Does the Kindle Fire have serious usability issues?

A very small survey of Kindle Fire users finds some significant challenges for Amazon's tablet. Most problems stem from its 7-inch screen.

Amazon's Kindle Fire, a tablet using Google's Android operating system.
Amazon's Kindle Fire, a tablet using Google's Android operating system. Amazon

A consultancy has spotlighted difficulties people have using Amazon's Kindle Fire. But the "usability sessions" can hardly be considered exhaustive testing.

A summary of Nielsen Norman Group's tests said the Kindle Fire "offers a disappointingly poor user experience," and cites the size of the screen as the main culprit.

Then the group adds this caveat: "This was a small study, with only four users, but qualitative studies often generate deeper insights than bigger, more metrics-focused quantitative studies." The link to the findings first appeared on Daring Fireball.

Highlights of Nielsen Norman Group findings:

  • Small: "Everything is much too small on the screen."
  • Errors: "Frequent tap errors and accidental activation."
  • Heavy: "Heavy object. It's unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time."
  • Slow: "Scrolling can feel erratic...huge lag in response after pressing command-buttons."
  • Apps inefficient: "Using less efficient...because it lacks physical buttons."

While it's obvious that the results show that this set of users found the Kindle Fire wanting, let me add that I have both an iPad 2 and a Kindle Fire-- both of which I use daily . And my Kindle Fire experience is not as negative as that of the four in the Nielsen Norman study.

For instance, usability guru Jakob Nielsen writes in the summary of the findings, "The Fire is a heavy object. It's unpleasant to hold for extended periods of time. Unless you have forearm muscles like Popeye."

Though the iPad's 1.3-pound weight is better distributed, the 0.9-pound Fire can hardly qualify as excessively heavy, even for long periods of use.

And regarding tap errors: The iPad, despite its larger 9.7-inch screen, is certainly not immune to "frequent tap errors and accidental activation," in my experience. Granted, the Fire's 7-inch screen makes it more predisposed to these errors for some people, but not for me.

Slow? Yes, it's slower than the iPad, but it's also $300 less and not billed as the Second Coming of the PC (per Steve Jobs' post-PC proclamation).

Where I do agree with the findings is the lag. More often than I would like, there is noticeable lag when using the Fire. This can be distracting but certainly not something that Amazon can't fix.

Meanwhile, other early users of the Kindle Fire have reported problems with Wi-Fi connectivity .

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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