On Saturday morning my wife needed to do some photocopying at Staples. Whilst Rachel did the photocopying, I was supposed to ensure that my three and a half year old daughter didn’t wreak (too much) havoc around the store. Inevitably, however, I was soon distracted by the in-store technology section.
I noticed a dedicated Kindle display and thought I’d go and have a play with the Kindle Fire HD they had out. I only spent few minutes giving it a test run, but it was enough to form some immediate opinions. And they weren’t good.
Now, to be fair, it’s a half-decent tablet. If you have limited budget and limited needs, I can totally see why you’d be tempted by this device. And, if you’ve never owned or used an iPad, it would be very easy to think you’re getting a great deal. The fact that I do have an iPad though, means I have subconsciously developed very high expectations. These expectations are why I can only ever view that Fire HD as ‘half-decent’. There are so many hardware and software details - some subtle, some obvious - I assumed would be standard with any tablet, that when I found them to be missing, it really, really grated.
Apple made the iPad to feel great when you hold it. It feels like you’re holding something both precious and sturdy. I treat my iPad carefully because it feels like (and is) an expensive, quality device. But at the same time, I never worry about it. And despite all the best efforts of my three year old daughter, my iPad 1 is still undamaged and working perfectly. (I now have an iPad 3 as well.)
In comparison, the Fire HD felt cheap to hold and, unlike with the iPad, I’d be very nervous about my daughter breaking it. It just doesn't seem that sturdy of a device. It uses much lesser quality materials and isn’t nearly as well constructed. Physically, it feels every bit the cheap device that it is.
On the software side I was equally disappointed. Everything felt a little bit too slow. I’m so used to the instant reaction to touch with the iPad, that any lag feels like torture. I can only imagine too how frustrating my daughter would find this lesser responsiveness.
Missing Home Button
The lack of a physical home button on the Fire HD was also quite disorientating. I regularly found myself having to hunt around to try and get out of the particular application I was in. It wasn’t always obvious, nor consistent. And again, thinking of my daughter, this is the sort of thing that would be an even bigger source of frustration.
The lack of a home button, in my mind at least, makes the Fire HD a much less kid-friendly device. I’d say it’s the same for the older generation too. Having one button that you know exactly what it does, wherever you are are, is a big deal. That simple lack of one physical button makes the Fire HD a much less user-friendly device.
When it comes to thinking about how the Fire HD and iPad actually get used, they are also worlds apart. There is no way that the form factor of the Fire HD allows for any meaningful kind of creation. And the lack of creative apps further hammered this point home. The Fire HD only offers you a consumption device; the iPad delivers a true tablet computer that enables you do many full-scale computing tasks.
Ultimately, as with so much in life, you do get what you pay for. Whilst Amazon would like to pull the wool over our eyes and have us believe that the Fire HD is both cheaper and better than an iPad, it really isn’t. It’s cheaper, yes. A lot cheaper. But it feels like it too. If you want the best, this really isn’t it.
Of course, many people don’t need the best. And so I’m glad the Fire HD exists. Just make sure you don’t get fooled into thinking that the Fire HD and an iPad are essentially the same, with price being the only significant difference.