Kindle Fire's rough edges reflect poorly on Android

It's unfair to compare $200 Amazon reader with slick, costlier Apple and Microsoft tablets -- but that's what users will do

With the holiday season upon us and tablets at the top of many gift lists, it's all but certain that millions of new users will get exposed to an open-source-based Android tablet. By all accounts, Amazon.com's Kindle Fire is expected to leapfrog into, at least, the No. 2 position in the tablet market. Although this would appear to be good news for Android tablets and the Android OS, it may actually be exactly what Apple and Microsoft had asked for Christmas (or any other holiday these companies choose to celebrate).

Great price and Amazon content versus clunky user experience

I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow review of the Kindle Fire. If you want a good assessment of how it compares to the iPad, my colleague Galen Gruman has covered that base for you. For a look at the Kindle Fire itself, Instapaper developer Marco Arment did a great job examining its user experience.

[ Take a tour of the new Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" in InfoWorld's slideshow. | Then check out the Kindle Fire. | Follow the latest in open source developments and thinking with InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

The first common thread across all the reviews is that the price of the Kindle Fire -- $199 -- can't be beat. Some have referred to the Kindle Fire as the people's tablet.

Second, reviews are virtually unanimous that the Kindle Fire is great when restricted to Amazon's content, even if some magazines aren't optimal for its 7-inch screen. But the Kindle Fire becomes less attractive as users venture outside of Amazon's content garden. Even the new Silk browser, touted to speed up browsing, appears to be a letdown.

Finally, many reviews describe a less-than-delightful user experience when working with the Kindle Fire's forked version of Android and its unique interface. Also, the Kindle Fire OS's responsiveness is said to lag user input, sometimes forcing users to redo an action only to find that the first input was in fact registered. The 7-inch size, while easier to hold than a 10-inch tablet, presents the added complication of smaller targets to tap in order to carry out intended tasks. One of Arment's issues with the Kindle Fire interface is that "many touch targets throughout the interface are too small, and I miss a lot. It's often hard to distinguish a miss from interface lag."

Like it or not, iPad is Kindle Fire's comparison

There are many older users who don't need a laptop and could benefit from a small and moderately priced tablet for email, browsing, and reading. A Kindle Fire seems like a great solution, and it's likely that many of this cohort will receive a Kindle Fire from a well-meaning family member or friend. In fact, my wife suggested getting a Kindle Fire for several retired members of our family.

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