The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet has arrived, with a stupidly low price tag bound to have other tablet makers quaking in their boots. But in pure tech terms, how does Amazon's new tablet stack up against the competition? Based on what we know so far, we tossed the Kindle Fire into the ring with its nearest competition, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, the Apple iPad 2 and the BlackBerry PlayBook to find out. Let's rumble.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2: Size
The iPad 2 boasts the biggest screen out of the four of our competitors, measuring in at 9.7-inches, which puts it 0.8 inches ahead of the Galaxy Tab and a full 2.7 inches bigger than the BlackBerry PlayBook and the Kindle Fire. Of course, whether that's a good thing or not is a matter of personal preference. If watching video or playing games on a large screen trumps portability or easy one-handed use, then the iPad 2 should be your first choice, with the Galaxy Tab 8.9 holding the middle ground.
On the other hand, a 7-inch screen isn't a limitation in itself, in fact many people prefer the portability a smaller screen brings. Amazon still has a strong connotation with books and reading, thanks in no small part to its hugely successful line of Kindle readers. In light of this, keeping the Kindle Fire to about the size and weight of a paperback makes good sense - if you'd rather read an ebook with one hand than a magazine with two, the Fire's size will suit you.
In size and weight, the PlayBook and the Fire are roughly the same, as in terms of hardware, they are basically the same tablet. Both the Fire and the PlayBook are built by Quanta Computers in Taiwan, with Amazon taking the PlayBook design almost wholesale. While Amazon has left out some of the PlayBook's components (camera, microphone) in the name of saving weight and, presumably, cost, the difference between them is miniscule - the Fire weighs in at 413g, the PlayBook at 425g. There are some critical differences that should swing your decision about whether to buy a Fire or a PlayBook, but in terms of size and weight, there isn't a lot in it.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2:Apps
The Fire runs Android, while the PlayBook runs BlackBerry's own proprietary QNX operating system. While it's exceptionally slick and quick, the number of apps native to the PlayBook is way, way smaller than for the Fire. However, RIM has announced plans to make it easier for Android app developers to port their apps to the PlayBook. Which isn't to say they will, just that they can. The Galaxy Tab can of course source its apps straight from the Android Market, while Fire users will be limited to downloading from Amazon's Appstore, which will quality check its apps in a similar manner to the Apple App Store (although possibly users will also be able to access the regular Market through the browser).
Android currently tails iOS in terms of apps, as the iPad can make use of all the apps designed for the iPhone as well. In total, the Apple App Store offers over 100,000 tablet apps making it the winner in sheer numbers terms. That said, it's rare that you find a decent app on one OS that has no equivalent on the other, and once you get into the hundreds of thousands you're almost talking about numbers for numbers sake.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2: Features
The PlayBook and the Fire are, as you'd expect, pretty similar in terms of features. The BlackBerry PlayBook comes with the usual tablet camera and microphone setup: one camera on the back for photos, one on the front for video calling, and the microphone for picking up speech. In addition there is a 3G version of the PlayBook available in the US, while the Fire is WiFi only. If you really need data on the go or are a big fan of video calling, then all else being equal the PlayBook should be your first choice, of the two.
However, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 also does video calling and 3G, and that comes running Android Honeycomb as well, albeit overlayed with Samsung's TouchWiz UK, making it the larger, pricier best of both worlds. Alternatively for an OS that offers all the apps and userbase that Android does and more, there's the Apple iPad 2's iOS.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2: Design
The iPad 2 and Galaxy Tab 8.9 look the business - slim without ever feeling flimsy. Our impressions of the PlayBook, and therefore by association the Fire, aren't quite so glowing. Although the PlayBook is well built, it is noticeably thicker than the Galaxy Tab 8.9 or the iPad 2, which may put some people off, especially if they buy into the current trend for thinner-at-any-cost tablets.
Slimness and screen size aside, in appearance, they are all attractive pieces of kit. Some people, of course, will always go with Apple in the design stakes, but unlike, say, the new Sony S and P tablets, the four tablets under consideration here are all just variations on the same theme: a screen, a bezel, a back, and as little room in between as possible.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2: Price
So this is the big one. When it launches in the UK later this year, the Galaxy Tab 8.9 is expected to come with a price tag of sub-£400. As with the Tab 10.1, Samsung will be keen to get the pricing on its smaller tablet right, and that means competitive with Apple and its iPad 2 (the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was redesigned and re-priced to sell for exactly the same amount as the iPad 2 soon after it launched). The iPad 2 itself, meanwhile, starts at £399, for which you get an exceptionally slick user experience and access to the biggest selection of apps in the world.
On the other end of the scale we have the PlayBook, which has recently had its price cut down to just under £300, and the Fire, with its game-changingly low asking price of $200. We've said it before and we'll say it again: $200 is cheaper than we ever thought a tablet would realistically sell for, and the converted price of £125 is just £14 than the current generation Kindle e-reader. It may not pack as much oomph as the bigger tablets under consideration here, but you just can't ignore that the Kindle Fire is, assuming it does launch in the UK at that price, less than a third of the price of an iPad 2.
Amazon Kindle Fire vs. Galaxy Tab 8.9 vs. BlackBerry PlayBook vs. iPad 2: Verdict
There are good reasons why the iPad leads the tablet pack even with so many other big tech names taking stabs at tablet technology, but one of the most important is the "just works" factor. And although Honeycomb tablets have been getting better, the lack of apps and early software issues has held it back. Although this may change when the Tab 8.9 is released and many people do prefer the customisation options of Android.
Of course, the biggest competition for the Kindle Fire is the Blackberry Playback and with such a cheap price, it's easy to see who the winner could be. However we should point out that the Kindle Fire is a different type of tablet to the Playbook, which is aimed more at existing Blackberry users, who perhaps use it as extension of their work phone, rather than for consuming content.
Although we haven't seen the Fire yet, on paper it looks impressive, yes you'll be encouraged to purchase media content through Amazon, which won't appeal to everyone, but that hasn't stopped the Kindle being a huge success. We can't say for certain until we've actually had it in our hands, but barring any nasty surprises, the Kindle Fire really should have all other tablet producers very, very worried.