Kindle Fire vs. iPad 2 vs. Tab 8.9: Performance speeds

We pit the Amazon Kindle Fire against the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 8.9 in a battle to the performance death!

Yes, in case you were wondering, the Kindle Fire is a tablet. It downloads apps, surfs the Web, displays books, and plays music and video. Its chief interface tool is a capacitive touch screen and it's a small, relatively thin device.

Based on those facts, comparing its performance with both the iPad 2 and Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 should elicit very little dissension among Kindle fanboys (is that even a thing?), but I'm quite confident the comparison will stir up trouble anyway. Not that I'd let that stop me.

Today we'll take a close look at two key functions of the Kindle Fire: app downloads and Web page loading. In particular, how fast each can be accomplished on the Fire compared with other tablets.

Testing

Much has been said about Amazon.com's Silk browser for the Kindle Fire, especially the way it splits processing between the Fire and Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, to purportedly deliver Web pages faster than other devices would.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, however, and with the level of prognostication by the company about just how fast the technology will allow users to surf the Web, well, my expectations, at least, were pretty high.

Now, since we performed these tests a day before actual release of the Kindle, you won't see Silk take advantage of predictive algorithms or prefetching. Amazon states that, "By observing the aggregate traffic patterns on various Web sites, [Silk] refines its heuristics, allowing for accurate predictions of the next page request."

In other words, if most users who come to CNET.com click on the Reviews link as their first action, Silk will take note of this. If the pattern persists among enough users, the browser will begin to load the Reviews link assets even before the user has clicked on it, ostensibly resulting in faster loading of the Reviews page.

This, however, will require a large sample of user data and since our tests were conducted the day before Kindle Fire's release, that data isn't yet available.

Web page loading
Site-loading speed is one of the simplest attributes to evaluate, and it's a test many users can immediately relate to. I prefer these real-world Web tests--involving going to actual sites--to synthetic benchmarks. If you've come here looking for synthetic benchmark results, you'll spend a long time looking.

Each tablet was connected to the same closed network with no other devices on it, with the router about 5 feet away. The test began the moment we pressed Go, with the iteration ending when the blue progress bar (or rotating circle for the Kindle Fire) on each tablet disappeared. We used iOS 5.0.1 for the iPad 2, the Tab 8.9 running Android OS 3.1, and the Amazon Kindle Fire running version 6.1 of its custom OS (based on Android 2.3). Flash was enabled on the Tab 8.9.

Although in the video you'll see only one iteration for each test, we actually ran each test several times; over those runs we got results consistent with what the video shows. Also, we cleared each tablet's browser cache before each iteration of the tests.

We've divided the tests between three Web sites. Two of the sites (Scout and Businessweek) were recommended by Amazon as sites that should demonstrate the fast performance of Silk.

App download
We used Angry Birds Seasons HD Free to test app download speed on the iPad 2 and Angry Birds Rio for the Kindle Fire and Tab 8.9. The iOS app is 18.2MB in size, whereas Rio for Android comes in at 18.3MB. So, yes, the Android version is slightly larger, but we believe this small difference would have a negligible effect on download speed, if any.

In the video, you'll see that we stopped the clock on the iPad 2 the moment the blue progress bar disappeared, which indicates the game is ready to launch. On the Kindle Fire and Tab 8.9, we did the same thing, stopping the clock after the game was installed and ready to open.

The results await you below. Oh, but please make sure to read the following paragraph before you go any further:

As much as we'd love for these tests to be completely relevant for everyone in every situation, that's nearly impossible. We tested these tablets under specific conditions in a "free" environment. The network was closed, but we can't account for noise from other networks interfering. This is a snapshot of performance in our testing environment presented in a way that we thought would be entertaining; however, your results may vary.

CNET.com Amazon Kindle Fire   Apple iPad 2   Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9  
Speed (in seconds)  13 3 7

Scout.com Amazon Kindle Fire   Apple iPad 2   Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9  
Speed (in seconds)  9 4 4

Businessweek.com Amazon Kindle Fire   Apple iPad 2   Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9  
Speed (in seconds) 14 4 6

App download speed Amazon Kindle Fire  Apple iPad 2   Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 
Angry Birds (HD Free on iPad 2; Rio on Fire and Tab 8.9) 42 24 23

Tested specs Amazon Kindle Fire Apple iPad 2 Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9
Maximum brightness 424 cd/m2 432 cd/m2 372 cd/m2
Default brightness 147 cd/m2 176 cd/m2 181 cd/m2
Maximum black level 0.44 cd/m2 0.46 cd/m2 0.38 cd/m2
Default black level 0.15 cd/m2 0.19 cd/m2 0.15 cd/m2
Default contrast ratio 980:1 926:1 1,206:1
Contrast ratio (max brightness) 963:1 939:1 979:1

Conclusion


Frankly, we expected more from the Kindle Fire's Silk browser, and its results were disappointing, but that's not the whole story. Amazon told us it's "making additional optimizations today and up through ship," and I'm sure more speed increases will be coming postlaunch as well.

Also, with the tablet just now released, it's too early to tell what effect the browser's predictive algorithms will have on speed once more users are out there surfing the Web and Amazon is collecting data.

That said, app downloading was nearly two times slower than downloading on the iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 8.9, lending credence to the possibility that the Kindle Fire is just slow all around when it comes to Internet downloading. As you can see, comparatively, it was certainly slow in our tests under the conditions we stated above.

We'll keep an eye on the Fire's speed in the coming weeks, and if we notice an increase in speed (or if Amazon releases an update that purports to improve speed), expect a follow-up post. Right now, however, don't expect a very zippy Web or app-downloading experience.

 

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