In some ways, it’s a forgivable change of focus, because the Fire arrived with an unspoken pitch as an "iPad for the rest of us." Yet almost every reviewer says, in one way or another, that the Fire is not really an iPad competitor, because of its very low price, its resultingly underpowered hardware, and its dependent connection to Amazon’s expanding web-based services for books, music, movies, and even a subset of Android apps. Yet reading the reviews, you rarely find the logical conclusion that follows from all those particulars: this device is a nice way to sit down and enjoy things you can buy and stream from Amazon, but nearly nothing else.
A few reviewers did manage to keep the What Does This Mean for Amazon and Tablets and Everything chatter to a minimum and just rate the device on everything it tries to offer. Wired’s Jon Phillips put the Fire down on almost every level, except to say that it was a “perfectly serviceable video player”--though that was before he could see the compressed Netflix streams. Usability consultant Jakob Nielsen recently delivered some scathing assessments, noting in particular the lack of accessibility features (often glanced over in gadget reviews). And Instapaper creator and blogger (and Kindle fan) Marco Arment cut to the chase: “It’s a bad game player, a bad app platform, a bad web browser, a bad video player, and, most disappointingly, a bad Kindle.”
It’s good to put new devices in exciting markets in context--to not presume readers have been keeping up with the same day-by-day, report-after-report tech coverage that a gadget writer would consume. But I think the Kindle Fire has been an interesting lesson in where devices and market deconstruction diverged. The Fire, most likely, will improve in successive versions, much like the stand-alone Kindle e-reader. But it’s hard not to think that a good number of early buyers were misled by the horse-race-style speculation on what the Kindle Fire would mean, instead of how it actually ran.