Well, the tablet market is in an uproar this week because of the release of Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire. The Kindle is the most popular e-reader on the market, mostly because it is fairly inexpensive and does its primary job—reading books—very, very well. But little has changed with the Kindle since its release and now, with the Kindle Fire, a fully functional Android tablet may work its way into schools looking for simple mobile technology priced under that the iPad.
What is the Kindle Fire? Well, it has given up the e-ink screen that the original Kindle had for a standard LCD, which means it has great color but poor battery life. Well, poor compared to the original Kindle, which could go for a month or more between charges. The Kindle Fire has to settle for 8 hours, long enough to last the whole school day if you never shut it off, 2-3 days if you are like me and put the little fella to sleep now and then.
Its main purpose is still to read books, but now along with buying books, you can loan them to friends, use the Kindle cloud to read them on any web device, and even borrow books from a handful of libraries. But along with books, the Kindle is a platform for Amazon’s emerging media sales, working in their movie and music download service into the device to compete directly with the Apple’s iTunes. One reviewer I heard described it like this: “Apple sells media to get you to by their hardware, Amazon sells hardware to get you to buy their media.”
As for other features? Well, it does play apps, but the apps are not there yet. The Fire is new and quality apps that work with it will take some time to appear. It does feature a great browser, however, that actually uses massive servers on the cloud to pre-load your Internet content, so it’s fast. And the Internet will be enabled with Flash—blessed Flash—which has been missing on any i-device. The Fire also has a 7-inch screen, something that seems a little small to an iPad owner like me, but would work just fine for students. In fact, it might be better suited to little hands than 10-inch tablets.
And that brings me to the best thing about the Kindle Fire. It is priced at $200. For the price of a pair of Air Jordan sneakers, a student could have his or her very own web-enabled tablet, one you won’t mind handing over. And with the legendary, (nearly) crack-proof gorilla-glass screen, the Fire should hold up well to bumps and bruises.
But there are other things to take into account. For one thing, the Fire does not have a camera or a microphone. Neither of these things seem important, but if you are in the mood to create multimedia as well as view it, the Fire might not be your best choice. And if you are looking for a straight up e-reader, the new flavors of the Kindle will make it even more affordable for schools, with models now under $100 that come complete with touch-screens. Would it be possible, then, to create feature-rich touch-screen textbooks if the reader is under $100? I hope so.
Insiders will be arguing back and forth about how the Kindle Fire will stack up against other tablets, but I would love to have one in my classroom. Or twenty.