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Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet: an in depth review

Amazon's new Kindle Fire represents the company's first device to move beyond black and white ebook readers and into the realm of apps, music, videos and magazines, delivered using a color touchscreen.

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Fire takes on iTunes, not the iPad

The Fire follows Apple's lead in introducing the iPad as a stripped down device missing a few features (the original iPad lacked a camera, for example) in order to achieve a price point less than half of what other tablets on the market had been asking. At $199, the Fire is again half as much as Apple's entry level iPad, but Amazon's efforts to get the device that cheap have required some deep cuts that threaten to erase much of its potential allure.

While many observers view Amazon's new tablet as a challenge to Apple's iPad (and even evidence that Amazon will next leap into the smartphone market with a similarly unprofitable loss leader handset), it's really more of an attempt to pad the audience for Amazon's shopping site, online music, movies, apps and cloud storage services. Amazon isn't taking on the iPad, it's trying to maintain a retail position in the face of iTunes, iCloud and the App Store.

Amazon didn't have much choice about whether it could release a luxuriously full featured, full size iPad competitor at the iPad's price. Far more experienced manufactures, from Motorola to Samsung, have already tried to do this throughout 2011 using more advanced versions of Android and have all failed miserably. There simply isn't a tablet market waiting for new entries next to the iPad, just as there wasn't really ever a demand for iPods from sources other than Apple.

That being the case, Amazon is taking a loss on Fire hardware sales to get out a client device exclusively tied to its own version of iTunes, more closely following the strategy of the Xbox and PlayStation: lose money on hardware and earn some back in the software market. That's the opposite of Apple's business model, which sells elegant, profitable hardware by way of free or low cost software and cloud services that the company offers at slim profits.

Getting started with the Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire ships in a plain box that rips open to reveal the device and a micro-USB power adapter behind it. There's no headphones and no micro-USB cable for connecting to your PC (the power adapter is molded into the cable), but Amazon isn't stressing any USB-PC device sync, as it wants users to use its online cloud services to obtain their content. There's also a brief card in the box that shows how to get started: push the power button, wait for it to boot, then swipe the screen with your finger, just like Apple patented.

Setting the up the Fire doesn't feel anything like setting up an Apple device; it feels like a PC experience. Amazon doesn't have a direct equivalent to iTunes, so the only way to set it up is "PC free," just like newer iOS 5 devices. Unlike Apple's setup, Amazon jumps right into getting you on WiFi and then auto-configures itself to use the Amazon account you bought it with, which is handier than Apple's configuration that requires you to enter your Apple ID on multiple occasions.

You can, however, disconnect the Fire from the account it shipped with and set it up to use a separate Amazon account (unlike previous Kindles, which were hardwired to your Amazon account). The Fire does need to be configured with an Amazon account (and a credit card for billing) before you can download any content, even free apps. This is no different than Apple's iOS and iTunes.

As soon as the brief configuration was done, the Kindle Fire announced (without asking for permission) that it would be downloading an update and rebooting, and recommended that it be plugged in so it wouldn't run out of battery before it finished the update. Overall, the setup isn't complicated but it's also not nearly as polished as iOS. That's not remarkable, given that Kindle Fire is a 1.0 effort compared to Apple's fifth iteration of iOS.

On page 2 of 4: Fire apps, appstore, missing features