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Amazon Kindle Fire (2012) review: Amazon Kindle Fire (2012)

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MSRP: $159.00
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The Good The Kindle Fire (2012) improves on its predecessor in three key ways: faster performance, a better interface with cool new features, and a significant price reduction.

The Bad Designwise it's the same Fire from 2011 with no HD video support, no camera, no HDMI, no storage expansion, and no volume buttons.

The Bottom Line The Kindle Fire (2012) takes it up a notch in value, but is tethered to the same design oversights of the original.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6

Review Sections

Editors' note (September 25, 2013): The product reviewed here has been discontinued and replaced with a redesigned Kindle Fire HD.

There's never been a better time to be in the market for a sub-$200 tablet. Right now your choices include the $199 Kindle Fire HD and Nexus 7, the $179 Nook Tablet, and the $159 Kindle Fire 2012 edition. In November we'll see the debut of the Nook HD and I have a feeling it won't be the last budget-priced tablet that's worth your time.

So what exactly is the 2012 Kindle Fire? Essentially, it's the 2012 version of the 2011 Kindle Fire with some hardware and software upgrades. It's not the best or most cutting edge tablet on the block, but for only $159 it's worth a look for media consumption-oholics and Amazon Prime members.

The Amazon Kindle Fire ($159 for 8GB) is, from a design perspective, virtually the same Kindle Fire that was released in 2011. It's still boxy; it still sports a rubbery back; and it's still a bit too heavy and a bit too thick, especially when put up against newer tablets like the Nexus 7. I also noticed that its outer protective shell is a bit more angular and less rounded than the original Fire's.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD Amazon Kindle Fire (2012) Amazon Kindle Fire (2011) Google Nexus 7
Weight in pounds 0.86 0.88 0.90 0.74
Width in inches (landscape) 7.7 7.4 7.6 7.8
Height in inches 5.4 4.7 4.8 4.7
Depth in inches 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.4
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.9 0.78 (power button side), 0.6 opposite side 0.76 0.8

In the middle of the bottom edge, from left to right sit a headphone jack, a Micro-USB port, and power/sleep button. At either side of the top edge is a single speaker. Volume buttons are still nowhere to be found.

Though 2011's Kindle Fire included a Micro-USB-compatible power adapter, for some strange, ill-conceived reason, Amazon chose not to include one with the Kindle Fire and instead supplied only a Micro-USB-to-USB cable. While the tablet will charge when connected to a plugged-in computer, it will do so very slowly and only when asleep. Thankfully, if you own the original Fire (or pretty much any Micro-USB-to-power adapter) its charger should be compatible with the new Kindle Fire.

That's the 2012 Kindle Fire sitting right above the Kindle Fire HD. The Fire feels more apt for book reading, while the Fire HD is definitely a movie playing powerhouse. Eric Franklin/CNET

Software features: The refining
Amazon has completely redesigned the Kindle Fire's interface. It's sleeker, more streamlined, and feels more mature, eschewing the toylike quality the original had. Fonts are sharper and light and dark images feel more contrasted thanks to the new interface's darker tone. The carousel interface is still here, but scrolls faster and smoother, with app icons rendered in less pixely forms. Apps can be removed from the carousel at will and/or added to favorites, which appear at the bottom of the screen, negating the need to scroll through your entire catalog to find the app you want.

Newsstand, Books, Music, Videos, Docs, Apps, and Web return as top-of-the-screen content tab options, and have now been joined by Shop, Games, Audiobooks, Photos, and Offers. Search returns as well and now allows you to search in Amazon's stores as well as your libraries and the Web.

Settings can be accessed with a quick swipe down from the top bezel and now features more options for social-network integration, more customization, and tighter security. Within each content tab, there are still the very useful cloud and device denotations at the top that help signify which pieces of content are on the Fire or currently in the cloud.

Your old 2011 Kindle Fire won't be upgraded to the new Fire OS. You'll have to purchase the 2012 Fire or the Fire HD to experience all the new good-looking goodness. Eric Franklin/CNET

There are problems, though. The interface is periodically sluggish and as streamlined as the interface is, at times it serves only to illustrate how much better it could be. After entering a content tab, you can't travel directly to another and must instead tap back and choose a new selection. I would have loved to see a more elegant solution that allows carousel options to always be available onscreen.

Software features: The newening
The streamlined interface isn't Amazon's only accomplishment here; it has added several new features to further set its Fire line apart from other tablets.

With X-ray for books you can get more information about characters, terms, and historical figures mentioned in a Kindle book, and it also highlights exactly where (via page number and a graph) in the book those details are mentioned and can jump right to the appropriate page. Definitely useful, but the ability to search for specific terms should be at the top of Amazon's to-do list when the time comes to revise this feature.

The 2012 Fire is forever stuck in SD movie mode, but does get X-ray for movies. Eric Franklin/CNET

X-ray for movies is frankly a lot less useful, as it's essentially an integrated IMDb feature that provides access to actor bios while you watch the movie. Just tap the screen while watching "The Hunger Games," for example, and a drop-down menu of the actors appearing in the current scene appears. Select whichever actor you're interested in, and as long as that person is actually listed in IMDb, you'll have access to his or her bio. Impressively, this works in real time, adding and removing people from the list as they enter and exit scenes. It's not compatible with all movies yet, and I've yet to see it featured in any of the TV shows I've watched on the device.

Immersion reading uses the audio and Kindle versions of a single book and combines them to create an experience currently not reproducible on any other tablet. As the text is read by the original audiobook reader, each word is highlighted on the Kindle book version, allowing you to follow along, bouncing-ball-style (well, sans an actual bouncing ball), with the story. It takes a bit of getting used to, but can be appealing for audiobook fans like myself who love to listen, but want to retain the experience of actually reading as well.

In addition, Whispersync for voice allows you to stop reading at any spot in the Kindle version of a book and then continue later at that exact spot in your audiobook and vice versa.

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