Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

Summary: Cramming a traditional webpage onto a 7-inch screen doesn't work.


Amazon's Kindle Fire Android tablet "offers a disappointingly poor user experience," claims the Nielsen Norman Group. The main culprit - the 7-inch screen.

Let me offer you a selection of highlights:

  • The most striking observation from testing the Fire is that everything is much too small on the screen, leading to frequent tap errors and accidental activation.
  • One poor guy spent several minutes trying to log in to Facebook, but was repeatedly foiled by accidentally touching the wrong field or button — this on a page with only 2 text fields and 1 button.
  • Using [website] designs intended for a full screen on a 7-inch tablet is like squeezing a size-10 person into a size-7 suit.
  • Kindle users should change their browser preference settings to mobile view.
  • The magazine reading experience could be good but actually is miserable.
  • Screen updates are too slow.
  • Kindle Fire also suffers from plain old bad UI design in many areas.

Nielsen Norman Group's conclusion:

For 7-inch tablets to succeed, service and content providers must design specifically for these devices. Repurposed designs from print, mobile phones, 10-inch tablets, or desktop PCs will fail, because they offer a terrible user experience. A 7-inch tablet is a sufficiently different form factor that it must be treated as a new platform. Furthermore, these mid-sized tablets are so weak that suboptimal designs — that is, repurposed content — won't work. Optimize for 7-inch or die.

Are the participants in the test group new to touch screens? No, they're not. The each had between 1.5 and 2.5 years' experience of using touchscreen devices with half having used Android phones and the other half having used the iPhone. Exactly the sort of people you'd expect to be interested in a tablet like the Kindle Fire.

In other words, cramming a traditional webpage onto a 7-inch screen doesn't work. Equally, cramming a mobile website equally doesn't work. 7-inch is a different animal, and if it's to succeed content providers are going to have to tweak that content (be it a website or a magazine or an app) to make it work on a 7-inch tablet. The problem is made worse by the fact that the Kindle Fire UI sucks, but that's something Amazon can fix with a software update. A software update can't give it a bigger screen.

None of this is a surprise to me.

Will content providers tweak content to suit the Kindle Fire? I think that depends entirely on how well the Kindle Fire does. Until there are millions of them out there (either Kindle Fire devices or 7-inch tablets in general), I don't see an economic incentive for anyone to be targeting this specific niche.

Kinda makes you wonder why Apple put a 9.7-inch screen on the iPad, and why Apple hasn't released the long-rumored 7-inch iPad. A tablet with a 7-inch screen is a tablet with a small screen, and a tablet with a small screen is a different animal to a tablet with a big screen.


Topics: Tablets, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

    Roomie just bought one, and I have to say, for me the 7 inch Fire is pretty sweet. Not too big, or not too small. The widescreen aspect ratio feels nicer too to look at and hold than the monstrous iPad.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Usability, however, is lacking; the controls are more than twice smaller ..

      @Cylon Centurion: ... than on iPad.

      Before releasing iPad, Apple tested versions of this device with many sizes <b>and</b> aspect ratios, so 4:3 10" is the best choice.

      The same is with 3.5" screen for iPhone/iPod touch: with this size of the screen, average person can cover over ninety percent of the screen with his/her thump -- hence, no need for second hand most of the time.

      With even under 1 cm width increase such as in Samsung Galaxy S 2 phones, people find they have to control the phone with two hands dramatically more often than it would be ergonomically reasonable. And it is less convenient to use as an actual phone, and also does not fit to many pockets without screwing both ergonomic and looks.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck


        Not really. I found most of them to be the same size.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @Cylon Centurion

      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss "..., so 4:3 10" is the best choice." More Apple-think; it's the best choice for CERTAIN USES. You need to leave the mindset that we're all alike, Apple knows our inner selves, and thus if Apple designs one product it will be optimal for all people everywhere.

        If your primary use is to watch widescreen television shows and movies on train commutes, for instance, 4:3 is not going to be the best choice. It all depends on what your planned uses are.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss What are you making this stuff up. Throwing some so called ergonomic and "aspect ratios" numbers out there, and that's suppose to make it a fact. It's what the user likes, and is comfortable with, that counts.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss You quote the study at: I'll just copy the reply I made yesterday about the so called study below.
        "Amazon's Kindle Fire Android tablet offers a disappointingly poor user experience, claims the Nielsen Norman Group." Yah, some group. You forgot to mention that 4 people were involved in the study. The group adds this disclaimer, "This was a small study, with only four users, but qualitative studies often generate deeper insights than bigger, more metrics-focused quantitative studies." You also forgot to mention that this same group has/ had a business relationship with Apple. At the very end of this group's study they add in smaller type, "By way of full disclosure, Apple is one of the companies that has sent the most attendees to my Usability Week conference in recent years, though I don't think this influenced my analysis". Some study. Fan Boys? You be the judge.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss Yeah...they didn't do all the testing you claim. They did some in-house testing with a select focus group. Not nearly representative of the population in general. Get your facts straight.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss I know I prefer the 10" screen. I have an iphone and some spots I have to enlarge the screen to hit an Apply button. I thought about a fire but worried about a 7" screen. While I can't afford an iPad I did buy a touchpad. Works perfectly for what I want.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @dderss Give me a break, because Apple says that 10" 4:3 is the "correct" tablet form factor then it must be true? Man are you an obvious Kool aide drinker. I've had a Nook Color for about 6 months now and I think the 7" form factor is far superior to the iPad for just about anything. If I wanted a 10" form factor Tablet I'd buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab or an ASUS Eee pad Transformer before an iPad2.
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        I watch a ton of videos and read lots of comics on my Acer Iconia, and the function size is way better than iPad for these tasks. I mean to each its own, iPhone screen is way too small. I still use an iPod touch , but if I can get the app on both platforms I tend to go android, just because of the better screen size. Apple is overrated, I stuck by them in the beginning but Android is where its at right now!!
    • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

      @Cylon Centurion - I agree, in my opinion a 7" screen is the absolute maximum for any device that pretends to be portable - the iPad is far too large. Yes, typing on a 7" device is awkward at first, but I have found that if you change your typing technique the results become a lot more acurate. A touch pad will never be a substitute for a keyboard on any device. I am thrilled with the useability of the Fire. I admit that the default white screen on the reader has too much glare, but replace it with the off white background and it is almost as good as the paper white screen of the old Kindle. In short, I think Adrian is talking through his rear end on this subject.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

      @Cylon Centurion Haha, I like the term used here "monstrous iPad".

      Actually, this whole conversation was quite entertaining. Really, no one is essentially right. If you're happy with 7 inches, be happy with it. Some like it big. Like women in the bedroom. But that's beside the point.

      I'm personally happy with the size of the iPad. It's a great size. I would often go to electronic stores and play with the 7 inch tablets, have a gander at them. I kinda think their too small for what I want. If I only read novels and stuff on it, 7 inches works fine (it is technically the size of some novels and books) but for magazines? It just wasn't fun. I constantly had to pinch and fiddle with the screen, the reading experience destroyed to having a man look like he has teret's and is trying to pick all the dust off his screen.

      I think the point of the article shouldn't be "7 inch sucks hairy monkey balls" but more so "7 inch is a niche market". Cause it really is. It's like having an argument with a guy who owns a 17 inch laptop (which really is a portable desktop...) to a guy who owns a small 13 inch netbook. They would both have differing needs to the other. But how many people own a netbook compared to others who own a say 15 inch laptop? Again, even netbooks is a somewhat niche (and dying?) market. My mother would die on a 13 inch netbook. Whereas I'm fine using one. So it all comes down to the user's requirements.

      So Apple fans, relax. Apple was the first in the market, and has a powerful foothold in it. Just be glad it's finally here. I was waiting for a decent tablet from Microsoft for YEARS and they never delivered anything of worth. Stop trying to argue for Apple. Their already doing well with or without your comments.
  • I've said the same thing about phones

    As impressive as it was to see a fully-rendered website on an iPhone 5 years ago, the zooming and scrolling required to actually read a full website is a UX disaster. Apple tried to cover it up by announcing a "designed for iPhone" website specification, but phones were doing this years earlier with CSS for mobile, RSS, custom mobile pages (, and WAP.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

      @Joe_Raby Except that there were NO iPhones 5 years ago. And just because there were sites designed for mobile browsers, didn't mean that those mobile devices didn't suck for actually reading those sites. My flip phone from 2005 had web capabilities, but I never activated it because the interface sucked. My sister has two-year-old Samsung Symbian "smartphone" that sucks so badly in accessing the web that I don't know why she bothers to have a data plan. My mother bought the same phone and doesn't use the web features at all. They all use my iPhone without me showing them how, though. Websites optimized for desktop viewing ARE a UX nightmare on the iPhone (or its copy Android), but simply unusable on pre-iOS "smartphones".
      • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

        @ssaha ----- Ok, 4 1/2 years ago. Big deal.
  • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

    I have a 7" Nook Color, rooted with an N2A card. It's a different UI, so I can't speak to that, but most of the time I'm pretty happy with the presentation on the 7" screen (the Nook has an excellent screen, which helps).

    But you're right about the display of certain login screens - it's *very* frustrating sometimes. Sometimes I've been able to enlarge the view, but then you have to move around to find the elements, or they disappear when you bring up the keyboard. I've had to re-attempt login several times, taking many minutes, too many times! For other stuff, though, the screen has been fine. I do sometimes wish it was bigger, but then I do sometimes find myself liking the small size. Can't have everything!

    An update can't give these devices bigger screens, but as time goes by, I hope the sites and apps themselves will begin to optimize for the 7" screen.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

      @nobby57 Nah; the original idea of a web browser was to adapt the content to the specs/limitations of the device it's running on. That's why in theory you should be able to browse the web from a PC, a smartphone or a VAX terminal. In this case, what's needed are more intelligent browsers that do their jobs correctly and reformat the content to more appropriately display on the small screen.
  • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

    Everybody has to have something to b*tch about else who would buy their crappy articles? Sorry. I just got a Kindle Fire for my birthday and I love it. Hands down. It *would* be nice to have a built in camera. But I have a good one in my Android Bionic phone so I'm not too out of luck there. But the Fire is a very nice tablet with everything I need and more in a package that fits in my inside jacket pocket. Not everything is going to be perfect for everyone. Why don't you qualify your limited view as just that? "IMHO" is a standard disclaimer in all web commentary. But yours doesn't seem to be so "H". Maybe Kindle sales will change your mind after a year on the market as it soars above others with the very attractive $200 price tag and the blazing fast Android OS. Ah, well. I'll still be enjoying it everywhere I go. Thank you, very much.

    A satisfied Kindle customer.
    • RE: Kindle Fire and why 7-inch tablets suck

      @joejustice@... Agreed, this article is Flamebait.