12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

Summary: Since it's our job here at ZDNet to present you with all sides of technology, in this article I'm going to spotlight some of the Kindle Fire's shortcomings.

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I've had the new Kindle Fire in my hot little hands for a few days now, and I stand by my assessment that -- in at least seven ways -- the Kindle Fire is better than the iPad.

That said, it's also not perfect. I agree completely with my ZDNet colleague Jason Perlow that the Kindle Fire is, essentially, the People's tablet, in the that it's inexpensive, accessible, and not entirely perfect -- but certainly workable.

Since it's our job here at ZDNet to present you with all sides of technology, in this article I'm going to spotlight some of the Kindle Fire's shortcomings. Let me be clear here: I'm not recommending you don't buy this thing, I just want you to understand where there's room for improvement.

1. No native Google ecosystem support

For those of you who want native Android versions of your favorite Google apps, like Gmail and Maps, there isn't any. You can hack the Fire to get them, and there are some apps on the Amazon app store, but nothing comes with the device.

2. No native Exchange support

I still don't have access to my email on the Fire because I haven't gotten around to choosing an Exchange app for it. This is one place where the iPad wins, because you can easily connect the iPad's otherwise disappointing email program to your Exchange server. Point iPad.

3. No volume buttons

I'm starting to think this might be the Fire's #1 failing. If you suddenly play something and it's loud -- say a Netflix or Amazon Prime video while in bed -- there's no quick way to turn down the sounds.

You have to get into the dashboard and adjust the sound from there. The problem: it's not always easy, intuitive, or quick to get into the dashboard.

4. No home button

Following on the previous dig, there's no home button. I've found that some apps don't make it particularly easy to get out of them, you have to find the little spot on the screen that'll get you out of whatever modal environment they're in.

Everything would be so much easier with a home button of some sort.

5. The home screen

Speaking of home, I hate, hate, hate, hate the Kindle Fire's home screen. It's cluttered, it displays whatever you last used, and it has no sense of organization.

Yes, you can dump favorites in the shelves below the big coverflow area, but it's still completely ugly and jarring. Probably the worst-designed UI element of the entire system and it's the one you're going to see the most.

6. No folders

So, uh, how many Kindle books do you own? Yeah, me, too. A lot. All those books just dump into shelf after shelf in the Kindle interface and it's even worse in the Cloud view.

The Kindle Fire needs folders now. Not next week. Now.

7. Slippery case

I found the Kindle Fire's case to be a little slippery. I have relatively dry hands and I found that after holding it one-handed for a while, it starts to slip out of my hand.

My wife, who has lovely girl hands she moisturizes and maintains with care, also finds the Kindle Fire to be a little slippery, so it's not just the fact that my man-hands haven't been cared for since I was in diapers (heh, now there's an image for ya!).

8. No Android app store

This can best be described as a mixed blessing. With reports that Android malware has jumped 472% since July, it's probably good that most Kindle Fire users can't easily load Android app store apps on the Fire.

On the other hand, there's not much of a selection of apps on the Amazon Android app store, so here, too, the win goes to iOS and the iPad.

9. Somewhat lackluster touch accuracy

Again, realizing I have beefy man-hands, I found that the Fire has somewhat lackluster touch accuracy, especially on the home screen's coverflow interface. I found that I would regular tap one icon, only to find that another had launched.

Back in the days of Palm OS PDAs, there was a way to calibrate the tablet to the stylus. I found myself wishing I could calibrate the Fire to my fingers to make it more accurate.

10. No Bluetooth

If there's one missing feature that will prevent the Kindle Fire from being a low-end laptop replacement, this is it. If the Kindle Fire supported Bluetooth, it'd be easy to add a keyboard and have a sweet, if limited road-worthy machine.

Instead, it's good for content consumption, but if you're traveling, you'll need to bring something else along.

One note: I haven't tested to see if it's possible to connect a USB keyboard to a step-down USB cable and then plug that into the Kindle Fire. It might be possible to add crude keyboard support. If you try this and it works, let me know.

11. Relatively minimal storage

The Kindle Fire has 8GB onboard storage, of which about 6GB is available for user content. While Amazon wants to stream everything to you -- and they do an admirable job at doing just that -- the problem is you won't always have unlimited WiFi at hand.

If you want to load a bunch of movies and then go on vacation for a week, the Kindle's minimal storage will get you down.

12. Kinda crappy battery life

Unlike the e-ink Kindles (disclosure: I hate the e-ink Kindles), the Kindle Fire consumes battery like, well, an Android tablet.

If you're lucky, you've got eight hours before you need a recharge. It's not terrible, but it's not great either.

Wrap-up

So there you go. None of these dozen complaints are deal killers, but that's because the tablet is $199. If it were four or five hundred bucks, many of these would be reasons to look elsewhere.

I feel comfortable recommending the Kindle Fire, especially if you're an active participant in the Amazon ecosystem, but do be aware of the shortcomings before you decide to buy.

Topics: Tablets, Amazon, Hardware, iPad, Laptops, Mobility

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

    Cool. Thanks.
    randygrenier
    • I bet This small screen feels like using a browser on a phone

      @randygrenier
      I did that for a while and boy did it suck! Happy horizontal scrolling and squinting for those buying the Fire.
      JohnVoter
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @JohnVoter
        Actually, the Kindle Fire's screen is fine for browsing most sites. You might have to zoom in a little for data entry, but for reading pages it's fine most of the time (unless the developer used a small font to begin with).
        bhartman33@...
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        [Inadvertent duplicate due to no screen-response. I deleted it.]
        andrys1
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @JohnVoter, if you get back here.l Android lets you pinch-zoom the fonts until a section or paragraph goes -beyond- the boundaries and to a font size you like (I like big).
        Then you double-tap on it, and the font stays big and the text re-flows and wraps nicely at the edge of the screen. How cool is that? VERY FEW people know this feature but it makes a big difference.
        andrys1
    • Developing Apps for the Kindle

      I developed an App for the Fire (the same one we have on the iPhone) and found the developer environment very different from working with Google or Apple. They all have there pros and cons but I did find Amazon takes a much more active role in controlling your product page (they write it). The first time they did a poor job but after I asked they improved it.<br><br>I also wrote a review of the Kindle Fire, geared towards nature lovers and birders at my blog: ibird.wordpress.com. David is spot on about the volume control, that makes it very hard to use the Fire in the field. The review mostly agrees with David's points but disagrees with others. <br><br>Overall however I think the Fire is a great deal and you know Amazon will continue to update it. There is a simple way to get a lot of the apps that are in the Google market without hacking and I explain that.
      mitch@...
  • Glad I waited

    I was debating on whether to wait for the Kindle Fire or buy the Nook Color, and decided not to wait. I bought the Nook Color and I love it (BTW I rooted it with CM7). After reading your article I'm glad I didn't wait; my Nook rocks. Now, how about writing an article that compares the new Nook Tablet with the Kindle Fire? All of these articles comparing the Fire to the Ipad are just silly...
    AbelebA
    • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

      @AbelebA I didn't get a Nook, so I can't tell you much about it. My family is pretty heavily tied to the Amazon universe, so we're going to wind up with two Fires. That said, Matt did do a Nook vs. Fire review:

      http://www.zdnet.com/blog/mobile-gadgeteer/amazon-kindle-fire-vs-b-n-nook-tablet-is-there-a-clear-winner-review/5255
      David Gewirtz
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @David Gewirtz
        Read the review -- as well as many other similar reviews -- before deciding to buy the NC. Most, if not all, reviews were based on specs and second hand information regarding the Fire (Fire was not yet available to the general public). What I'm talking about is a review from someone that has tried both products. Now that both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are in the market, I would like to read about someone's experience with both from a user's perspective.

        Here???s one from another ???new??? Kindle Fire user:

        http://www.marco.org/2011/11/17/kindle-fire-review
        AbelebA
  • 13th thing that kinda sucks

    I've got one that sounds a little nit-picky, but honestly it may finally make me send this slab back to Amazon. The feather-trigger bottom-center power button that I inadvertently hit and shut the device down while I'm using it. Constantly. Did they design this somewhere without gravity, not realizing that sometimes a thumb or two on the bottom edge will keep the Fire from falling, and that darned power button is too easy to hit?<br><br>I have learned the trick of turning the device completely upside down to move the power button to the top, but there are some apps (and the main lock screen) which don't rotate. Having to do that headstand is just another reminder of the loose ends in this initial design.
    d3zapped
    • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

      @d3zapped

      Wp7 has failed............ Start Sue........
      Sultansulan
    • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

      @d3zapped : not nitpicky at all. It's my biggest picked nit.
      zpennyz
  • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

    I would think all these cons (sans 1 or 2 of the) would easily trump the pros when comparing the device to an iPad.
    Bates_
    • Which is why he said

      @Bates_

      If the device weren't $199 it would be a deal breaker. At $300 cheaper than the iPad it seems like he's willing to make the trade off. The real question is are you? My daughter (5 years old) really, really wants an iPad for Christmas. I think I'm going to get her this instead because with the book lending deal it would be a good option for her. And I'd be far less upset if she broke a $200 tablet than if she broke a $500 one.

      I did play with the display unit at Target though and it seemed very sluggish. I wonder if that's the case for others who own them or if that one was somehow screwed up. I expected it to run much smoother than it did. And I found the home screen to be terrible. You can mod this correct? Oh, and does it have Netflix support (even modded)?
      LiquidLearner
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @LiquidLearner It actually has nice Netflix support. I haven't found it sluggish, but I'm only on day three. And yes, there's a big difference between a $200 device and a $500 one. For $200, this is an easy recommend. For $500, it would be a don't buy.
        David Gewirtz
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @LiquidLearner

        Interestingly enough, I showed it to my 10-yr old daughter and she wanted the Kindle touch instead - go figure.
        KNPepper
      • Bad dad!

        @LiquidLearner
        Just kidding. But do you think the lending library is going to be around? Apparently this was done without contractual agreement with the books' authors.
        JohnVoter
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @LiquidLearner <br><br>I agree with your comment but still even at 199$ after I read this blog, we now have the Playbook that offers up more,and soon to have native email ect and 16g for 199$ So I got a playbook instead. Now only have the bridge thing that sucks until February when they will add all the extras (native contacts and email ect.)
        reefsalt
      • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

        @LiquidLearner

        There's a Netflix app w/o modding in the Amazon Appstore.

        The display model you played with may not have been updated. My Kinde Fire runs pretty well since the update.

        And I can't recommend the Kindle Fire for a youngster. You'd leave yourself one clickaway from high credit card bills. :)
        bhartman33@...
    • RE: 12 things that kinda suck about the Kindle Fire

      @Bates_

      Only if you either A) really love the iPad, or B) feel that any one of those is worth $300. If it is, then by all means... skip this and buy the iPad.
      Badgered