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Why I Made the Switch From iPad to Kindle Fire

Are you here because you’re wondering if the Kindle Fire is a good replacement for an iPad? Are you wondering if your kid will be disappointed if he gets a Fire for Christmas instead of an iPad? Read on to see how I went from iPad to Fire.

My Existing Setup

To know where I’m coming from, it’ll be good to know what I was working with and how I used it on a daily basis. I have an iPad 2 3G with 32 GB. The 3G is not enabled. I do not use iTunes for music. I have been a Zune Pass subscriber since its launch. I have the $15/month plan that gives you unlimited music and 10 free MP3 tracks a month (this plan is no longer available for new subscribers).

On the iPad, the applications I used most frequently are (in order of most to least often):

  • Flipboard
  • Email (Exchange and Gmail)
  • Web browsing
  • Words with Friends
  • WordPress (for checking blog statistics and comment moderation. Never for creation)
  • Huffington Post
  • CNBC
  • DC Comics
  • Netflix
  • Goodreads

These are apps I used frequently. Any app that was only used maybe once a week or less is not included here.

I already have a Kindle 2 that I use for all of my ebook reading. From a mindset point of view, I’m the kind of guy who likes to try out what’s new. Tuesday’s are one of my favorite days of the week because new music, dvds, and video games are released on Tuesday. Thus why I have a Zune pass. I get to check out all the new music legally without having to go broke. The iPad was never a laptop replacement for me and I seriously doubt is for many people. It’s a content consumption device, just like the Fire. And the Fire consumes it well.

The Kindle Fire

I preordered the Fire on the day it was announced. As a friend said, if I didn’t like it, I could just return it. When it first arrived, I was a little underwhelmed. Animations felt choppy, finger presses didn’t seem to register all the time while at other times seemed too sensitive. I tried reading a book and my eyes started to hurt. I was disheartened because I wanted this to be a great device.

So I told myself to put the iPad away and use the Kindle Fire. I stopped bringing the iPad to work and only toted the Fire and my Windows Phone with me (along with my laptop).

Email

One of the first things I did was setting up email. I knew that it didn’t support Exchange ActiveSync for my corporate email, so I setup my Gmail account. This was where the first annoyance came in. I told the app that I was a Gmail subscriber and it asked for my email address. The thing is, I am a Google Apps subscriber, so my email address does not end in @gmail.com. This apparently wasn’t what the Fire wanted to hear. Instead, I was subject to a standard IMAP setup process asking for IMAP servers, SMTP servers, etc. Even though a Google Apps Gmail account has all the same information as a standard Gmail account. Put simply, this process was no fun. All other devices I’ve used have had no problem with the nonstandard Gmail address. I’ll put this down as a bug and hope that it gets fixed.

Web Browsing

Truthfully, I didn’t notice any superior browsing performance with the Silk browser. In fact, I felt the device performed better after I turned Silk off. So that’s where I stand on it. Turn Silk off. Browsing felt as fast as it did on the iPad. A big advantage the iPad has is the smoothness of the interface. Everything flows very well. This is an area where the Fire hopefully can improve through software updates. Scrolling in particular felt a tad jerky. Initially I had problems with getting it to recognize certain taps with my fingers. Once I got used to the Fire over a few days, these odd tap issues disappeared. Did the device fix itself? No. Did I change? Most likely.

I discovered that my finger muscles were interacting with the device as they were with the iPad and once they learned a new skill, I had no issues. I’m sure it could be said that a device shouldn’t make a user have to change in order to use it. And there’s some truth to that. But I think it’s like when I drive my wife’s car. Initially the gas pedal seems really jumpy and sensitive. But after a few minutes/hours, I can drive it with none of those issues. That being said, there are software interface issues where the app developers need to provide more feedback about ongoing activity.

Reading Books

I’ve been a Kindle user for a few years now and I love e-ink. Really, I love it a lot. I have never liked reading articles on LCD screens. I still receive a physical copy of the Wall Street Journal every day because I like reading the paper. I do not read it online even though I could.

I never really read books on the iPad. I’ve always felt that the iPad was too big and unwieldy to use reading books at night in bed. Perhaps this is because I’m used to reading my Kindle 2 in bed. That device is a perfect size. It can be held in one hand while still being able to flip pages. The Kindle Fire has the form factor right. The size is perfect, although a little thinner would be nice. I much prefer the rubberized backing. The iPad’s aluminum backing can be cold and harsh early in the morning or late at night. But my first reading experience was met with pain.

My eyes really started to hurt. After speaking with a coworker, however, I realized that part of the problem is that the font size was too small. I’m not old, but I’m not young. I’ve noticed over the past few years having to increase the font size on my computer for web browsing. I had to do the same thing on the Fire. I incresed the font size twice and almost immediately, my eyes felt better. I also realized I had the brightness up way too high. I was, again, used to the iPad that changes the brightness depending on ambient light. That’s super convienent and is part of the price premium you pay for. So once i decreased the brightness, everything seemed a lot nicer. If all you want a Kindle for is reading, get the Kindle Touch. But if you want more, that’s where the Fire comes in.

Apps

If you ever hear someone say that the Fire isn’t a tablet, don’t listen to them. It absolutely is a tablet and the apps are what makes it so. Go back and look at the list of apps I used on the iPad. Now compare that to what’s available on the Fire. The only thing missing is Flipboard, WordPress, and CNBC. I replaced Flipboard with the cross-platform reading tool Pulse. I used Pulse on the iPad as my secondary reading tool, but it has now become my primary. WordPress is missing a native app, but as I was only using it for statistics, no big loss. CNBC. Sure that’s missing. Then again, I only used the CNBC app to track my stocks performance on a daily basis; easily replicated in a different app. There is no DC Comics app, per se, but the ComiXology app is free and serves the same purpose. I can view comics pane by pane and have all my comics at my fingertips, exactly like I want to.

The Amazon App Store also has a free paid app every day and I’ve used this to get some nice games and apps for free. While I feel bad that the developer isn’t getting paid for those apps, you should take advantage of them too.

Media

I am an Amazon Prime subscriber, so I have access to the free Instant Streaming videos on the device. And they play back very well, what few there are. There’s also the Amazon Cloud Player. Since I use Zune, my entire collection is not available to me on the Fire, but since I have the plan that lets me have 10 free MP3 tracks a month, I have a decent amount of favorite music in MP3 format. I put those tracks on the Amazon Cloud Player and they’re immediately available to you by pressing the Music tab. Which brings me to the issue of device storage.

One of the supposed dings against the device is that there is only 8 GB of non-expandable memory. What the people that make this ding forget is that, for the most part, you won’t need to put anything on the device. Your music would just go on the cloud player and stream right from there. As long as you have wifi, there’s no problem. Lets say you’re going to be on a plane or car ride for a number of hours. Just download what you want for that duration of time and you’re set. The same goes for movies. Just stream whatever you want from the cloud. If you’re using Netflix, there’s no difference. You’ve always needed network connectivity for Netflix. As an example, I still have 6 GB free.

Miscellaneous

Other dings against the Fire are its lack of camera, gps, and bluetooth. But lets be honest, the cameras on the iPad are not that good. Flickr statistics show that not many people use those cameras for pictures. The forward camera, ostensibly for FaceTime, is really garbage. GPS is only available on 3G iPads, not the WiFi only model, so they’re even there. And Bluetooth…well, I never used it.

Conclusion

People who already have an iPad probably won’t want to switch. That’s fine. But if you don’t already have one, the Fire is a superb alternative. Look at it this way. The Fire costs $199. The iPad 2 baseline is $499. Is the iPad 2.5 times better than the Fire? No. No way it is 2.5 times better. Will your kid who’s expecting an iPad for Christmas be disappointed with a Fire? Probably. But he’ll get over it and with the money you saved, you can get a Fire too!

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I'm Ken Stone. I'm an indie developer with a focus on .NET and Windows Phone development. I have a day job, but everything I say is mine alone.

TechEd 2012July 11th, 2012
Let the learning begin.
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