SmarterTools is a company full of gadget and technology freaks.  Whether its Android phones and tablets, Roku or Boxee media devices, virtually all Apple products, Plex media server, any manner of television (yes, someone actually bought a Google TV), off-brand tablets and phones, computers (including laptops, desktops, gaming machines, netbooks and others), even various cloud services and more. If you can buy it or build it, someone here probably has it. Some of these devices and services benefit our products and the company in general – we use them to test things on and play with here at the office and at home. Some of them don’t benefit the company as much as they benefit the individual. Regardless, the hobby keeps us on our toes and familiar with the latest and greatest, but more importantly it keeps us happy.

Knowing all of this, we felt it might be a good idea to harness some of our geekdom and start reviewing differing products and services for our readers.

So welcome to a new category of blog post: the Review. Now, we’re not Engadget, the Verge, Joystiq, Kotaku, Metacritic or even Consumer Reports. We’re users, and that’s how we’re going to approach our reviews: from a user’s perspective. With that in mind..

The Kindle Fire

The Kindle Fire

Today we got some Kindle Fires to play with.  First impressions? It’s a great device for $200. That’s not a knock and I don’t mean it would be a bad device at $400.00, but the $200 price tag is definitely a plus.

To start off, I think this is a much better device to give to kids and to older people (like my grandparents) than an iPad. After using the Fire I found the iPad to be bloated with too many icons and too many different ways to do things.  With the Kindle Fire, the layout of books, magazines, documents, applications, videos, the Web is just – to use a very “Apple-like” phrase – simple.  It’s very obvious to people where to go for whatever it is they want to do as the overall layout and distribution of services is easy to understand. And for many, the Amazon services (books, music, streaming content) will be more than sufficient. What’s funny is that I had an iPad, then an iPad 2, for a very long time and I never really noticed how complex the icon sets and groups were until I picked up the Kindle Fire.

In addition, I think the Amazon cloud and service infrastructure is in a much better state than Apple’s. Sure, Apple has the App Store, but after seeing iCloud and the new music match service I think Apple has a LOT of work to do to transition users off of iTunes. The only possibility is for Apple to move people in stages, and that means it is going to be complicated, frustrating and will cause them to lose ground to competitors.

Overall Impressions

What is good about the kindle?

  • Its simplicity and access to a wide variety of media
  • Decent sound for a 7″ device
  • Bright display
  • Quality for the money (its not iPad quality but good for $200 – much better feel than the WebOS TouchPad!)
  • Amazon doesn’t discriminate on side loading applications and most of the applications that I moved from my Android phone to this device worked perfectly.  I was able to have a VERY capable tablet VERY quickly!
  • Gingerbread was a good idea for a 7″ tablet as my phone applications work GREAT on this device. It’s almost as if the Fire was just a big Android phone!
  • Surprisingly good WIFI reception on a variety of access points and routers.

What is bad about the kindle?

  • The Amazon Marketplace is limited but developers will quickly be submitting applications to both the Android Marketplace and now Amazon’s Marketplace.
  • No enterprise features at all (EAP Wireless, VPN, or ActiveSync support)
  • Like any Android device the battery life is lagging. It looks like it will have 4 to 5 hours of battery life.
  • Limited local device storage space.
  • Lack of camera and microphone

But are the “bad’s” really that bad?

Amazon will clearly alienate some people because they want a camera, microphone or need more local device space. The iPad 2 really spoiled people with all of that. Sure, 64 Gigs might not seem like a lot anymore, but on a mobile device it’s a ton! However, for a user like myself, those aren’t deal breakers. I rarely Face Time on my iPad.  I rarely Skype with my iPad.  I mostly use my phone for these activities, and I have that on me all of the time anyway which (I have with me all the time).

I do like to carry gigs and gigs of movies, TV shows and music, but to be honest, this is something I can probably manage a bit better, especially since I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify services.  I also have Plex media servers setup for other random videos and I also stream my music without having to put media on all my family devices. iTunes is now obsolete in my house.

With the 8 gigs the Kindle has on the device I can see putting only a portion of music and/or videos that I might want to watch on a flight or a trip.  My Android phone has all the music I need, and then some, so duplicating on the tablet is just more time than anything.

Fire running SmarterMail

As far as enterprise features go, we put up an access point in our office not using EAP for random devices like this. Not having VPN capabilities is an issue, though I’m not sure, just yet, how it’s going to affect me. Fortunately, I can control IT aspects at SmarterTools, but other users aren’t so lucky. As for no native ActiveSync support, I’m working around that by using TouchDown and Moxier Mail as both offer calendars, tasks, contacts and mail via Exchange ActiveSync and work with SmarterMail. In addition, there are definitely some browser and web interface issues with SmarterMail and SmarterTrack and we will have to decide if the default browser that’s on the Fire is the issue. I’m guessing it is because after side loading Firefox onto the Fire, I could use the SmarterTools products. (See, improving our products by testing new gadgets).

So, to answer the question, I don’t think the “bads” are all that bad, especially if you are comfortable with some of the workarounds available.

Options, Options, Options

Overall, the Kindle Fire is a great product. I’m going to try and put down my iPad and use this device exclusively for awhile and see how it goes. The 7” size and weight is much nicer to carry around and the keyboard is the perfect size (without having to reach across the tablet to click a key). I know iOS 5 resolved the keyboard issue for most people, but I’m not a fan of the split keyboard on the iPad and I actually prefer some of the third party keyboards for Android devices.

Overall, the world is full of options and choices when it comes to gadgets and electronics, and all of the options are keeping us busy on the server side of things making sure our applications work, and work WELL.

Until next time…or maybe a better sign off is “Until next gadget!”

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