After playing around with the Kindle Fire for a couple of days, I have no problem recommending it as a quality entry-level tablet. Money’s tight this holiday shopping season, and if junior can be talked out of an iPad and into a Kindle Fire, then we’re talking about a few extra bills that can be paid.
And you really do get a lot of bang for your buck, largely because Amazon is one of the few tablet makers that can afford to sell its tablet for less than it reportedly costs to make. Amazon can take a hit on the $199 price because it expects to make some serious money through its rich ecosystem that delivers digital downloads of books, music, videos, and games.
However, just to make sure that we cover all of the potential resistance to Amazon’s attractively priced gizmo, let’s go over the five things that may remove the Kindle Fire from your holiday shopping check list.
1. There’s No Camera
I sat next to a tourist on a duck boat tour through Boston this summer using his iPad 2 as a camera. He looked ridiculous. The form factor of Apple’s (AAPL) otherwise awesome tablet doesn’t lend itself to casual photography. However, that’s not the reason why the iPad 2 has not one — but two — cameras.
The iPad’s cameras come primarily into play for video chatting through Apple’s FaceTime platform. Most tablets, netbooks, and laptops come with cameras so folks can video chat through Skype or just for basic video blogging.
The lack of a camera won’t be a deal breaker to most buyers, but if you wanted a pair of Kindle Fires to communicate with a faraway friend or relative, you’re out of luck.
2. There’s No Microphone
The Kindle Fire has reasonably adequate internal speakers, but there is no microphone.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is — and it will be. Creating voice memos and interacting with some music apps require aural input. The Kindle Fire doesn’t have that.
There’s also Siri to consider. Apple raised the bar in October with the Siri digital assistant in the new iPhone 4S. You’ve seen the commercials. “What does a weasel look like?” “Tell my wife that I’m going to make it.” Google’s (GOOG) Android will eventually catch up, and as an Android-powered device it should just be a software upgrade. Unfortunately, without a microphone, it will never happen on the Kindle Fire.
You can also kiss voice calls through Skype goodbye.
3. The Screen Isn’t as Big as the iPad’s
By the numbers, there may not seem to be much difference between the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen and the Kindle Fire’s 7-inch display, but do the math to find the true area, and the numbers become 45 square inches and 21 square inches: That’s right — the Fire’s viewing surface is less than half as large.
This may not be that bad. Tech-savvy users have grown used to playing games and streaming video clips on even smaller smartphones. The Kindle Fire would be an upgrade over those. Having a smaller, lighter tablet that you can hold in one hand also makes it more portable.
There was chatter this summer that Amazon would be rolling out a 10-inch version of the Kindle Fire at a slightly higher price point next year — and Apple can always roll out a cheaper, smaller iPad — but consumers need to deal with the tangible choices that they have now.
4. There’s No 3G Connectivity
The Kindle Fire — and Barnes and Noble’s (BKS) Nook Tablet — only come in WiFi models. There are no versions that come with 3G chips for perpetual connectivity when the user leaves a WiFi hotspot.
This will be a roadblock for many buyers, but let’s not forget the even wider price differentials here. The 3G iPad begins at $629, so that’s already more than three times the price of a Kindle Fire. Wireless carriers also charge hefty monthly charges for 3G access.
The popularity of mobile hotspots like the MiFi and smartphone tethering also make 3G tablets less necessary.
5. The Kindle Fire Is Not the iPad 2
Surfing the web, streaming video, listening to music, and countless other tablet functions are similar. The Kindle Fire doesn’t have some of the built-in apps that Apple’s iOS devices have, such as email readers, weather forecasts, and calculators, but these are software upgrades that will come over time.
There is a material difference in the number of available apps. There are now hundreds of thousands of apps available through Apple’s App Store, while Amazon’s modified marketplace only has access to thousands of Android apps. However, most of the more popular ones will continue to be made available for both devices.
For some, it may come down to the lack of the bitten Apple logo. Even if the differences in functionality aren’t factors, some folks will be too smitten with the Apple brand to trade down to a cheaper tablet.
But Look at the Price Tag
Then again, when it’s you paying the $300 difference, the Kindle Fire suddenly begins looking that much more appealing.
There are other Kindle Fire shortcomings. There’s no GPS for location-based functions and the lack of a gyroscope will impact gaming options. The Kindle Fire also has less storage capacity than both the iPad and Nook Tablet. And, yes, even the battery life is a little shorter on the Kindle Fire.
Obviously there will be trade-offs that come with the significantly cheaper price. However, in these price-conscious times Amazon’s new gadget is going to be a big winner this holiday season.