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Kindle Fire has something for everyone

The $200 tablet has more features and services than tablets that cost twice as much.

Josh Miller

As the holiday shopping season gets under way, chances are good that you will come across someone shopping for an Amazon Kindle Fire.

Thanks to its attractive $199 price tag, the Kindle Fire quickly has become the most talked about tablet since the iPad 2. While some will argue that it's actually an e-reader, I've come to the conclusion that the Kindle Fire is more than enough tablet for the typical consumer. But no matter what you call it, it's going to be popular.

When the entry-level Kindle starts at $79.99, you may balk at the Kindle Fire's $199 price tag. Yet, when I consider the device's added services and features, I'd have no problem shelling out the extra $120. What will it deliver? Let's take a closer look.

Android apps
If you ask a random friend about the Kindle Fire, he or she may know that it runs apps. But ask an Android fanboy the same question and you'll hear that it runs Android apps. That's an important distinction.

While the nerd in me knows that the Amazon Appstore is not nearly as big as the Android Market, the realist in me knows that this doesn't matter to casual users. Quality, after all, is more important than quantity. What's more, since the Kindle Fire comes in just one design (at least for now), it shouldn't suffer an ugly fate of fragmentation. As long as an app is approved, it should work.

After looking at the growing list of apps for the Kindle Fire, I see one of the better alternatives to the Android Market. Amazon offers the most-popular titles like Facebook and Angry Birds along with several thousand other titles. I've put together a list of 10 apps that might matter most to a new Kindle Fire owner, whether you're an Android enthusiast or a more casual user.

In particular, the Kindle Fire's support for Netflix and Hulu Plus brings a substantial amount of content to the Kindle Fire. Granted, these features are competition to Amazon Prime's library of movies and shows, but I like that users aren't forced into one content portal.

That said, it's worth noting that the Kindle Fire provides one month of free Amazon Prime service. So even with the choices, that offer may be enough to hook new users solely into the Amazon universe.

As you might expect, the Kindle Fire is a Kindle e-reader that provides access to more than 1 million books and newspapers. Of course, this includes the ability to purchase a title from Amazon's store, but you also can borrow Kindle books from your public library without having to step foot outside of the house. And if that's not enough, the tablet delivers the new Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which lets Amazon Prime owners freely borrow one title per month from a broad selection of other books, including The New York Times best sellers.

Amazon MP3s
With more than 17 million tracks available and the integrated Amazon Cloud Service, users can stream their music collection without downloading a single track. The Fire has roughly 6GB of space available to users, which equates to about 80 apps and another 800 songs.

Rather than simply replicating traditional titles with PDFs or digital copies of pages, the Kindle Fire provides for a unique magazine experience that often includes built-in video, audio, and other interactive goodies.

Kindle devices come with a handy sync utility, Whispersync, which is one of the nicer features of going digital and using an e-reader. While it might sound like a tool that simply keeps your place in books and magazines, it provides a much richer experience.

Whether it be on a desktop PC, an iPhone, an Android handset, or another Kindle, you can pick up a book and start right where you left off. Moreover, you can keep notes, bookmarks, and highlights across books, even those that were loaned from a library. The Kindle Fire also introduces this feature to movies and television shows, enabling continuous viewing across multiple devices. That means that you can start a movie on the tablet and finish it on your television without fast-forwarding or rewinding.

Silky smooth Web browser
If Netbooks prove that typical consumers don't need all the bells and whistles that come with a full-fledged laptop, tablets prove we need even less for browsing the Internet. Fortunately, the Kindle Fire comes with a unique Internet browser called Silk, which provides a speedy and efficient experience. Using what Amazon terms as "split browser" technology, Silk is a sophisticated blend of hardware and software.

Rather than relying strictly on the dual-core processor and memory to do the heavy lifting, Silk leverages the speed and power of Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), delivering faster returns and less battery strain. In addition to support for Adobe Flash, the browser also learns the Web habits of the masses and begins to process pages before you ask for them. It's all pretty cool. Amazon has more details, so be sure to check it out for yourself.

Worth the cash
Considering all of the features that come with the Kindle Fire today, I think that it's easy to get excited over the $199 price tag. And as Amazon continues to add more content over time, the device becomes more valuable in the process.

Whereas Amazon Prime will sweeten the deal with new shows and movies, I also expect to see new magazine partners and continued innovation for this device. Similarly, I can't imagine why a developer wouldn't consider Amazon's Appstore as a valuable distribution channel.

Looking ahead, content will drive adoption of the Kindle Fire. And as customers pick up the device, more content will come.