After all the buzz about the iPad over the past two years, it's still tough for many of us to justify buying a $500 keyboard-free product that doesn't really substitute for a full-fledged laptop computer. Knock the price down to $200, though, as Amazon has done with its new Kindle Fire tablet, and you change the equation in truly interesting ways.
Unlike previous Kindle e-reader models, the Fire boasts a color touch-screen display - not a huge plus when it comes to reading novels, but a major step forward for magazines and children's books. More importantly, the Kindle Fire is a multimedia powerhouse, with access to video via Amazon's own streaming offerings (which includes both individual movies and TV shows and all-you-can-view selections for Amazon Prime subscribers) plus the Netflix and Hulu Plus subscription video services, Amazon's MP3 library, free music via Pandora, plus your own music and photo files. The built-in stereo speakers do a decent job pumping out the audio in a quiet environment, and there's a headphone jack that delivers high-quality sound for private listening.
The Kindle Fire requires a Wi-Fi wireless network to download apps, which include a decent selection of games and other programs, many of them free. The built-in web browser is quick and efficient, and lets you zoom in on columns of text with a simple double-tap of the finger.
Make no mistake - the Kindle Fire is not a direct iPad replacement. For one thing, the screen is significantly smaller, measuring 7 inches diagonally versus 10 inches for the iPad 2. Of course, this also makes it more portable, an important consideration in a tablet device. The iPad also boasts features lacking in the Kindle, including built-in digital cameras, a GPS and a microphone, but I'm not convinced these are all that important in a tablet. There are far more apps available for the iPad than the Fire, particularly when it comes to editing photos or creating music - but I have a computer for those tasks. For me, at least, the basic mission of a tablet is providing an additional screen for consuming media, reading email and surfing the web, and given its reasonable price and high-quality screen, Amazon's Kindle Fire delivers on those tasks exceptionally well.
Have you purchased a Kindle Fire? What do you love or hate about it? Tell us in the comments.