Testing and reviewing hardware requires an intimate knowledge of the specs, components, and features of a device (as we see all the time in our laptop and desktop reviews). The new Kindle Fire, however, still has a few too many blank spots on its spec sheet to be able to give it a truly thorough early analysis.
For every interesting thing we learned about the Kindle Fire today, there were one or more important questions not answered. Some of this information may be forthcoming soon, and some answers may have to wait until we can get our hands on the final shipping version to determine.
Kindle Fire leads Amazon onslaught (roundup; includes all links below)
Amazon Kindle Fire: 7-inch tablet, dual-core processor, $199
Kindle Fire vs. Nook Color spec breakdown
Will the Kindle Fire threaten to burn the iPad?
Kindle Fire as iPad killer? Absolutely. It's the price, stupid.
As of the Kindle Fire's official announce day, these are the most pressing questions we have about the new device.
1. Will the Fire be able to download and store media locally?
The device is being pitched on the strength of its streaming-media experience, but what if you're in a no-Wi-Fi zone? Will you be able to load up any content besides e-books for an airplane flight? With such a small internal hard drive, and no SD card slot, will it even matter (see question 6 below)?
Android apps in the Amazon Appstore get Fire-optimized versions?
Amazon already has an Android Appstore. How many of these apps will work right away on the Fire, and how many will get tablet or even Fire-optimized versions?
3. Is Amazon freezing out other content providers from the Fire, such as Pandora, Netflix, or Spotify?
Streaming media is a big field, with plenty of providers for both music and video. Amazon has a vested interest in both areas, so will the streaming providers you use on your iPad and laptop also be available here? How about their Web-based versions?
4. How will the unnamed dual-core CPU compare to the performance of the Nook Color, as well as more expensive tablets?
We've seen more than enough low-cost devices, from Netbooks to other tablets, that fall apart when it comes time to test actual CPU performance. Is this an area where Amazon is cutting corners?
5. Will there be either a larger 10-inch version or a 3G version?
To really compete with Apple's iPad, some would say you need a device of comparable size. An Amazon VP told Engadget earlier today to "stay tuned" for a larger version of the Fire. As for a 3G upgrade, the free (aside from the initial buy-in cost) service offered by the e-ink Kindle won't work for streaming music and video, but why not a monthly plan, similar to the the iPad 3G?
6. How much of the 8GB of internal memory is user-accessible?
With only 8GB of solid-state-storage space on the Kindle Fire, there is plenty of room for e-books, and maybe a few other document types, but not much else. Even then, we'd want to know how much of that 8GB is left over after operating system and app overhead. Note that the 64GB 11-inch MacBook Air, for example, leaves you with only 49GB of usable space right out of the box.
7. Will the emphasis on streaming video kill the Fire's battery life?
Amazon has rated the Kindle Fire's battery life at about eight hours, but what kind of activity does that number represent? From years of testing laptops, we know that manufacturer claims about battery life are usually on the generous side, to put it mildly.
8. Has the Fire set a new baseline price for 7-inch tablets?
Barnes & Noble is already offering $25 off the Nook Color, but how long until the company is forced to price-match Amazon? And, if the second version of the Nook Color launches sometime in next month or two, will it need to come in at $199 or less to be competitive?
9. Will there be a "Special Offers" version of the Fire?
Knocking a few bucks off the price of an e-ink Kindle in return for seeing some advertising seems to have been a bargain a great many Kindle buyers were willing to strike. With the full-color Fire, we can imagine there's a greater opportunity for more engaging ad opportunities, and if that can bring the retail price down to $179 or less, it might be a winning idea.
10. How will the new Silk browser work with Web-based content? Will it play nice with Facebook games?
The list of devices that offer Web-browsing capabilities gets longer all the time, going well past phones and tablets and into handheld game consoles and kitchen appliances. Amazon has its own custom browser, purportedly designed for speed, but will it work on those highly addictive social games that seem to eat up so much browser time for a sizable chunk of the online population? It may seem like a silly question, but if you look at the numbers Zynga (City/Farm/FrontierVille) and EA (The Sims Social) are putting up, there's definitely a case to be made for a $199 portable social-gaming machine.
There are no doubt many other questions potential Kindle Fire buyers will have. If you have one that's not part of our list, or a smart answer to any of these, post it in the comments section below.