka-ching, ka-ching, and fa-la-la-la-la all at once.

3. Hardware tradeoffs: For those who need beefy hardware, this is where the trade-offs might be turn-offs. No camera (no video chat), no mics, no 3G (only Wi-Fi), only 8 GB (though you do get free cloud storage for your Amazon content.) The display is IPS (in-plane switching), with Gorilla Glass, and 1024x600 resolution, packing in 169 pixels per inch (iPad 2 is 1024x768 with 132 ppi).

The display measures seven inches, which might be too small for some people, but just right for others. The device weighs a mere 14.6 ounces, or slightly less than a pound (the iPad 2 weighs a 1.33 pounds).

4. Silk Browser Sounds Intriguing: This surprise bit of news is where some of the fun begins. Amazon has completely re-thought the Web browser for the Kindle Fire, arguing that users shouldn't rely on a lightweight, low-powered device to do all of the heavy-duty processing that browsers require. Silk aims to cut down on a lot of the TCP communications (handshakes and acknowledgements), DNS resolution, and rendering of common images, JavaScript, and CSS. Instead, it splits the browser functionality between a light client-side browser and a heavy-duty one running on Amazon's cloud (EC2).

This distributed browser architecture lets the server side handle image rendering, and it even claims to detect aggregate user behavior patterns, thereby predicting where you might go next, and pre-fetching or pre-caching that information for quicker site load times. Sounds great, but there are a couple of lingering questions: first, how does it handle offline browsing? Second, well, here we go again with yet another browser, so how will all of my Web sites function? I'll guess that Amazon has tested this, and we'll give them some time to demonstrate these things, but with all of the browser challenges (webkit-compatibility, HTML5 compliance, security issues), do we need another one?

See's video coverage of the Amazon launch event:

Fritz Nelson is the editorial director for InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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