Amazon_LogoIt’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole 18 months since the original iPad became the catalyst for what has become the most competitive emerging market in the technology industry of the decade so far. What’s harder to believe, for that very reason really, is that nobody has been able to come up with anything even close in terms of both quality, consumer interest and subsequently, and most importantly, sales figures.

Apple has dominated the tablet industry so far as it has the portable media player industry ever since the inception of the iPod and iTunes, and despite the best efforts of companies such as Google on the software front, and ASUS, HTC and Samsung on the hardware front, Android can’t compete to the same extent that it can on smartphones.

Now, though, a new entrant to the market has emerged: Amazon. A big player with ambitious plans and an enormous armory to add substance to its argument. So, now that we’ve seen the Kindle Fire officially unveiled, it’s time to weigh it up against the iPad and find out whether it really can pack a punch.

Kindle Fire – A First Look At What It Offers

Hardware

Kindle_Fire

The first ingredient to a successful tablet is obviously the hardware that you have in your hand. Power, portability, and aesthetics all play a large part in creating a product that consumers are willing to part with their cash to own. So how does Amazon’s Kindle Fire fare in this department?

Power

Well, for starters, there’s a dual-core 1.5GHz CPU in there which outstrips the iPad’s dual-core A5 which is clocked at a relatively mere 1GHz. On paper, this gives it the advantage, but of course, it doesn’t end there and as many tablet vendors have proven over the past year, power doesn’t automatically create a nice experience.

Display

The display of the Kindle Fire measures only 7″, which pales in comparison to the larger iPad, which dominates the landscape standing diagonally at 9.7″. This doesn’t necessarily make the iPad better, it brings it down to personal preference and exactly what you’ll be using the device for.

Interestingly, though, the devices sport a strikingly similar resolution. 1024×768 for the iPad, and 1024×600 for the Kindle, but of course you have to take aspect ratio into consideration, which brings them onto a level playing field. However, with the Kindle being a good deal smaller, you’ll find a greater pixel density on Amazon’s tablet, resulting in crisper, clearer pictures for all of the content you’ll undoubtedly be consuming.

The other point worth mentioning is the fact that the Kindle Touch’s IPS display only supports a maximum of 2-fingers at a time, rather than the iPad which includes 4 and 5 finger gestures if you so wish. I’m not sure how much difference this will make to the experience, as these many-finger gestures seem unnecessary in most cases anyway on the iPad.

Connectivity

Where the Kindle does fall short of the iPad is with its means of connectivity. No Bluetooth, no 3G and thus no GPS mean that picking up an iPad will keep you connected more of the time should you subscribe to a 3G package.

In this respect, with just WiFi as a means to connect you to the web, the Kindle Fire is quite minimal, but then with a price tag of just $199 (we’ll talk about this more later on), you can’t expect much more.

Storage

It’s difficult to compare these two devices on this front, as while the iPad comes in several options ranging from 16GB to 64GB, and the Kindle Fire only packs 8GB, Amazon is obviously keen to promote its range of streaming services, particularly for video with the deals it has in place with the producers. Apple on the other hand relies entirely on the iTunes store, which is download only, whether buying or renting and therefore requires that extra bit of storage if you want to consume a lot of media.

Unfortunately, though, there is no place for expanding the storage in the Kindle Fire via SD card or the likes, as there isn’t on the iPad, but it only comes in the one shape and size of 8GB.

Form Factor

We’ve already discussed the screen size, but it’s also important to note the physique of the unit as a whole, particularly as the Kindle is being pushed as a device that you’ll be keen to read on.

Amazon’s tablet measures in at just 7.5″ in height including the bezel, a full 2″ shorter than the iPad. One fault I’ve found with the iPad whilst trying to read on it is the height, and sometimes it feels a little top-heavy when holding it low down. I’d envisage no such problems with the more stockily built Kindle, which measures in 0.12″ thicker than the iPad also.

In terms of weight, the Kindle Fire comes in at just over 14 ounces, just two-thirds the weight of the aluminum iPad, which comes in at 1.33lbs, or just over 21 ounces.

Battery

Obviously battery life is very hard to judge from afar, without putting the device through its paces properly, but in theory the Amazon Kindle Fire will last out up to 8 hours of reading with the WiFi turned off, however if you’re doing anything intensive like watching a movie, it will surely suffer quite drastically.

By contrast, the iPad battery life is quite remarkable, with the ability to endure almost an entire day on a 3G signal and a theoretical 10 hours of constant web browsing.

There are many variables, but even by Amazon’s own admission with the official spec sheet, the Kindle Fire falls short of Apple’s dominant tablet.

Software

Android-LogoThe second major ingredient in the making of a good tablet experience is the software, and from a personal perspective, I actually think it’s more critical than the hardware. Apple has proven that hardware utilized properly and effectively by the right software can reap greater rewards performance-wise than just adding extra horsepower.

It’s like comparing the feeling of driving a 1960’s Aston Martin DB5, to that of a fully-tuned Ford Focus, and claiming that just because the latter has extra juice, you’d put trash the Aston. The truth of the matter is, that the iPad is exquisitely produced. Hardware and software in perfect harmony and the experience have so far gone unparalleled.

Now I haven’t had the chance to play with a Kindle Fire so I can’t possibly pass judgment on the experience of using one without blind guesswork, which will obviously be misleading. However I can tell you that it is packing an almost entirely customized version of Android OS, familiar to anyone who’s ever paid a visit to the tablet graveyard, however, the tweaked interface looks simplistic, consistent and attractive all things considered.

The interface looks designed to cater perfectly for the content-drive nature of the product, putting all of your apps and media at the forefront, rather than a standard Android home screen full of widgets and launchers that only slow you down on your quest to find entertainment.

I’m not going to get into the whole Android vs iOS debate here, it’s been done a thousand times and again, it comes down to personal preference. But on the face of it, the Amazon tablet is in good stead to make a better rivalry than many of the similarly priced Android tabs running ancient versions of the operating system.

Browser

Mobile Safari on the iPad has its fair share of critics and also more than its fair share of users, as a result of the competition such as Dolphin Browser HD not really fulfilling expectations in my opinion.

Amazon has been pretty active in its innovation on this front, though, not neglecting the web as a key function of a tablet. I personally don’t see 7″ as the optimal screen size for viewing a website, nor the aspect ratio of the Kindle, but it’s definitely something you’d be doing on the tab nonetheless, so the browser remains critical.

Amazon_Silk

Amazon Silk, as they’ve dubbed it, is the browser residing on the tablet, taking the place of the stock browser for Android, and it is, in theory, a great deal faster than your average browser for one not so simple reason.

Silk, instead of the usual tact of loading the pages on the device, makes use of Amazon’s cloud computing prowess and every time you send a command to the world-wide web, renders the page in the background on one of Amazon’s immensely powerful servers and delivers the page back to your device. I’m obviously yet to test out whether this actually works, but it’s certainly an interesting concept, to say the least, and maybe we’ll see the competitors taking up this approach in the future should it pay off, even on the desktop.

Content

Now if you’re thinking the Kindle fire hasn’t come into its own already, then here’s where you might just be won over.

Media

Amazon Prime, the service employed by Amazon to deploy movies onto your device via the web, will be the key ingredient to differentiating the tablet from the raft of other budget tablets out there, and this exclusive range of media will make your $199 seem like a rather good deal, particularly during the 30-day trial period you get with the device.

KindleFire_Music

Now there’s nobody saying that Prime will suddenly overtake iTunes as the household name for buying and downloading media, quite the opposite in fact. It’s just taking a different approach to delivery, and allowing you to stream the content over the web in unlimited quantities for one up-front price. This will seem attractive to some people, while others would prefer to own it themselves, and again that’s a personal choice you should consider while deciding which tablet will be for you. Remember, though, you’ll only be streaming movies over WiFi, no 3G on this device without an external hotspot or tethered smartphone, so anything on the move will have to be crammed onto that 8GB of internal memory.

Apps

KindleFire_Apps

Before iOS, apps were programs, and to have such an influence on anything suggests that it’s a big part of the product. over 500,000 apps are available on the iPad, while not all of them are tablet-specific, they are there.

The Kindle has access to Amazon’s own app store, as well as the sideloading of any Android apps you can get your hands on. This does provide it with ample applications for performing many tasks, including your favorite games like Angry Birds, so don’t be losing over that.

Books, Magazines, and Newspapers

KindleFire_Magazines

Suspiciously, the Kindle Fire features ‘Newsstand’ which is obviously the same name that’s given to the same product in iOS 5. Ignoring that, it is where you’ll find all of your favorite magazines and newspapers that you’ve been subscribing to on your e-ink Kindle perhaps, or if not, then it’s where you will be doing so.

As well as that, you obviously have the Kindle store, packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of fiction, non-fiction and everything in between. This works in the same way as on the Kindle, and you’ll be able to download all of your books onto your new tablet as you can with any of the existing Kindle apps on other platforms, including the iPad which also houses iBooks of course.

Price

It’s actually possible to spend as much on a 3G deal for an iPad in just a few months as you’ll pay for the entire Kindle device, not to mention the device which is twice the price. At just $199 it appears an absolute steal, a no-brainer when compared with the competition and manufacturers that enter at that price level. You’ve more than likely not heard of many of them at all.

The iPad starts at $499, which prior to this seems relatively cheap in itself, but that price escalates throughout the range until you max it out at 64GB with 3G at $829, or without 3G at $699, 3.5x the price.

You can see why many people will be clambering after the Kindle just on that basis, and hopefully, the quality of the product won’t be compromised to that same extent.

Kindle Fire Vs. iPad 2 Specs:

CriteriaAmazon Kindle FireApple iPad 2
OSAndroid OS with Amazon Custom UIiOS
AppsAmazon App Store & Android AppsiOS App Store
MediaAmazon Prime, Kindle StoreiTunes Store, iBooks Store, Kindle Store
Display7" IPS Multitouch (2-fingers) display @ 1024x6009.7" IPS Multitouch display @ 1024x768
Size7.5"H x 4.5"W x 0.45"D9.5"H x 7.5"W x 0.34"D
Weight14.6 ounces21.4 ounces
CPUTI OMAP4 Dual-Core @ 1.5GHzApple A5 Dual-Core @1GHz
MemoryTBC512MB
Internal Storage8GB16GB, 32GB or 64GB
ConnectivityWiFiWiFi, 3G (Optional), Bluetooth 2.1
CameraNoneFront Facing 0.2MP, Rear Facing 0.7MP
BatteryUp to 8 Hours (Reading with WiFi off)Up to 10 Hours of Web Browsing
Price$199From $499-$829

Conclusion

All in all, there are a lot of similarities to be drawn between the iPad and the Kindle fire on the content front. While the methods of delivery are distinctly different, the quantity of it remains unparalleled by anything else, and Amazon comes a very close second to the might of the iTunes and App stores.

That bodes well for the Kindle Fire considering its price point if consumers see they can get pretty much the same stuff on a device a heck of a lot cheaper. It just appears less of a compromise to the other tablets on the market.

No, I don’t think it’s as good as the iPad, and I wouldn’t trade my iPad for one, but in the market of budget tablets, Android or otherwise, this is certainly the one to beat for other manufacturers, and Amazon could be the winner.